How a sarky Scot and a Fettes girl saved re­al­ity tele­vi­sion

Love Is­land has been the feel-good hit of the sum­mer and is much needed, says Ai­dan Smith

The Scotsman - - Front Page -

Do proud mums of fa­mous sons and daugh­ters still keep scrap­books? Lov­ingly-tended al­bums stuffed with the ban­ner head­lines and vi­tal mo­ments of glit­ter­ing ca­reers, pre­served for pos­ter­ity on stiff pa­per? Pos­si­bly not, which in the case of Love Is­land would be a shame. Has there been a TV show which has gen­er­ated more words? Big, brainy words and small, racy ones. Long-reads of 2,500 words and ur­gent 140-char­ac­ter pleas from the Twit­ter­sphere, such as: “Camilla is a beau­ti­ful hu­man­i­tar­ian bomb dis­posal ex­pert and Jonny is a waste of space. Get him off my telly pronto.” Words, words, so many words.

If scrap­books were in­deed com­piled for this pro­gramme, which ended last night, then sep­a­rate vol­umes would be re­quired. One could be called The Brexit Edition, col­lect­ing all the articles declar­ing Love Is­land to be the Bri­tain of 2017 in mi­cro­cosm. Ei­ther be­cause it de­picted a con­ser­va­tive place where the in­hab­i­tants were des­per­ate to cou­ple up in the old-fash­ioned way, pulling up the du­vet and then pulling up the draw­bridge while the rest of the world jeered. Or, given that the set­ting was Ma­jorca, be­cause it of­fered a bunch of twen­tysome­things one last blast of hot sun and free­dom of move­ment be­fore their killjoy, in­su­lar par­ents and grand­par­ents’ rule be­comes law.

Then there would be the Lit­er­ary Edition. Not to be con­fused with the Lit­er­ally Edition which records the many oc­ca­sions when con­tes­tants used “lit­er­ally” for em­pha­sis (“I lit­er­ally shot past the Moon and or­bited Venus a cou­ple of times when he snogged me”), this is a com­pen­dium of the equally-nu­mer­ous at­tempts by cul­tural com­men­ta­tors to gar­land the show with com­par­isons to great works. Love Is­land is Shake­spearean! No, it’s Chauce­rian! Get real – it’s The De­cameron, that 14th cen­tury Ital­ian clas­sic of villa-based ro­man­tic romp­ing, trans­posed from Florence to a Brits hol­i­day play­ground in the im­me­di­ate post-david De­cameron years!

Still with me? Have you ever read an ar­ti­cle about Love Is­land which has gone this long with­out men­tion­ing biki­nis, bums and bonk­ing? Well, the Sex vs Love scrap­book would be another whop­per, from the early ac­cu­sa­tions that the show was noth­ing more than “sneak-porn” through to the eve-of-fi­nal as­ser­tions of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Richard Cowles and pre­sen­ter Caro­line Flack that the show wasn’t ex­ploita­tive or gra­tu­itous and was about re­la­tion­ships.

To para­phrase one of Love Is­land’s many gifts to our lan­guage, Cowles and Flack were presiding over a show which “100 per cent on pa­per” looked like a grim sleaze-fest. But tele­vi­sion doesn’t play out on pa­per any more than foot­ball does. Love Is­land has saved re­al­ity TV. Yes, and clutch those pearls all of you over 35: sex is a proven byprod­uct of love!

The pro­gramme-mak­ers couldn’t have achieved all of this on their own, though. Love Is­land owes most of its suc­cess to two Scots – con­tes­tant Camilla Thur­low and Iain Stir­ling, the nar­ra­tor. In­deed, with­out them I wouldn’t be writ­ing about the show, wouldn’t be strain­ing for a lit­er­ary ref­er­ence of my own to best con­vey the thrust of Stir­ling’s com­men­taries be­fore even­tu­ally set­tling on Ra­belaisian – and 2.1 mil­lion of you wouldn’t have watched.

Stir­ling de­vel­oped his quick wit on the stand-up com­edy cir­cuit while at Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity, then fur­ther honed it by shar­ing screen­time with one of TV’S sharpest minds – CBBC’S Hacker the Dog. “Still to

come,” he’d an­nounce be­fore an ad break, “Montana’s break­down”. But that wasn’t him be­ing cruel. Sim­i­larly, he wasn’t des­per­ately fame-seek­ing in the re­al­ity TV tra­di­tion when he groaned: “I’m a law grad­u­ate, you know.” There are only so many sin­gle en­ten­dres about sausages an ed­u­cated man can take.

Mean­while, Thur­low at­tended Fettes Col­lege, whose dream­ing spires I can glimpse from my of­fice win­dow. What has been the school’s re­ac­tion to her ap­pear­ance on Love Is­land? When the head of English, my neigh­bour, re­turns from hol­i­day I’ll en­deav­our to find out. Maybe you think the alma mater of Tony Blair pro­duc­ing a re­al­ity TV star can­not be con­sid­ered a proud mo­ment (or maybe you think it’s all of a much­ness). And per­haps you won­der how Thur­low has gone from her day job to Love Is­land – for, yes, this is the Camilla who’s the “beau­ti­ful hu­man­i­tar­ian bomb dis­posal ex­pert”. But her mother doesn’t won­der, re­mark­ing on a visit to the set that, never mind all those haz­ardous as­sign­ments, this was “the bravest thing she’s ever done”.

Don’t put your daugh­ter on the re­al­ity TV dat­ing show where it’s only dou­ble beds, Mrs Wor­thing­ton? Well, none of the par­ents seemed es­pe­cially de­ranged, and none of the con­tes­tants who made it through to the later stages was drunk on the prospect of D-list celebrity sta­tus. Ac­tual bevvy­ing was con­trolled. Ma­li­cious­ness – a re­al­ity show sta­ple – never reared its head. The night lenses in the com­mu­nal bed­room flick­ered now and again, but weren’t re­ally the rea­son the au­di­ence watched.

Mostly Love Is­land was a group of at­trac­tive, if oc­ca­sion­ally bi­cy­clepumped pneu­matic, mil­len­ni­als sit­ting around in not many clothes and hav­ing a laugh and try­ing to form friend­ships and a bit more – and in that Thur­low be­came hugely pop­u­lar with the core au­di­ence for be­ing shy and not very suc­cess­ful at ro­mance. She also drew cheers for bodyswerv­ing one would-be paramour who was sus­pi­cious of fem­i­nism and of hap­pily ad­mit­ting to lik­ing what another termed “books and s**t”.

A bit of fun, then. Some es­capism be­fore the na­tion’s es­cape com­mit­tee do the need­ful.

2 Camilla Thur­low, for­merly of Fettes Col­lege and more re­cently em­ployed in bomb dis­posal, has found fame as a con­tes­tant on re­al­ity TV show Love Is­land

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