For those with enough money - or enough sponsored brand deals - staying in the UK this winter has been optional, with many influencers opting for luxurious winter holidays instead of sitting at home. That would, usually, be fine. But we’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic. And as it rages on, Love Island has become synonymous with Dubai. In fact, so many former castmates have jetted off to the UAE that it’s become a bit of a nationwide joke.
When the national lockdown was announced last month, one viral tweet - by DJs Panjabi Hit Squad - read: ‘The biggest question of all.......does this lockdown include [the] London borough of Dubai?’ Acting as if she was one of the caught out influencers, journalist Bella Mackie recorded a satirical Q&A on Instagram. ‘Hi guys, I just wanted to a Q&A about my Dubai trip,’ she jokes. ‘I’m actually here for work so it’s Covid secure. I was vaccine tested, and antibodies, the works. So I’ve come to Dubai to shoot my new sponcon swimwear range…’ You get the gist.
But the Love Islanders and influencers out on holiday haven’t just been the subject of (fair enough) online jokes. The Love Island cast have millions of followers - either because people want to keep up with them outside the villa, or they want a glimpse into their enviable lives - but they’re now losing some of that audience. The reems of Instagram perfect holiday photos have irked many reality fans into doing a cleanse of their timelines and news feeds. In fact, The Sun are reporting that Laura Anderson - who said it was 'really hard' to be an influencer - has lost 12,000 followers and Anton Danyluk has lost 14,000.
As Bella points out, many of the people who jetted off have claimed they were travelling for 'work'. When Amber Gill, winner of the 2019 series of Love Island, escaped the country as tougher restrictions were introduced for London, she said on Instagram that the flights were pre-booked and she believed she could travel for work, adding that she 'didn't even know Tier 4 was a thing'. (On December 22, she uploaded a video to her Instagram story saying she wasn’t posting much holiday content as she didn’t want to be ‘tone deaf’ - fellow Love Islander Kaz Crossley was there, and shouted: ‘fuck them!’). Gabby Allen addressed the controversy, saying she has decided to stay in Dubai ‘for the foreseeable’ with her boyfriend Brandon because his business is based there.
For many who clicked unfollow, these kind of excuses were the last straw. ‘I just can’t understand why you think you can justify yourself by saying it’s work,’ Beth, 22, tells Grazia. ‘The rest of us have either lost jobs, or are continuing to work throughout the pandemic. I can't imagine how annoying hearing this would be if you worked in healthcare.’
‘I’ve had to unfollow a lot of the Love Island lot - Montana Brown, Molly-Mae, Olivia and Alex Bowen,’ Charis, 23, adds. ‘I unfollowed them because, in a year where everyone is having to make sacrifices, it feels infuriating and tone deaf that they’re going on holidays. Montana did a highlights reel of 2020 and it was as if she'd been in a different year to the rest of us. I just felt annoyed every time I clicked on their stories - to the point I was pretty much hate following - so I unfollowed to save myself the aggro.’ And, another point of contention, unlike the influencers, Charis has had to cancel holidays: ‘I had a few holidays planned - a holiday to Croatia planned for last September, and a staycation to a cabin in the Peak District for new year - and I’ve had to cancel both.’
Others have clicked unfollow to hopefully hit the influencers’ engagement levels. ‘It’s not about cancelling people,’ Polly, 24, says, ‘the biggest argument from influencers is “just don’t follow me then” so that’s what I’ve done, I’ve unfollowed them.’
'It’s their reach, and their power, that they need to take responsibility for,' Polly told us last month. 'If you have 800,000 followers, you have 800,000 people who are going to see that post - and probably think that it's also okay for them to do that [go on holiday] where social distancing is out the window. I don’t care if they have negative test results, or whatever else they’ve said to defend themselves, it’s dangerous - but they’ve convinced themselves it’s okay.’
Krystal, 29, agrees - and has also cut many influencers from her following lists so she doesn’t have to ‘wake up every morning’ and see their ‘bragging’. ‘It’s the responsibility,’ she said last month. ‘I have a friend, a nurse, who was supposed to go to Dubai in February - but now she’s not going because she says it would be irresponsible. And it’s not as if she has millions of followers like these influencers.’ Krystal also feels many of the influencers have been hypocrites, when some previously preached online about keeping social distance and wearing a mask. ‘Go back a few months, and Instagrammers were like we’re all in this together. And all of a sudden, they’re boasting about being in Dubai. We're not in it together! Oh my God.’
As we continue the third miserable lockdown, there are going to be a lot fewer influencers travelling. But people like Polly hope they realise why so many people have taken issue with their holiday posts - and that it stops them from doing the same in the future. ‘They're all being told the same thing,’ she says. ‘It's just a matter of are they hearing us? I hope pieces like this - and people speaking up - makes them realise, look, we are all the same, whether you're a celebrity or not. We all want to be out of this so desperately. And we can't do it until everyone sticks together. I know there's a lot of government reliance on rolling out the vaccine, but the most we can do, as the public, is our best. And are you really doing your best, going to Dubai? Because I don't think you are.’