Maura Higgins sits on a chair in a crowded bar that’s been roped off especially for her. Everyone here – and everyone outside – is hoping to catch a glimpse of the Longford lass off Love Island.
In a bygone era, you could have imagined Howard Hughes or Errol Flynn pursuing Maura Higgins to the ends of the earth for her attentions – sending private planes to Ballymahon to swoop her off to Hollywood. Everyone in the bar has an opinion on her. Every eye is trained on her.
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I ask Maura how she finds all the attention. “It’s very overwhelming,” she says.
How does it play with your head? “I’ve not really had a second to process everything. It is just very overwhelming at the moment. I wasn’t expecting all the attention, to be honest.”
When you were a little girl, did you want to be famous when you grew up?
“Yeah, of course. I always said to my parents and family growing up, ‘Some day, I’m going to be famous, mammy!'” Maura’s tiny frame rattles with laughter.
What were your ambitions at school? “At first,” she says, “I always wanted to be a hairdresser; and I did that. I did that for 10 years. And then I wanted to go into the modelling world. I never saw myself doing this,” she says meaning being the centre of the universe courtesy of a reality show which saw Maura rewrite the rules of sexual politics. “I just thought it would be completely out of my league, to be honest.”
So, to have 10 minutes on your own – albeit with two PR handlers within earshot – in a corner with the small-town girl who emerged, if not the winner, then certainly the star of Love Island, is not to be sniffed at. Nor is Maura. She might be here to launch Bellamianta, a brand of luxury tan, but the 28-year-old is possibly the most influential Irishwoman in the world at the moment. Everyone from Amy Schumer to Lena Dunham has lionised her. Even Leo Varadkar is a fan.
How does it make you feel that a lot of people your age can’t afford to buy houses and can barely afford to rent?
“I mean,” Maura says, warming to the subject, “I’ve had to do it. I struggled to pay my rent for a few years. You know, even a couple of months before going into Love Island, I struggled to pay my rent. And I never saw myself here. I don’t really plan my future. I just take each day as it comes.
“When I went back to my home town, a lot of young girls were like screaming and going, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ – I kneeled down to a few of the girls and I said: ‘I came from here. Anyone can do it’.”
Maura was hailed as a one-woman antidote to toxic masculinity when she called out Tom Walker’s misogyny. When Tom expected you to go to bed with him, you told him “Go f**k yourself.”
“Yeah, of course!” she says. “Don’t talk about me like that. You know? Did he expect me to sleep with him? I had no intentions of sleeping with him. Just because I talk about sex doesn’t mean I am going to sleep with him straight away.”
“When I was in the villa talking about sex,” Maura adds, “I couldn’t understand why everyone was so shocked about it. Like, I always, always spoke about sex. Even to my parents. I never felt ashamed to talk about sex and I feel that, women talk about sex, it doesn’t mean… it doesn’t make you any different to anyone else.”
When you fancied Tommy Fury, you didn’t hold back.
“I just went for it, to be honest,” she says. “I never looked back on any of that, because now Tommy is like a brother to me. But with me and Tommy, it was more just banter. I am a girl who goes for what I want.”
Does Maura see herself as an icon for a new feminism? “Well, I’m definitely a feminist.”
What did you inherit from your mother ? “Be yourself. And, you know what, not everyone is going to love you. But it’s okay. The world would be a very strange place if everybody loved each other.”
Is it overwhelming that so many people have expectations of you and your romantic life with your boyfriend Curtis?
“We are very happy. It is going in the right direction. So we don’t really care what people think.”
Your mother Sharon raised you to be strong?
“To just be myself, yeah, and don’t let anyone get away with saying shit to you. Always stand up for yourself.”
How did you make that philosophy work for you?
“I have no regrets. Everything I’ve done, I’m happy with. So if people don’t like it, then…”
People who don’t know you or have never met you say you’re feisty. Are you?
“You know what? I don’t think of myself as feisty. I just stand up for myself, and I give my honest opinion. I’m not afraid to say what I think, and I think that’s the way everyone should be. Why should you care what people think of you?”
Where would you see yourself in five years’ time?
“I honestly can’t answer that because I do take every day as it comes. That is just the way I live.”
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