Maura Higgins became the breakout star of 'Love Island' 2019. This IMAGE writer got to meet the star in person and was not disappointed.
They came in their droves from every inch of this isle. They knelt in admiration. They prayed for Longford and they swathed themselves in fake tan. What was all this raucous for you ask? Well, the unofficial queen of Ireland had arrived at Café en Seine.
The monarch I speak of is Love Island finalist Maura Higgins. The breakout star of the series, she entered the villa when we needed her most. Before she shimmied her way to Mallorca, watching the reality show was like watching paint dry. Everyone was too careful, too watchful and too afraid to do anything other than talk about connections.
Related: Love Island's Maura gives a masterclass
in how to deal with slut-shaming
Maura quickly made her way into the hearts of this nation (and the UK too). Her no-nonsense straight talk, her cutthroat advice and her lack of patience for slut-shaming and narrow-minded men meant she became a feminist icon. Since leaving the villa, she has gained over two million followers on Instagram, a gig on This Morning and a whole new life.
The girl has come a long way from Longford.
A group of nearly 20 journalists congregated in a room where we waited in anticipation for the queen, who was in town for the launch of Bellamianta's new tanning products.
We fought each other to get our questions in, while huddling around her as though gawking at a newborn baby. It felt like a press conference. Maura must have felt like Mick McCarthy during the Saipan debacle (when Roy Keane left the World Cup and the Irish football team at the same time, for those not sport-inclined).
So, what has life been like for the Longford lass since leaving the villa? "I've not really got time to process anything. It has been just so overwhelming since getting out. It has been crazy."
View this post on Instagram
The response to Maura has been overwhelmingly positive, but surprisingly, she thought it would be the opposite. She said, "You know what, I am so opinionated and I did expect to come out to a lot of hate – that is the truth.
"I didn't expect to last in there as long as I did; I thought I would be gone in a couple of days. To get to the final, I just couldn't believe it. Like all the support – and Amy Schumer – come on like, I was shocked!"
One of my most favourite things about Maura throughout this journey has been her staying true to her Longford roots; particularly through the medium of her accent. It's thick and lush and I felt free seeing someone on the international stage not attempting to dampen it.
I asked if she ever felt the need to change it, especially now when she has a new job on British television, and it was a resounding 'no'. "I'm not going to try and filter it. Like, this is me."
We all have sex
Maura was – and is – refreshingly open about sex. Her sexuality is very much a part of her, but for many, this was uncomfortable and disconcerting. She was surprised at the reaction: "When I was talking about sex in the villa, I was so surprised with how people reacted. They were so shocked and their faces were like 'oh my god'... I was like, 'it's a natural thing, we all have sex'".
Related: Why the real winners of this year's Love Island are the girls
Many may feel this openness stems from outside influences, like friends or the media, but for Maura, it was her mother.
"I can talk to my mother about anything; now I mean anything. So I would never have been ashamed about talking about sex. The way I was brought up was that I didn't have to filter anything growing up with my family. It was normal for me."
One of the biggest talking points of the series was when islander Tom (a wet towel) pondered to the boys that he was going to find out if Maura was "all mouth". Maura, in all her power, told him to 'F-off', and in doing so, she empowered girls for generations to come.
Does she think it's important for girls to stand up to slut-shaming? "Oh my god, 100%. Just because a woman talks about sex doesn't mean anything. Like I was never going to go into the hideaway and sleep with him; I barely know the guy. Making that horrible comment and assumption was out of order."
With a This Morning slot and a move to London on the cards, Maura's star is on a stupendous rise. At the end of the interview, I asked what her worst moment in the villa was, and she said it was when she couldn't find a connection with anyone and felt like giving up.
With total honesty, I could never imagine Maura being the type of girl to quit – she is a powerhouse, with or without a man.
All hail Queen Maura, it's time to bow down.
Image: Brian McEvoy
Read more: Love Island: How Michael's behaviour gave us all a lesson in 'gaslighting'
Read more: Have we gone too far with the Amy Hart commentary on Love Island?
Read more: Amber and Greg's Love Island win is a lesson to us all in the importance of high standards