Anx­i­ety’s not a daily bat­tle like it used to be, but I think I’ll al­ways have it

A lot has changed for Kem Ceti­nay in re­cent years – in a good way. The for­mer Love Is­land win­ner talks to GABRIELLE FA­GAN about life since the show and his mental health jour­ney


WHEN you meet Kem Ceti­nay, he’s full of the easy chat, charm and ban­ter that un­doubt­edly helped him win dat­ing se­ries Love Is­land back in 2017. He de­scribes him­self as “a happy guy these days”, as he bub­bles over with en­thu­si­asm about his new fash­ion range for Pri­mark, which he says has “lots of lairy, colour­ful shirts”.

The 23-year-old adds: “I’m quite a big per­son­al­ity, so it’s just the sort of stuff I love to wear.”

It’s just one of the op­por­tu­ni­ties the en­dear­ingly frank Es­sex-born bar­ber has en­joyed since his TV win.

Af­ter split­ting the £50,000 prize money with his then girl­friend, Am­ber Davies, he was able to buy a house; he and fel­low con­tes­tant, Chris Hughes, have had their own TV show (they make a charis­matic dou­ble act) and a chart hit sin­gle, and Kem boasts more than 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram.

For him though, his big­gest achieve­ment was cop­ing on the show – with its 24-hour sur­veil­lance, con­stant threat of re­jec­tion and in­tense per­sonal crit­i­cism – which he re­gards as an emo­tional turn­ing point in his life. It proved, he feels, that he was fi­nally over­com­ing his mental health prob­lems.

Since age 11, he’d been dogged by anx­i­ety, panic at­tacks and de­pres­sion, pos­si­bly trig­gered by the trauma of his mother, Fi­gen, 52, nearly dy­ing from sep­ti­caemia when he was young – and shortly after­wards his own ton­sils op­er­a­tion go­ing wrong, lead­ing to him suf­fer­ing kid­ney fail­ure.

“I went on the show as a test, in a kind of a way,” he ex­plains about his de­ci­sion to en­ter the Mal­lor­can villa, re­port­edly against the reser­va­tions of the pro­gramme’s psy­chi­a­trist and his mother.

“I knew it was a risk be­cause of

what I’d gone through with my mental health, but I thought I had more to gain than I’d lose. My mum didn’t want me to do it be­cause she was so wor­ried about how it would af­fect me just as I’d started to get bet­ter.”

Years of ther­apy and even­tu­ally CBT

(cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy) had en­abled

Kem, aged 20, to fi­nally start over­com­ing the prob­lems that had marred his teenage years and re­sulted in long ab­sences from school.

“I was de­ter­mined not to miss the op­por­tu­nity of Love Is­land. I’d lost most of my teenage years to de­pres­sion and this was a way of see­ing how far I’d come,” he says.

He’s still in­volved with the show, host­ing pod­cast, Love Is­land: The Morn­ing Af­ter, and is will­ing to talk to con­tes­tants af­ter they leave, share his ex­pe­ri­ences and give sup­port.

Re­cently, ITV an­nounced it was tak­ing sig­nif­i­cant steps to help con­tes­tants deal with life af­ter Love Is­land, in­clud­ing en­hanced psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port, de­tailed con­ver­sa­tions with po­ten­tial Is­landers re­gard­ing the im­pact of par­tic­i­pa­tion on the show, and im­prov­ing the af­ter­care help and sup­port avail­able for them.

“Go­ing into Love Is­land was so huge for me, be­cause it was the first time I was with­out any­one be­side me,” says Kem. “My mum and my fam­ily have been so sup­port­ive – some­times maybe a lit­tle too much – and I felt I had to take con­trol of my life and start re­ly­ing on my­self.

“It was all a com­plete new chal­lenge but turned out to be a per­sonal god­send. I was on my own lit­tle jour­ney in­side my­self that no

one knew about. I did ex­pe­ri­ence anx­i­ety and panic – my mum told me after­wards she could see it in my face ev­ery time it hap­pened while she was watch­ing.”

Kem orig­i­nally thought he wouldn’t make it through the first week.

“Hav­ing to stand up and talk in front of ev­ery­one, go on a date, or even just walk into the villa to face ev­ery­one af­ter some­thing hap­pened were all things in the past I’d have run away from be­cause they’d trig­ger my anx­i­ety to peak level,” he says.

Although he de­scribes com­ing off the show as a “shock, as I hadn’t re­alised how big it had be­come while I was in there”, he coped re­mark­ably well.

“Even though I was in the public eye, I was in a re­la­tion­ship liv­ing at my mum and dad’s and so life was still pretty nor­mal. My fam­ily kept me grounded.

“It’s a bit in­sane af­ter the show but you adapt to it a lot quicker than you think and you have to ac­cept the neg­a­tives and pos­i­tives.”

To­day, he re­gards his anx­i­ety as man­age­able. “I’m still train­ing my­self to find in­ner strength to deal with things and take each step at a time but, in the last few years, so much has changed and im­proved for me.

“Although the anx­i­ety’s not a daily bat­tle like it used to be, I think I’ll al­ways have it,” he adds. “I’m a sensitive, emo­tional per­son and through re­search and read­ing a lot about it, I’ve re­alised you’re more vul­ner­a­ble v to trig­ger points p than other peo­ple.

“I will get those anx­ious feel­ings, a bit of anx­i­ety is nor­mal, and some­times I have a re­ally bad day but I kind of get through it nowa­days. What’s great is that now my friends talk openly about mental health prob­lems be­cause it’s be­come the norm with us to be open about things.”

Kem also looks af­ter his well­be­ing and mental health by stay­ing ac­tive with reg­u­lar gym ses­sions.

“Those ses­sions are im­por­tant to me be­cause it’s about keep­ing my head in the right place and [be­ing] some­where I can zone out. I’m also into my male grooming – I have reg­u­lar fa­cials – be­cause feel­ing I look good helps me as well.”

He de­clares he’s “sin­gle” – and although he’d like to meet some­one, is not go­ing to force it. “If it comes along, it comes along. In the last few years, I’m just happy to try and find the good in ev­ery­thing, not to stress, and en­joy my­self,” he says.

“De­sign­ing the Pri­mark range – my mum’s a fash­ion de­signer and she helped me – was bril­liant. I’m so proud of it,” says Kem. “I’ve al­ways been into tak­ing risks fash­ion-wise and love be­ing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent with my look. How you dress says so much about your per­son­al­ity and who you are.”

■ KEM X, Kem Ceti­nay’s new range of menswear for Pri­mark, is on sale now.

Love Is­land star Kem Ceti­nay

Kem mod­els clothes from his new Pri­mark range

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