Maya Jama

TV pre­sen­ter and Bri­tish god­dess Maya Jama talks squat­ting deep, over­com­ing grief, oh, and life with Stor­mzy

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words STEPHEN UNWIN photography ZOE MCCON­NELL styling SASKIA QUIRKE and POLLY BARTLETT

I’m not too shy to walk around in a bikini,’ says Maya Jama. Which is a stroke of luck, con­sid­er­ing do­ing so is all part and par­cel of be­ing cel­e­brated as a Women’s Health cover star – some­thing body-pos­i­tive Maya was made for: ‘I know my body’s de­cent.’ Mil­len­nial poster girl, bur­geon­ing su­per­star pre­sen­ter and one of the UK’S coolest ex­ports, when the 23-year-old fi­nally sits down to chat, she has es­chewed body-skim­ming sports­wear in favour of a comfy cam­ou­flage one­sie and is glug­ging a can of Coca Cola. She ad­mits she had ‘quite a few’ at a tele­vi­sion event the night be­fore (a woman af­ter my own heart), but there’s been lit­tle ev­i­dence of a hang­over over the course of this eight-hour shoot in a cav­ernous North Lon­don stu­dio that’s some­how sev­eral de­grees colder than the glacial day out­side – a sign that Maya is nail­ing that del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween en­joy­ing her­self and still be­ing a con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional the morn­ing af­ter the night be­fore. In fact, she seems more buoy­ant than our 12-per­son-strong photography and mag­a­zine team, who all prepped for the day with pre-9pm bed­times. We get stuck into the WH fun­da­men­tals straight away; is it the tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of reg­u­lar work­outs that fu­els Maya’s self­con­fi­dence? Per­haps, but, in­ter­est­ingly, fit­ness is also the area in which her nat­u­ral dy­namism wa­vers slightly. ‘I won’t lie, I find it hard to mo­ti­vate my­self [to work out] with­out a personal trainer.’ At this point, you could write Maya off as an overindulged diva, but just give her a sec­ond. ‘It’s dif­fi­cult with the job I have – I can’t sched­ule work­outs in ad­vance, I have to grab them when I can, so I want to use that train­ing time wisely.’ Over to Alice Live­ing – Maya’s pal, personal trainer and WH favourite – who co­erces Maya to­wards the weights rack and re­sis­tance ma­chines at top gym Third Space when­ever she’s in Lon­don with a few hours to spare. ‘Alice has taught me that it’s the qual­ity of your ses­sion that counts, not how long you’re in the gym for. I love my bum, so we tend to con­cen­trate on that – lots of nice deep squats.’ This fo­cus on building her glutes is fu­elled by Maya’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the physique of a cer­tain scar­let-clad car­toon char­ac­ter. ‘I ac­tu­ally pre­fer a fuller body. If I could paint my ideal, it would be flat belly, big bum, big boobs. Like Jes­sica Rab­bit. But it’s not my nat­u­ral body shape. I def­i­nitely dress for the body I want.’ So the im­ages – Maya’s own so­cial me­dia posts and oth­er­wise – that have gar­nered the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional press are all smoke and mir­rors? Well, less smoke, more a pro­fi­ciency in pos­ing. ‘I have a thin­ner ver­sion of the body I want, if that makes sense. If you’re wear­ing a body­con dress and pose in it and push your hips out, you’re go­ing to have an hourglass fig­ure. I know what I’m do­ing!’ she gig­gles. That Maya is switched on to what works for her is clear. An ‘or­di­nary’ girl from Bris­tol who’s now a bud­ding in­ter­na­tional brand in her own right, her tale is that of an on-point Cin­derella. Bold and Bri­tish, she drips with pos­i­tive, in­fec­tious, daz­zling en­ergy, which is prob­a­bly one of the rea­sons behind her rapid ca­reer tra­jec­tory. Start­ing out as a teenager pre­sent­ing mu­sic video count­downs, she then bagged slots at Sky and MTV and last year co-hosted the MOBO Awards, more re­cently ap­pear­ing as one of the celebrity faces host­ing ITV’S Satur­day-night game show Can­non­ball. Cov­eted fash­ion cam­paigns for brands in­clud­ing Gap and Freya fol­lowed and – the big one – a soon-to-kick-off BBC Ra­dio 1 te­nancy. The pro­fes­sional cov­ered, now to the personal – Maya briefly refers to her boyfriend, who you might have heard of, Stor­mzy. ‘We’re click­bait, I get that, and I find it “what­ever” th­ese days. It used to wind me up, but I’m su­per-aware that as soon as you go out with some­body who’s do­ing some­thing in­cred­i­ble, then that’s all they want to at­tach to your name.’ Wary of shift­ing the fo­cus off her and on to him, I ask about Maya’s life pre-stor­mzy (‘Michael. Call­ing him Stor­mzy would be weird’), which she’s spo­ken about pub­licly and has been a mixed bag, to put it mildly. Her vi­o­lent, ab­sen­tee fa­ther was in and out of prison for much of her child­hood, and re­mains ab­sent. At 16, her then-boyfriend was shot dead dur­ing an in­ci­dent in a pub. It was ‘the worst thing that ever hap­pened’ to her. So Maya is real-life proof that there’s a way out of trauma. ‘You have to talk to peo­ple, oth­er­wise you go through all th­ese thoughts and you don’t get any kind of es­cape… It’s clichéd, but time is the best healer. No pain is for­ever – noth­ing is for­ever. And you al­ways end up stronger.’ I strug­gle to be­lieve that she doesn’t some­times feel a sense of ‘why me?’ that in­evitably leads to dark times. ‘You know, I’ve got this thing where, if I don’t feel 100%, I count my bless­ings. I’m like, “OK, what are you thank­ful for? You’ve got your health, a nice job, you’re not starv­ing, your fam­ily’s healthy, blah, blah, blah…”’ I stop Maya be­fore she adds an­other ‘blah’. When it comes to ‘bless­ings’, how lit­er­ally are we talk­ing? ‘Oh yeah, I pray. I pray quite of­ten. A lit­tle prayer in the morn­ing, one at night. I mean, not every day, but when I can… Peo­ple go through dif­fer­ent things that can af­fect their whole life and make them never want to do any­thing ever again, or stay at home and not want to ven­ture out. Or turn to drugs, turn to al­co­hol. I never felt like that. I’ve al­ways just felt, you know what, life’s re­ally short and shit stuff hap­pens, so I just have to make the most out of what­ever sit­u­a­tion [presents it­self ]. So I thank God that

‘If I could paint my ideal body, it would be a flat belly, big bum, big boobs. Like Jes­sica Rab­bit’

every­thing’s come into place. Every­thing I’ve prayed for, pretty much, has hap­pened, so some­body some­where is work­ing their magic.’ As she slurps the last dregs of the Coca Cola can, I ask if Maya’s at­ti­tude to­wards food is as prag­matic as the rest of her think­ing. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the an­swer is yes. She ‘eats loads of bread and stuff’ and ‘a Mcdon­ald’s when I want to’, but isn’t averse to ‘a smoothie with loads of greens shoved in and a ba­nana to hide the taste’, and ‘fish and veg and new pota­toes’ is a go-to din­ner. As un­will­ing as I am to sug­gest that she’s a liv­ing ver­sion of the hack­neyed #bal­ance hash­tag, it’s the truth. ‘I’ll eat naughty stuff, then I’ll eat nice stuff.’ Maya has two tat­toos. One is the ini­tials of her late boyfriend, the other is in Ara­bic and reads, ‘Love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no­body’s watch­ing.’ The lat­ter could be naff if it weren’t so true to Maya’s life thus far, fast-tracked com­pared with most peo­ple’s. It’s there, on her side, hid­den so that you can only see it if she’s ‘in bra and panties’, but a go-to maxim should she feel the need. I tell her she re­minds me of some­one. The pos­i­tiv­ity-over-di­ver­sity, the bound­less en­ergy, the un­abashed friend­li­ness, the sheer like­abil­ity, the abs… ‘Oh my God, I love Dav­ina! She’s been through some hard things, hasn’t she? And she’s come out the other side. She’s an in­cred­i­ble woman and I re­ally look up to her. She’s silly as well, and not afraid to have a laugh. And I al­ways feel like she cares about peo­ple when she’s speak­ing to them. That’s re­ally some­thing I hope I emu­late.’ I won­der if, as Maya’s star grows brighter and she be­gins to build a name for her­self across the pond, she’ll set her sights on a vi­sion more in line with the Amer­i­can dream. But then I ref­er­ence the fact that she’s the face of the in­au­gu­ral UK is­sue of Women’s Health.

‘I think be­ing Bri­tish is the best thing ever... I feel proud to say I’m from Eng­land’

‘I think we’re the best!’ she beams. ‘I think be­ing Bri­tish is the best thing ever. When I travel, I feel proud to tell peo­ple I’m from Eng­land. You get this re­ac­tion wher­ever you go, like, “Oh my God, you’re Bri­tish!” I think we’re a real and hon­est na­tion. Like, this is me, take it or leave it.’ Maya’s at­ti­tude is forth­right, for­ward-think­ing and re­lent­lessly up­beat. Em­pa­thy comes eas­ily to her, and she’s smarter than your aver­age cookie. That unimag­in­able in­ci­dent at 16, which could have floored her for good, she took as a tragic in­cen­tive to em­bark on a jour­ney that’s seen amaz­ing things hap­pen and built the foun­da­tions for more ex­cite­ment to fol­low. ‘I’m part of the gen­er­a­tion that be­lieves you can do any­thing,’ she adds, like a call to ac­tion. ‘No one’s ever go­ing to be you. If you’re the best ver­sion of you, you’re un­stop­pable.’ That’s your next tat­too, I sug­gest. ‘Can you imag­ine!’ she laughs. ‘That would be…’ … so Maya Jama.

‘Every­thing I’ve prayed for, pretty much, has hap­pened’

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