The hateful truth of Love Island: Ex-Miss GB destroyed by the show reveals how contestants are told what to do and say, are humiliated and then spat out as she demands it’s taken off the air like Jeremy Kyle

  • After this week’s Jeremy Kyle furore TV contestant Zara Holland took to Twitter
  • She questioned Love Island’s future, following the suicides of two contestants  
  • Zara, 23, appeared on the second series of the dating show in 2016 
  • Fellow contestant Sophie Gradon hanged herself at her family home last year

Within hours of this week’s announcement that ITV was to permanently cancel The Jeremy Kyle Show following the suicide of guest Steven Dymond, former Miss Great Britain Zara Holland took to Twitter.

‘Everyone’s thoughts of Jeremy Kyle getting axed?’ she tweeted. ‘Shouldn’t Love Island too then?’

Zara, 23, appeared on the second series of the dating show in 2016 with Sophie Gradon, who hanged herself at her family home last year. Sophie was 32 and, in a chilling final Instagram post, the reality star said: ‘If I could escape I would.’

Earlier this year, 2017 Love Island contestant Mike Thalassitis, 26, also committed suicide. Again, the pressures of reality TV stardom were thought to have contributed. In truth, it’s a miracle of sorts Zara isn’t a third grim statistic.

Listening to her reel off damning charges, the echoes of the now axed Jeremy Kyle show ring all too clear.

Zara Holland, pictured age 20, gets emotional on ‘Love Island’ after split from Scott Thomas in Series 2, Episode 03 of the TV show fillmed in Mallorca, Spain in 2016

Zara was a ‘naive’ (her word) 20-year-old and a rightly proud Miss Great Britain when she entered the show.

Privately educated, she was a respectable young woman — ‘every guy from round here [a small town near Hull, Yorkshire] will tell you that,’ she says, as she shows me around the boutique she now runs with her mother.

Zara claims that there was no immediate follow-up support from the programme-makers

She had had one serious boyfriend and rarely drank. Yet within ten days of appearing on the reality show, she faced the public humiliation of being stripped of her Miss Great Britain title after having sex with contestant Alex Bowen on TV.

‘It really wasn’t me,’ says Zara. ‘I couldn’t get into my head how I’d done it — how I’d had sex on TV.

‘I now know my mum had asked the producers for days if she could speak to me because she could see I was turning into someone I wasn’t.’ ITV disputes this.

Three years on, Zara still takes anti-depressants and had intensive psychotherapy after panic attacks. Thankfully, mum Cheryl, 53, insisted she seek help after seeing Zara slip into depression.

Zara claims that there was no immediate follow-up support from the programme-makers. She says the first time she was contacted was the day after Sophie committed suicide; the second time was the day after Mike took his own life.

‘Two producers lived in the basement throughout the show. They would say things like: ‘Right, Zara. We want you to focus on so-and-so.’ You trust them.

‘You think you’re on a summer holiday and you might find love, but you are in a posh prison where you don’t know what time it is and a voice in a wall tells you what to do. I honestly believe I was brainwashed.’

Which is a hugely damaging allegation and one that might be dismissed as the excuses of a young girl who deeply regrets her shameful behaviour, were it not for revelations this week that producers on The Jeremy Kyle Show were trained in psychological tricks, such as neuro-linguistic programming, to manipulate guests.

Zara’s humiliation created huge publicity for this multi-platform show, which includes a podcast and a phone App, with viewing figures that rose to 3.4 million last year.

The App alone generated £5 million of merchandise sales within eight weeks of the live show last year.

Add lucrative partnership deals and the millions of pounds in selling rights overseas and you can see why Zara, who as Miss Great Britain was approached to take part, feels that she was a commodity.

‘That show screwed me up. I blame it for everything. What it does to the contestants is terrible. There have already been two suicides in three series. Jeremy Kyle’s been on for 14 years, but they’re axeing it after one suicide.

‘How can they contradict themselves by taking one show off and not the other? Am I angry? I’m absolutely fuming. I was only 20.’

As any psychologist will attest, the adolescent brain is hugely vulnerable. But, according to Zara, her psychiatric testing was brief. ‘I was asked to go to London’s Wimpole Street. My mum went with me.

‘We went into this little room and this woman asked: ‘Have you ever taken drugs?’ I said no. ‘Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease?’ Again, I said no. ‘Have you ever thought about killing yourself?’ No. I must have been in there for five minutes.’

Zara Holland during ‘Love Island’, Series 2 TV show, Episode 21, Mallorca, Spain in 2016

Two weeks before the show began it was leaked to a newspaper that she was to appear. A team member rang her to say she had an hour to pack a bag and leave.

Having said a brief goodbye to her mother, Zara’s phone and wallet were taken from her and she was on a flight to Majorca. ‘I had a chaperone who was about 27. I was taken to this apartment in the middle of nowhere.

‘The chaperone told me when to go to bed and what to do. That first night I remember crying because I missed my mum so much.’

It would be ten days before Zara was allowed a single phone conversation with Cheryl. ‘My parents separated when I was three. They’re good friends, but it’s always been me and Mum. I’d never been away from home before.’ 

Zara soon lost some of her self-confidence. ‘I hadn’t been allowed to do anything or go anywhere on my own. Even when I went to the villa for a photoshoot they put a blindfold on me and two people led me to the car so I could not work out where the villa was.

‘I was so naive. When I walked into the villa, I was excited. I thought: ‘I’m going to be on TV. It’s sunny. I’m in Majorca. I might even get a boyfriend. What could go wrong?’ 

Within 24 hours of filming, she began to fall to pieces when a contestant she’d been coupled with dropped her for another girl. 

Backlash: Fans of the Jeremy Kyle show have hit out at ITV, accusing them of hypocrisy for failing to axe Love Island after the deaths of Mike Thalassitis (pictured 2017) and Sophie Gradon

The end of Jeremy Kyle has led for renewed calls for Love Island to be culled after Mike, 26, and Sophie, 32, (pictured 2016) both took their own lives

‘I burst out crying,’ she says. ‘I’d had a couple of glasses of fizz and I was missing home. I felt different to everyone else.

‘I realise now they picked me because I was Miss Great Britain. Without that title I was just a normal 20-year-old girl from Hull who’s probably quite boring.’

Zara felt increasingly isolated, particularly as nobody picked her when the contestants ‘coupled up’.

‘There was a really nice guy called Adam. We spent a lot of time together. One evening, recoupling [when the contestants choose a new partner] was happening and I was really excited. I put on a nice dress and spent ages doing my hair and make-up.’

But Adam didn’t choose Zara. ‘I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get away.’ I stood up and I cried. I thought we’d genuinely got on.’

She now believes — rightly or wrongly — the producers had a hand in her constant rejection. ‘One day I had to decide which guy was to be dumped from the island. A producer called me outside and told me which one to choose. The producers decide everything.’

ITV disputes this, saying: The opinions the islanders have, decisions they make and the relationships formed are completely within the control of the islanders themselves.

‘It is always our intention to produce a show that’s a fair and accurate representation of life inside the villa.’

A tearful Zara Holland after Adam Maxted coupled up with Olivia Buckland on ITV reality series Love Island

HER self-confidence continued to be knocked as fellow contestants voted her the most boring, the least hot and the least good at banter.

‘I have never felt so disgusted in myself. Every night you go to sleep in the same room as the others and they’d all be having sex.

‘Sex is nothing to be ashamed of, but when it’s happening two inches from where you’re sleeping . . . after ten days even that seems normal.’

The following day, Zara was told the public had voted for her to go to the private hideaway (a hut with a double bed covered in rose petals and a bottle of champagne) with one of two contestants who had voted her boring. She picked Alex.

‘I said to a producer: ‘I’m not sure I really want to do this. He’s not really my type.’

‘She said: ‘Don’t worry, Zara. I’m going out with this guy who’s not my type and it’s amazing. Maybe that’s where you’re going wrong.’

An audience member charges the stage in a chaotic and aggressive scene from the Jeremy Kyle show in which audience members shout and scream at each other. This one was called ‘I’ll prove your brother’s the dad but you’ll never see our baby’

They shared the bottle of champagne and, as Zara says, ‘one thing led to another. We had sex. I remember waking up the next morning and I burst out crying.

‘It was awful. I felt so ashamed. I didn’t know this guy. I’d had a one-night stand for the first time. I thought: ‘What have the public seen?’ I was mortified.’

Next day, her Miss Great Britain title was taken away. ‘That was something I’d worked so hard for. I didn’t cheat on anyone, but I became the girl who had sex on telly. Next day, the producers called me in and said: ‘Your mum’s gone into hospital.’ ‘ A year earlier, Zara’s mother had suffered a brain haemorrhage. ‘Stress kicks it off,’ says Zara. ‘I thought: ‘God, I put her in hospital.’ I said: ‘I need to go.’

‘They did everything to make me stay, saying: ‘Zara you’re an adult. Don’t be influenced by people wanting you to go home.’ ‘

But Zara didn’t return to Love Island. Her mother, recovering in hospital, held out her arms and said she loved her. ‘She was heartbroken,’ says Zara. ‘Mum knows what I’m like and that wasn’t me.’

In a statement issued in March, ITV said of its after-care procedures: ‘Our duty of care is a continuous and ongoing process for each islander. After the show, every islander has a series of debrief meetings on location with the executive team and the medical team, including the psychological consultant.

‘After this, they are told how to access aftercare support as well as information on seeking professional representation.’

Zara last saw her friend Sophie from Love Island a month before she took her life.

‘We did a talk together in Leeds to more than 100 head teachers about mental health in March last year. She was so proud of me for speaking out. I said I was on anti-depressants. She’d turned to alcohol.

‘For the first six months after the show, you’re busy. Then, as it tails off, you deflate a bit, then a little bit more. Once the next show comes round everyone is interested in the new contestants. No one is interested in you.’

She worries about this year’s contestants. ‘I know a girl who’s going on. I’ve tried to persuade her not to go. I honestly fear for all the contestants.’

As for her calls for ITV to axe Love Island, she’s in little doubt they won’t. 

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, or see for details. 

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