It feels like a million years since winter Love Island, and Shaughna responding to being ditched by Callum with the iconic ‘congrats hun’. It was actually a mere 17 months ago, but the pandemic time vortex makes it seem like another lifetime. ‘It does feel like forever ago,’ says Laura Whitmore, over an iced latte in a north London café. ‘But there was no point trying to do the show last summer with all the restrictions and having to do it in Wales. That worked for the jungle [on I’m A Celebrity...] but Love Island needs to be hot.’ There is something thrillingly ‘before times’ about the return of Islanders to the villa. ‘We’ve been talking about Covid for so long,’ she nods. ‘It feels good to go back to discussing Love Island around the water cooler or in the bathrooms of pubs.’
Wearing a Cher T-shirt under a khaki jacket and a baker boy cap over her blonde hair, Laura is as warm and chatty as you’d imagine, and as much of a Love Island fan as the rest of us. We meet the week before she leaves for Mallorca to host the coupling up, and she says she’s trying to avoid knowing too much about the new contestants. ‘I want to meet them the way the viewers do,’ she grins. ‘Iain always says it’s better to have no preconceptions.’
Laura is married to Scottish comedian Iain Stirling, the brilliantly acerbic voice of the show. She jokes that he used insider info ‘as a flirting tool’ when they got together. This year, thanks to Covid and Brexit, much of the production has moved to the UK, including the edit suites and Iain’s voiceover booth. ‘I was like, why did you ever go over there anyway? You don’t need to be in Spain,’ she laughs. ‘You can watch it on a screen and then come home.’ Laura will also be mainly at home, filming spin-off show Aftersun in London, and flying over to Mallorca for recouplings or surprise twists.
There’s a big reason why Laura and Iain are happy to be based here this year (or, rather, a little one): their three-month-old daughter. ‘Every time I fly over, she’ll go with me because I’m breastfeeding,’ explains Laura. Iain will stay in London to record his voiceover, so Laura’s mum is coming over from Ireland to fly back and forth with her. ‘She’s excited, it’s her first grandchild.’
The logistics are worth it: Love Island was the most-watched show on any digital channel in 2020. The intellectual snobbery around it is dissipating as people realise it’s a great springboard for talking about everything from gaslighting to toxic masculinity. Now the show has many high-profile fans, from Stormzy to Margot Robbie. ‘We were at the GQ Awards once and Kate Beckinsale came up to Iain,’ Laura says incredulously. ‘It’s his voice! People ask if he gets recognised: as soon as he opens his mouth, everyone just turns around.’
Series seven has the potential to be one of the sexiest yet, after a year in which physical intimacy has been lacking for so many. ‘People are up for it this year, they want
to have fun,’ grins Laura. ‘Lots of single people in lockdown were living either by themselves or with family, so imagine going to a villa and living with 10 other single people. There have been the most applicants ever.’ And people will try anything to get into that villa. ‘I get people sliding into my DMs asking if I can help them get on. I have nothing to do with casting!’
Every year, Love Island stirs up debate about whether it’s diverse enough in terms of race, age and body shape. ‘It should be representative to some degree of the world we live in, and I know they are trying to be more diverse with casting,’ she says. ‘A lot of it is to do with personalities and who they think will match with who. There are actually loads of Islanders each series, because there’s Casa Amor, late arrivals and the bombshells. And there are back-ups who are flown over and never get to go in. It’s to do with who they think will couple up. Remember Laura Anderson [in 2018]? She was so unlucky in love, they kept trying to put guys in that she might like.’
As Love Island grew in popularity, it became apparent that contestants need support when emerging from the villa. ITV recently published its duty-of-care protocols, which include social media training and a minimum of eight therapy sessions after the show. Laura says she feels protective over the young cast. ‘I remember Shaughna, who was really conscious of her legs, saying she had put a block on the word “legs” on her social media so she didn’t see those comments,’ she says. ‘That’s horrible because we all have our insecurities. Today’s reality stars get famous so quickly. They go from nothing to Margot Robbie knowing who they are. It’s overwhelming.’ Laura has dealt with her own fair share of trolls but, when it comes to advice for contestants, she admits, ‘I still don’t know how to deal with it. Although I’m a bit older now,’ she adds, having turned 36 in May, ‘so I care less about other people’s opinions.’ The concept of aftercare became more vital, of course, in 2019, after the death of Caroline Flack, Laura’s friend and Love Island predecessor. Laura had asked that discussions of Caroline be left off the table.
Anyone who has had a baby knows that it’s a time in your life when everyone, from your local barista to a random person in the street, has an opinion. So spare a thought for Laura, who not only gets comments from strangers in real life (‘I had someone come up to me and say, “Giving birth is like being split in half,” when I was pregnant’), but also online. One criticism levelled at her was returning to work too early, because she filmed Celebrity Juice a couple of weeks after giving birth. ‘Celeb Juice is not like a job, it’s like a night out with friends,’ she explains. She has also had a few run-ins with the press in the past year, once when her wedding was reported before she had the chance to tell all her friends that she had married Iain in a small lockdown ceremony in Dublin. Then she felt rushed into announcing her pregnancy earlier than she wanted to because a journalist said they were going to run the story the next day. ‘Then a newspaper announced the birth of my child less than a week after I had her,’ she sighs. ‘There were pap shots, and I had messages from people saying congratulations and it was embarrassing because we hadn’t told everyone yet.’
So, when a journalist contacted her to say they were going to run a story revealing her daughter’s name, Laura reacted angrily and shared the email on social media. ‘It was a passive-aggressive email saying, we’re printing it no matter what,’ she says. ‘I’ve had a lot of those over the last two years and I’m so sick of it, the stress that it causes. I did have some people saying, “She was just asking nicely,” but I also had messages from others in the industry saying, “Thank you for calling this out.” It’s not up to a paper to announce my private details and I feel very strongly about that.’ She pauses then adds with a self-aware laugh, ‘As you can tell!’
Despite her positive experience of motherhood, there are days when Laura feels overwhelmed. She describes feeling ‘like a prisoner in my own house’ when there were paparazzi waiting outside to follow her to her baby’s one-week check. Her coping mechanism is to put on some lipstick and make herself feel more upbeat, and it works. It’s no surprise then that Boots has signed her as an ambassador, and as the face of a feelgood new project, to empower people to feel ready to go out again this summer. But taking life in her stride is not always received positively. ‘One woman commented, “You make me feel really bad,” and I don’t want that. Please don’t feel bad because I’ve had a positive experience [of motherhood],’ she urges. ‘If you see someone else doing well, don’t be annoyed at them. Stop comparing. Just do what makes you feel good.’
For now, Laura has to get back to her daughter for the next feed, but first, ‘I promised Iain I’d bring him home a chicken sandwich.’ What with Love Island, parenthood and ‘a wedding every weekend in August’, it’s going to be a crazy few weeks, but you won’t catch her complaining. The art of focusing on the bright side is what makes her the perfect face of a summer where we can’t quite do everything we want, but we have more freedom than we did this time last year. So, this summer, let’s all try to be more Whitmore.
‘Love Island’ is on ITV2 at 9pm and on the ITV Hub. New episodes are available the following morning on BritBox. ‘Aftersun’ is on Sundays at 10pm on ITV2 and on ITV Hub.
Laura is an ambassador for Boots
Photo credits: Photography by Dan Smith; Stylist: Michelle Duguid; Make-up: Tori Ball; Hair: Sophie Sugarman - The Mane Style; Shoot logistics: Shana Lynch.