Love Island is back, shamelessly objectifying beautiful men and women, prying into the chemistry between them, trying to discover what makes people fancy each other, and laughing at the shallow ridiculousness of the flirting process.
It’s Jane Austen for the Instagram generation, and I’m not ashamed to say I love it. Especially this new winter version, which delivers a dollop of sunshine from a fantasy villa in Cape Town — with substitute teacher Laura Whitmore doing well at the helm in place of Caroline Flack.
For me, hunkered down on my sofa as Storm Brendan rages outside, it couldn’t come at a better time. I need my evenings brightened by watching stupidly gorgeous people coupling up, my better nature stirred by pity for whoever’s in charge of washing their fake tan-smeared sheets.
It’s easy to condemn the reality show for being morally bankrupt and obsessed with the superficial, but I find the Love Islanders’ quest to find love in the sun gloriously optimistic.
And it does have a moral compass, determined by what its young viewers deem acceptable. Take, for example, the uproar after images emerged of contestant Ollie Williams trophy hunting and posing with a dead water buffalo, antelope and other animals. Within hours, he was on track to become the most complained about contestant ever.
Shortly afterwards, he announced he was leaving the show, albeit because he’d realised he was still in love with his ex.
Put your cynicism aside and see it as a show about how to establish a relationship, the heartbeat of our lives, the core of our best dramas and literature.
Even the wickedly witty playwright Alan Bennett praised its ‘immensely respectable origins’, which he traces back to literary heroine Virginia Woolf and her sexually liberated friends in the Bloomsbury Group. Best-selling novelist Helen Warner says it has uncanny parallels with Jane Austen, with its courtship mishaps.
I suspect the group of 20-somethings vying for each other’s attention in the villa don’t spend much time reading the classics, but just like many characters in an Austen novel they are consumed by gossip and their relationships often go disastrously wrong before they go right in a manner not unlike Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. It’s Pride and Prejudice with far less clothing, and sometimes not that much dignity.
You may scoff, but many Love Island couples are still together. From 2017’s show, Camilla and Jamie now live together and Jess and Dom are married with a baby. It’s that kernel of reality behind the glitz that makes it one of the most watched, most entertaining shows on TV.
Fame hungry the participants may be but so what? Reality show TV star is a familiar job, and to knock it would be the height of hypocrisy for someone like me who has made their career on television.
The programme isn’t primarily about sex, it’s about relationships. Many couples don’t get intimate at all. But they get a head start by sleeping in the same bed from the first night, even while they’re deciding if they want to get to know that person. You have to admire the sheer guts it takes for them to get things off the ground. If you like the look of someone, it pays to be bold — you stride up to them and ask them to ‘come for a chat’, often right in front of the person they’re already coupled with.
I applaud the audacity of those with confidence and clutch my heart for the rejection suffered by the Islanders left uncoupled who have to leave in a taxi.
They are all, without exception, gorgeous and I am mesmerised by how much is real and how much is applied, injected, sliced away or glued on. I’m fascinated by the length of the nails, the flawlessness of the skin and the complete absence of cellulite in swimwear — as I scoff another Hobnob.
As an old-school feminist, who has always argued that it’s women’s abilities that should be valued, not our looks, it’s an education in the younger generation’s attitudes.
But let’s be honest, this is first and foremost an entertainment show, not a programme about role models. And that’s why so many of us are hooked.
Like lots of veggies, I sometimes fancy a bacon sandwich (with Quorn Vegetarian Bacon).
I’m also partial to Greggs’ vegan ‘sausage’ roll, but draw the line at Wagamama’s vegan tuna, pictured. It is in reality dried watermelon, seared and served hot — for £12.95. The point of fake meat is to fool ourselves. Watermelon at £12.95 is fooling no one.
I can understand why the Canadian shopkeeper on Vancouver Island wanted to give Harry a ‘great big mum hug’ at Christmas.
Four years ago, I felt the same mother’s instinct towards him when I met him for the launch of the second Invictus Games in Florida.
It was way back in May 2016 —two months before he went on that life-changing blind date with the woman who was to become his wife — and it struck me, there was only one person who inspired everything he did. His late mother Princess Diana, (pictured with a young Harry). ‘It’s a great shame that she’s not here,’ he told me, ‘I try my best to make her proud.’
Single at 31 and finding his feet, he appeared nervous and wary of what the media thought of him. He had been so at home in the Army, finding fulfilment, but was anxious about the role he was going to play in public life.
With his playboy days behind him, he wasn’t settled. ‘Earlier on in life you try to find your own route,’ he explained.
He seems to have found a route, but with plenty of bumps in the road ahead.
Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is in danger of changing into a movie-star cliche, dating endless models in their 20s.
At the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais surely hit a nerve by suggesting that if Leo and 22-year-old flame Camila Morrone watched the staggering 3½ hour epic The Irishman together, she’d be too old for him by the time it ended.
Sitting nearby and together for 31 years was Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Hanks, one of the nicest men in Hollywood, said: ‘I have a woman who teaches me what love is every day’ — and it shows. They have one of the strongest marriages in showbiz, are both gorgeous at 63, and there’s only a three-month age gap between them.