Kendall Rae Knight might have been the first person to leave last year's Love Island - but, following a lot of hard work, the social media savvy star has managed to be one of this year's most famous contestants, accumlating almost 900,000 Instagram followers even though she was only in the villa for a week. Here, she talks candidly about the side effects of instant fame and how producers deal with the mental health of contestants, following the tragic death of Mike Thalassitis who took his own life last week.
Kendall, how did you get on Love Island? What was the audition process like?
I was just a normal person before I went on Love Island, I was working a retail manager at Clarks - but I took a chance and applied for Love Island through the ITV website in November 2017. I wasn’t approached by a casting team or anything like that, so it was the start of quite a lengthy process. My first interview was a group interview in Manchester with a lot of other girls… I felt a little bit out of place because I was older, at this age I was 26, and the girls in that room were 18, 19, 20 – and I’d previously been engaged. But they auditioned me, and I carried on regardless – the producers were lovely.
What mental health checks did ITV carry out before you were selected?
I went down to London in the new year to do a proper medical and you have to give them permission to look into your doctor’s records so they can check everything is okay. Then, you have a phonecall and Facetime with a psychiatrist. You then have an actual, physical check-up with a doctor, in which you talk about how you think you’re going to cope in there. And you do urine samples and all of that! It’s totally not like ‘We pick her, and she can go on.’
And what did they ask you in those checks?
They start off with your childhood, and ask about how you were brought up, and the support you have around you - so it just builds from that, really. Obviously, they’ll ask if you ever have emotions of feeling down or depressed or anything like that. Or if your family have ever had any physical or mental issues. They do go into great detail; it’s not just filling in a form. I then met the psychiatrist who looks after us at ITV; it was really reassuring because she flew over with us. I knew I could speak to her 24/7 on site, which was such a nice feeling.
What after care was put in place once you left the Love Island villa?
The psychiatrist was one of the first people I saw when I first came out of the show! When I left the villa, I was greeted by her, and two producers, and I had an interview straight away. I didn’t have any idea how huge the show was, so they gave me some information about that. But, to be honest, I was far more worried about seeing my family and friends. When I left, ITV made sure I had all the information of people I needed to speak to if I wanted help, and I was told that if I didn’t want to pursue being in the public eye, then I was going to have to get rid of my social media. And they gave me a chaperone, so I didn’t go back to the UK on my own. I had someone with me for five days helping me through After Sun and the other interviews – she actually helped me pick my management team, too. ITV are really good with that.
Leaving the villa, what was it like suddenly becoming so famous?
When I was first came out it was crazy to just go to the supermarket and get recognized; it just wasn’t something I was used to. But, on the other hand, it opened so many opportunities for me that I just thrived from it. I mean, I came out of the show first after only a week – but myself and my team grabbed the bull by the horns. I was a Boohoo ambassador, I’ve done photoshoots aboard - it’s been non-stop.
Did you find it tough living in the villa?
The experience itself wasn’t difficult, because I was so busy that I didn’t have time to sit back and read the negative comments. The only time I struggled was this Christmas when I took time off just to relax and spend time with my family and friends. It affected me more than I thought it would and I got really down because I wasn’t doing too much – but then, come January, when I was back working, I was absolutely fine. The show and the whole being thrown into the public eye didn’t affect me in a negative way, ironically it was my own choices which maybe did.
How do you deal with trolls and negative comments?
It’s easier said than done to ignore negative comments. Everybody deals with things differently, but it doesn’t really affect me. But I did have one or two that upset me, though. I had my nose surgery last year, and I got a few comments about that which knocked me a little bit. We’re all human, so obviously things like that are going to upset me, just because I have a blue tick on Instagram doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. I went straight to my mum and sister, it’s so much easier when you have somebody to talk to. In the back of my mind, I knew what I did was for me and my personal reasons, even though it did knock me that somebody didn’t agree with what I’d done. But sod it, you can’t please everybody.
Do you worry ever worry that your fame is going to dwindle?
Obviously, I didn’t go into this with blinkers on, and I know that I’m not going to be as famous as I first was when I left the villa. I’m not naïve enough to think it’s going to last forever. You’ve just got to take what you can, while you can, and make the most of it - and just be positive about everything you have got, because not everybody gets this opportunity.
Did you feel the need to live up to a personality which had been created by the media when you left the villa?
I was quite lucky in the fact that when I left I had quite a good reputation – as I’d only been on the show a week, I feel like I didn’t have much to live up to. And how I was on the show was how I was in real life. It might have been different if I’d have been in longer, as it gives a longer amount of time for people to change their opinions about you. Everything’s so magnified when you’re in there, living under a microscope, that you can say one little line – a comment that you don’t mean – and then the whole of the nation could hate you. It’s probably harder the longer you’re in the villa.
Do you think producers could do any more to help contestants with their mental health?
I can’t comment on previous years, but the care from my year has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve always known that there’s people around me, and the producers check you’re okay on the phone. When I did the Love Island Christmas reunion, we were having meetings with the same psychiatrist, and she was checking that we were alright before, during and after - they still gave us the same level of care that they would have done for normal Love Island. I remember as soon as the show was aired, we had producers on the phone - a pshyc on the phone - just to check we were okay with how it all went, so it has been really good.
Are you still in touch with producers at ITV?
I’m still in contact with ITV quite regularly, so when I speak to them, it’s not like a call out of the blue. I spoke to somebody yesterday and the day before about how I’m doing – it’s not that they’re only contacting you now, just because something so tragic, such as Mike’s death, has happened. While I didn’t know him on a personal level, I have heard what has happened and I’m devastated. My thoughts are just with his family and friends, I just hope that everybody around him is okay.