WHEN Maura Higgins, then a struggling hairdresser from Ireland’s County Longford, shared a meme that said: “You’re nobody unless you’re talked about” with her few hundred Instagram followers, she laid down her ambition to become famous.
Fast-forward five years and the 29-year-old reality star hasn’t been able to keep herself out of the news since splitting with her Love Island ex Curtis Pritchard, while whispers she’d struck up a romance with her married Dancing On Ice partner Alexander Demetriou turned her into headline fodder.
That speculation intensified when Alex, 28, who is married to fellow pro Carlotta Edwards, was seen without his wedding ring during the Dancing On Ice final, then spotted driving away from Maura’s flat wearing a hooded Parker one Saturday afternoon after the skating series had finished.
But Maura insists the pair are just close friends – and has vowed that she won’t let gossip stop her from seeing him.
“Alex and I are so close – we’ve trained together for months,” she says. “Obviously, we’re going to be close, exactly like every other partner on the show. But that’s it. We’re very close friends and we get on well.
“We have such a laugh, and we’re still going to be friends. No matter what’s said, I’m not going to be afraid to hang out with him. I’ve said to him: ‘I still want to go ice skating.’”
Maura, the whirlwind with the “sex eyes” who swept through Love Island last summer and made it must-watch television, is laudably confident as we chat during our Fabulous photo shoot at a laundrette in north London.
And she’s certainly not somebody who hides her light under a bushel.
“I’ve always been very, very confident,” she interjects. “Every boy that I wanted at school, I got. I’ve never struggled with boys.”
Dressed down in a tan-coloured tracksuit, the star is double-carbing on pasta and bread after our shoot, and if there’s a thread to this interview, it’s that Maura couldn’t give a feck about other people’s opinions.
She credits her mum with teaching her unwavering resilience and arming her with the tools to stand up for herself and be fearless in all situations.
“I got jumped on by eight girls in my first year at secondary school,” she explains. “I was 11. I was going down to the shop for lunch, I didn’t know them, and it was for no reason. I stood up for myself. I wasn’t hurt, but I lost some hair. I get that from my mother.
“She always said that if someone’s attacking you, never hit back, but you have to defend yourself. With girls, there’s a lot of bitchiness and I don’t want that, whereas boys will just tell you straight. I always got on better with the boys.”
On Love Island, Maura managed to annoy half of the girls in the villa with her explosive entrance, which saw her target Tommy Fury while he was coupled-up with Molly-Mae Hague, and coin the saying of last summer: “He’s giving me fanny flutters”.
Yet she went on to become one of the best-loved personalities of the series, as viewers watched her fall for ballroom dancer Curtis, 24, and gain appreciation for being a feminist as well as straight-talking and funny.
The couple came fourth and lasted eight months outside the villa, before Maura announced they’d parted ways via a statement on Instagram on March 3.
It came two weeks after she and Alex were eliminated from Dancing On Ice, and made Maura and Curtis the 10th couple to fall victim to the ITV show’s infamous “curse”, which tore apart fellow Love Islanders Wes Nelson and Megan Barton-Hanson last year, and Kem Cetinay and Amber Davis the series before that.
Cracks first started to appear in January when Maura was seen in tears following a row with Curtis at the National Television Awards in London.
They remained an item for a further two months, but sources reportedly close to the pair claimed they had merely maintained a “showmance” to keep their brand going.
“People say this, but what’s the point?” says Maura, defiantly.
“If I’m not happy I’m just not going to be with that person, and I can’t fake anything because my face will tell it straight away. What are you going to gain? Plus, I’m my own brand. I don’t need anyone, there’s no point denying it! I just felt like I’m 29 and I want somebody that I can see a future with. I’m not getting any younger.
“[Curtis] is 24 – maybe he did want that, maybe he didn’t, I don’t know, but I just felt it wasn’t going in that direction. The time apart as well… I want somebody I can be with most days.”
Maura described the months after coming out of Love Island as the worst of her life and claimed it was impossible to maintain a relationship that needed nurture and investment from both sides.
She said she was so overworked that she was ill with exhaustion and was barely able to see Curtis at all.
“I will never forget coming out of that villa,” she says now. “I think it was the worst time of my life. I was so busy, I didn’t know where I was. I was living out of a hotel, I was so stressed-out I was getting ill. I was so exhausted.
“I was just working so much – I was getting nothing, no break. Then I got to a stage where my head was not OK. I was upset and feeling really low from exhaustion, and I needed to take some time.
“Curtis and I barely saw each other. At the beginning it was very, very hard because I was so besotted with him, and we never got to see each other. When we did, it was really nice because you got the time to miss somebody. But sometimes it would be two weeks. You know when you’re in a relationship and you know someone’s day to day? We were that busy that we didn’t, and it was strange.
“When I started on Dancing On Ice, we were doing really well. He was coming to some of the shows and stuff, but we were still very, very busy and it just took a toll on the relationship in the end.”
Maura’s energy is contagious on our cover shoot. Full of smiles and Irish banter, she certainly doesn’t look like somebody who is grappling with the fresh stages of heartache.
That, she says, is because: “I fall in love quickly, but I fall out of love even quicker. I tend to get over someone in my head before I actually dump them. It’s good isn’t it?”
Even seemingly bulletproof when it comes to break-ups, Maura credits being cheated on by an ex as all the ammunition she needed to never be taken for a fool again.
The pair had met on the set of a Liam Payne music video in 2017, where he was the director and she was working as a model, and his betrayal became the catalyst for her decision to go on Love Island.
“My boyfriend at the time was living in Liverpool, but moved to LA and cheated on me,” she admits.
“I had a lot of suspicions – I had never been cheated on before – but I didn’t trust him and there was weird stuff happening. Then I found out for sure that he definitely cheated and that’s when I contacted Love Island and said I’m interested. They had been on to me two years in a row, but I’d been in a relationship. Best revenge ever!
“I called him and broke up with him over the phone, how savage! But I mean, he was savage to me, and he flew the whole way from LA to my hometown in the middle of Ireland to try and get me back. He told me he loved me and I gave him the middle finger.”
Right now, Maura classes herself as happily single, but is a relationship girl at heart and dreams of having a huge Irish wedding. She has been engaged once before to a boyfriend of nine years who she moved in with when she was just 17.
She ended that relationship when she quit hairdressing for modelling, which took her all around the world, and claimed he preferred her to stay put in the salon.
There’s no question Maura is a woman who knows her own mind, but she admits to having trust issues that have made her even more cautious about dating since finding fame.
“I’m happy single because I’m just out of a relationship, and I’m stronger than ever,” she says. “But I am a relationship type girl. I like being in a relationship. I like to have someone there and have someone to talk to.
“I would probably say it’s harder [to date now I’m famous], because I find it hard to trust people. Trust is a massive thing for me – I like to keep my private life, private.
“Outside Love Island, I could not imagine sitting at a dinner table with a stranger. I cannot go out on a dinner date with a stranger, I’d just feel so awkward and I’d just want to leave. I’d rather meet somebody more organically. I’m going to let that happen whenever it’s going to happen. I’d rather have somebody who wasn’t in the public eye.”
Despite her dating reservations, Maura believes she was destined to be famous and is equipped to deal with the rollercoaster that comes with being in the spotlight.
Currently living in a rented flat in Essex, back home in County Longford, which has a population of 40,000 (and 125,000 cows), she is known as “The Queen” and can’t walk down the street without being recognised.
“It’s crazy when I go back to Ireland – people shout out their car windows at me. They call me The Queen over there. You know what the weird thing is, though, I always knew I was going to be famous.
“I’ve never told anyone this, but if you ask my brother, my sisters and my mum and dad they will tell you from a very young age I used to walk into that house when I was a hairdresser and say: ‘What are you looking at? Soon the paparazzi will be outside my door and I’ll be the most famous person around.’ And they’d go: ‘Oh, Maura, stop talking s**t.’
“Fame definitely comes with a bit of good and bad, but I’m happy because I’m strong. I think if I wasn’t strong I’d struggle with this life, but I am very, very strong.”
The subject of the highs and lows of fame brings us on to the tragic fate of Love Island host Caroline Flack, who took her life the day after Valentine’s Day, aged 40, just weeks before she was due to stand trial for assaulting her boyfriend Lewis Burton.
She denied the charge and Lewis had said he did not want the case to go ahead. Maura recalls being in training for Dancing On Ice at the studios in Bovingdon when a make-up artist told her the devastating news.
“I was like: ‘Shut up, it’s not true.’ Then I went back to my room to get my phone and I was speechless, I honestly could not believe it.
“I got to speak to Caroline a lot. I remember on my last day [on Love Island] she was the one who came over to me before we got our phones back and said: ‘You’re a feminist icon, everyone loves you.’ She was amazing.
“I felt sad, really sad. I kept thinking about the closest people to her, her family and her friends and kept thinking: ‘Imagine having to go through that.’
“This is the thing, people will look at Instagram and it’s so easy to look a certain way, but that doesn’t mean that person is happy inside. If you’re having a s**t day you can easily put up a selfie with a big smile on your face. People need to realise Instagram is not real life.”
Caroline’s suicide was the third to rock Love Island in just 20 months. Bosses brought in round-the-clock counselling and more after-care following tragedies involving contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis. But calls to axe the show have continued.
Maura’s advice for those thinking of applying is: “Be yourself. Before I went in, the one thing I said to myself is: ‘I don’t care what happens on that show if I’m myself.’ If I came out and I wasn’t myself I’d completely have regretted it. You do forget about the cameras. Well, actually, I say that, but Curtis said he never did, which I found baffling, because literally day one, on that night I went in there, I forgot about the cameras.”
Maura’s no-bulls**t attitude combined with her breathtaking beauty has seen her emerge as one of the most successful ever Love Island contestants.
Bagging her first hosting role as an agony aunt on ITV’s This Morning, she has gone on to sign six-figure deals with lingerie company Ann Summers and has her own collection with Boohoo, too. Although, it’s pretty painful to hear how she keeps that Victoria’s Secret-style figure in shape…
“I don’t like exercise, I hate it,” she says. “I don’t know why people would put themselves through it. After Dancing On Ice I thought maybe I should get a personal trainer, but I just don’t have any motivation to do it. Honestly, I eat rubbish. I’m literally just lucky. I live on pizzas and McDonald’s. Some days I have McDonald’s for breakfast and a Domino’s in the evening. But the day [my metabolism] changes, I’ll force myself to do something about it.”
With a thriving television career, lucrative deals and a reputation as a contemporary face of feminism, Maura’s career is soaring. Single or not, that’s not a bad way to end the final year of her 20s, is it?
“I turn 30 on November 25 and I’m so excited,” she says. “I can’t wait to have a massive birthday bash and I want everyone there and it’s going to be amazing.
Definitely somewhere in London – I want it so extravagant. I want it OTT. I’ve already spoken to my management #about it.”
She’s certainly got a lot to celebrate.
Book you read? I haven’t had any time to read books lately.
Album you listened to? The Weeknd – I absolutely love his music.
Box set you binged? The Handmaid’s Tale – obsessed.
Movie you watched? Bridesmaids – it’s too funny.
WhatsApp you received? My hairdresser Jay. We literally never stop chatting.
Time you were drunk? About a month ago. I’m not a very big drinker to be honest.
Time you cried? At my best friend Andrew’s grave. He passed away almost three years ago in a motorcycle accident.
Hair: Jay Birmingham at Jay Birmingham Hair Ltd
Make-up: Suzy Clarke using Inglot
Styling: Tracey Lea Sayer
Stylist’s assistant: Jess Evans
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