Love Island stars turned NHS heroes

Dealing with heartbreak in the villa is nothing compared with what they’re facing on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus. We speak to three ex-islanders who’ve swapped showbiz for scrubs.

Rachel Fenton Alex George Anna Vakili

by Lily Smith |
Updated on

Hearts were broken last week when ITV revealed that hit TV show Love Island – the dating reality show that entertains the nation with its troupe of beautiful, bikini-clad women and chiselled hunks, who fall in and out of love under the sun – had been cancelled this summer.

Director of TV Kevin Lygo revealed the show – which is usually filmed in Mallorca or South Africa – would not be returning in June due to the global coronavirus pandemic, saying, “We have tried every which way to make Love Island this summer. But logistically, it’s just not possible to produce it in a way that safeguards the wellbeing of everyone involved, and that, for us, is the priority.

“In normal circumstances, we would be preparing very soon to travel out to the location in Mallorca to get the villa ready – but clearly, that’s now out of the question.”

Rachel Fenton Instagram
Rachel Fenton has returned to her job as an NHS nurse ©Instagram

But Love Island has recently hit the headlines for other reasons, as a handful of former Islanders have defied the Love Island stereotype of following a career as Instagram influencers and have been battling the coronavirus crisis on the frontline of the NHS.

Ex-contestants Dr Alex George, Rachel Fenton and Anna Vakili have been working as a doctor, nurse and pharmacist respectively. They speak to us about the challenges they face in a situation worlds away from life in the villa.

Dr Alex: ‘It’s cooler saving lives than being a reality star’

Dr Alex George
Dr Alex George ©ITV

Dr Alex George didn’t find love in the villa, but left it in 2018 with millions of followers and countless work offers. After six months of showbiz, Alex, 30, returned to his job as an A&E doctor at a London hospital.

Now, Alex tells Closer how it feels to be dealing with the terrifying pandemic first-hand.

Alex George Love Island
DR Alex in the Beach Hut ©ITV

He says, “The last few weeks have been really tough. I’ve been dealing with patients suffering with COVID-19 and it’s been traumatic, especially seeing people die. I’ve come home and cried after a harrowing shift.

“But I’m generally a positive person, and I’ve been trying to remain as upbeat as I can. I’m isolating at my London home, away from my family, friends and girlfriend Amelia [Bath]. It’s been weeks since I’ve had any human touch and that’s something I’ve missed the most. It’s a bit miserable coming home to silence, but I FaceTime people most days. I also always make sure I do a bike ride in the morning, as fresh air and exercise really help.

“My life over the past few years has been crazy – first going on Love Island, and now this. It’s a complete contrast to sitting in the sun and focusing on dating, but the one similarity is that with lockdown, you’re forced apart from your family, so I guess the show prepared me a bit for that.”

Alex went on Love Island after working as a doctor for three years as “it was a once in a lifetime opportunity”. He found success with TV gigs, PAs and a podcast, before returning to work as a doctor the next year.

And while he says he’ll always be grateful for his time on the show, he also hopes there’s a shift away from an obsession with reality TV, and we’ll praise people for their incredible work instead.

He says, “I don’t regret Love Island at all – I made amazing friends and I’m grateful the show gave me a social media platform to share what I’m doing, and I hope to inspire people. But I think we’ve become a bit obsessed with reality stars and celebrities for the wrong reasons, and once the pandemic is over, people will reassess their priorities.

“People might change what they look for in ‘influencers’ and will want different inspiration. Isn’t someone who saves lives, or helps others, cooler than someone who poses for photos? Hopefully everyone will focus more on being fit and healthy, to stay safe and strong in the future.”

Check out: Love Island jobs - before they were famous


Love Island jobs before they went on the show - SLIDER

Amy Hart1 of 36

Amy Hart

Amy is the 26-year-old Islander from Sussex who has never had a boyfriend before.She worked as an air hostess and cabin crew manager for British Airways for eight years.On launch night, Amy announced on Instagram that she had left her old job to "start a new adventure."Amy has also taken part in beauty pageants and was crowned Miss United Kingdom in the Miss Beautiful International Pageant in 2017.

Anna Vakili2 of 36

Anna Vakili

Anna Vakili, 28, is a pharmacist from London, recognised for her 'Kardashian-like' features. Anna studied hard with her education and achieved a masters before becoming a pharmacist. The Islander has a Middle Eastern background and is a popular figure on Instagram (according to Sherif).A source told The Mirror, "Anna is well known in the London clubbing scene. She loves the attention of nights out and you'll always find her in the VIP section surrounded by men".

Joe Garratt3 of 36

Joe Garratt

Joe is a 22-year-old sandwich maker from South East London.He owns his own catering company, but used to be a semi-professional rugby player.Joe even brought his own sandwich platter to his photoshoot for the Love Island press day, made up of his signature filling, called the "Joe Special".

Michael Griffiths4 of 36

Michael Griffiths

Michael is a straight-talking Scouser and real life hero who saves lives for a living. The 27-year-old firefighter from Liverpool entered the iconic Spanish villa on the opening night and revealed that he also has a degree in bio medical science.

Yewande Biala5 of 36

Yewande Biala

Yewande is the 23-year-old scientist from Dublin who is in the villa to find her dream man. Yewande has specialised in finding a cure for cancer after starting her degree at the age of 16. She used to work 60 hours a week as an oncology vaccine specialist.

Sherif Lanre6 of 36

Sherif Lanre

Sherif Lanre, 20, is from Lambeth and worked as a chef and semi-pro rugby player before entering the Love Island villa. The London lad regularly shares videos of himself on Instagram coaching a gym class.He said, "I'm upbeat and cheeky and outrageous with my own friends so hopefully that continues in the villa. I'm always on a mission to make people laugh."

Danyluk7 of 36

Anton Danyluk

Anton claims to be the first ever Scottish man to appear on the ITV2 dating show. The 24-year-old is a proud gym owner who displayed his self-confidence in his Love Island introduction video. He confessed, "That's a medical condition that I have... a wandering eye! "I've never really been loyal in any of my relationships."

Callum Macleod8 of 36

Callum Macleod

Before going on the show, Callum worked as an aircraft engineer in South Wales. The 28-year-old hunk shares his name with a British racing car driver and a cricketer, but strangely is related to neither of them. Callum enjoys playing rugby in his free time and appears to be a family man, regularly sharing snaps of his loved ones on social media. He also enjoys luxury holidays and nights out, with Instagram snaps showing various nightclubs and shots from Ibiza, Marbella and Dubai.

Lucie Donlan9 of 36

Lucie Donlan

The blonde beauty from Newquay, Cornwall worked as a surfer and glamour model before entering the villa. Lucie likes the "typical surfer look" and previously dated last year's Islander Charlie Frederick.The male contestants are going to have to 'graft' hard to keep Lucie interested, as she confessed she gets bored easily and doesn't usually stay in relationships longer than six months.

Tommy Fury10 of 36

Tommy Fury

The 20-year-old professional boxer from Manchester is most well-known for his famous brother and former boxing World Champion Tyson Fury. Tommy Fury was trained by boxing legend Ricky Hatton and made his boxing debut in December in 2018.The fighter is pretty self-confidence and described himself in his opening video as, "honest, charismatic and charming".

Amber Gill11 of 36

Amber Gill

Amber Gill worked as a beautician in Newcastle before strutting into the Love Island villa on the first day. The 21-year-old specialised in lashes and facials, but also worked as a model for online clothing brand Fash1.UK. She also seems to be pals with former Geordie Islanders, Ellie Brown and Adam Collard.

Curtis Pritchard12 of 36

Curtis Pritchard

Curtis Pritchard is most well-known for being the brother of Strictly Come Dancing professional, AJ.Curtis is an amazing ballroom and Latin dancer too, and has featured on Dancing with the Stars Ireland as a professional dancer. The 23-year-old dancer from Shropshire recently hit headlines in December 2018, when he and his brother AJ were assaulted in a nightclub in Cheshire.Curtis had surgery on his knee and suffered injury to his eyes and face while AJ suffered from bruising.

Molly-Mae Hague13 of 36

Molly-Mae Hague

Molly-Mae Hague was the first bombshell to enter the villa this year. The 20-year-old from Hertfordshire claims her occupation is a social media influencer and she is really proud of how far she has come in her career. Molly-Mae believes she has done really well for herself and said, "considering the small town I come from, I've moved out, got my own flat and grown my Instagram following to over 150,000 to make it my job."

Danny Williams14 of 36

Danny Williams

Danny Williams was the third male bombshell to arrive at the Love Island villa. The six foot two model from Hull caught they eye of another mega stature housemate, Arabella Chi.Danny, 21, has already made his mark in the modelling industry, having worked with GymShark, Moschino and Mr. Porter. The popular model has also featured on the cover of a popular magazine with Little Mix stars Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards. Lucky him!

Elma Pazar15 of 36

Elma Pazar

Elma Pazar is a beautician and was surprisingly the first Essex resident to appear on the ITV2 dating show in the 2019 series.Her claim to fame is that she has done eyelashes on some of the girls from The Only Way Is Essex.

Maura Higgins16 of 36

Maura Higgins

Maura Higgins, 28, was the third female bombshell to enter the Love Island villa. The Irish grid girl and model is from County Longford and has worked with famous faces through her modelling work, including former One Direction star, Liam Payne. In 2017, Maura starred in Liam Payne's music video for his single Get Low.

Tom Walker17 of 36

Tom Walker

Before entering the villa Tom was a model and has shared plenty of snaps from shoots on his Instagram page. He's even previously appeared on TV and billboards. He rates himself a "solid 8" out of 10 and says he "appreciates" he's "been blessed" in the looks department.

Jordan Hames18 of 36

Jordan Hames

Manchester born Jordan Hames is a 24-year-old model who starred alongside David Beckham during Adidas' World Cup campaign. Talk about claim to fame, ey?

Arabella Chi19 of 36

Arabella Chi

Arabella became the fourth female bombshell and she just happens to be a model. She's worked for ASOS and has even modelled maternity clothes.Despite her job, the 28 year old has admitted she's reluctant to date other models because arrogance is a turn off for her and according to the star "you meet a lot of them in modelling".Her claim is previously dating Charlie Frederick and she's pals with Montana Brown who has revealed her sneaky motive for the show.

Belle Hassan20 of 36

Belle Hassan

Belle was a Casa Amor bombshell and the only lady who managed to get it on with Anton. She's 21, from Bromley and if you think she's great at doing makeup it's probably because she's a makeup artist.

Joanna Chimonides21 of 36

Joanna Chimonides

Joanna, 22, managed to turn Michael's head in Casa Amor. She's from London and before entering the villa she was a recruitment consultant.

Jourdan Riane22 of 36

Jourdan Riane

Danny was unlucky in love - both Yewande and Arabella were booted from the villa - but he quickly got over it when 24 year old Jourdan arrived. Before going on the ITV show, Jourdan was a model, actress and influencer.

Lavena Back23 of 36

Lavena Back

Lavena didn't last long in the Love Island villa - bless her - but on the plus side she has 50k followers and is a business developer, so she can always go back to doing that...

Maria Wild24 of 36

Maria Wild

Another Casa Amor bombshell that we barely saw was Maria Wild. The 22 year old is from Cheltenham and if reality TV doesn't work out for her she can go back to VIP hosting.

Nabila Badda25 of 36

Nabila Badda

Before Nabila, 29, entered the Love Island villa during the Casa Amor stage she was a hostess in London.

Dan Rose26 of 36

Dan Rose

Dan barely got any screen time, can you actually remember seeing him in Casa Amor? Us neither. Oh well, the 21 year old from Essex gained a few thousand followers and can continue being a bathroom salesman.

Dennon Lewis27 of 36

Dennon Lewis

Dennon from Watford almost managed to steal Maura's heart in Casa Amor but it didn't work out. Luckily, the 22 year old is a professional footballer so we reckon he flew straight back to his regular job after being dumped from the villa.

George Rains28 of 36

George Rains

Ahh George. He barely said anything during his time in the villa but he did spill the team when Closer Online caught up with him... The 22 year old is from Essex and if he's had enough of reality TV then he's got his job as a builder to go back to.

Marvin Brooks29 of 36

Marvin Brooks

Marvin, 29, tried to luck with Maura but it wasn't meant to be. The personal trainer and ex royal navy officer from Bournemouth then tried to crack on with Amber Gill but she wasn't feeling it.

Ovie Soko30 of 36

Ovie Soko

Ovie. He rivals Maura when it comes to the best Love Island 2019 contestant. The 28 year old from London was a professional basketball player before entering the villa and we doubt he'll completely give up his career for reality TV.

Casa Amor31 of 36

Stevie Bradley

Stevie is a 21 year old student from Isle of Man. The Casa Amor bombshell snogged Lucie but things didn't work out in the end.

Harley Brash32 of 36

Harley Brash

Harley, 20, from Newcastle managed to turn bombshell Chris' head. The estate agent was booted from the villa days after entering it but she walked out with Chris on her arm, so not a complete loss.

Greg O'Shea33 of 36

Greg O'Shea

Greg is the Jamie Jewitt of Love Island 2019. The 24 year old professional rubgy player (err, hello hun) is from Ireland. Obvs. His Irish accent is everything.

India Reynolds34 of 36

India Reynolds

India won Ovie over straight away, maybe being the same age - 28 - had something to do with it? Or maybe the fact that the star from Reading is a model.

Chris Taylor35 of 36

Chris Taylor

Chris is perfect for reality TV; he's hilarious, unique and we can all relate to him - tbh. The 28 year old is from Leicester and is a business development manager. After entering the villa he revealed he had been creating a website alongside his friend: "The idea of it is a social support network for new and upcoming dog owners".

Francesca Allen36 of 36

Francesca Allen

Essex bombshell Francesca is 23 and she's a clothing store manager and co-owns her own Boutique. You go girl!

Anna Vakili: ‘I love showing people I am sexy and brainy!'

Anna Vikali
Anna Vikali ©ITV

As one of the stand-out stars of last year’s show, Anna Vakili was known for her fierce girl code and her shouting matches with ex Jordan Hames.

But the Kardashian lookalike, 29, who swapped her pharmacy job in Ascot, Berkshire, for the villa, surprised fans recently when she took to Instagram to announce she was returning to work a year on from finding fame on the show.

She says, “I always knew I’d go back to pharmacy at some point, but the COVID-19 crisis has just sped that up.

"Pharmacy is a passion of mine, but it’s not my only passion.

"I love make-up and fashion, too, and I went on Love Island to explore that side of me. I’ve loved the influencing work I’ve been doing since then, but with pharmacists being in demand right now, I just knew I had to go back to my work.

“It’s been tough getting back into the swing of things and adapting to a new way of working, especially wearing personal protection equipment. It’s a scary time and we’ve all had to be extra careful at work, as obviously people who are feeling unwell will often head to the pharmacy first.

Watch: Love Island’s Anna Vakili reveals she didn’t like Amber Gill at first | My First Times

"It’s been sad, as we’ve heard about patients who have died from the virus. But I’m really enjoying my work – and I do feel proud.

“I posted about my return on Instagram because I wanted to show my followers you can have social status but also have brains. I can be sexy and glam, but also put on my suit and my PPE and head into the pharmacy.I love showing people that I can do both. No one should be typecast.”

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Rachel Fenton: ‘Now fans ask me about my job, rather than my outfit’

Rachel Fenton
Rachel Fenton ©ITV

Nurse Rachel Fenton, 27, left the villa in 2016 with now ex-boyfriend Rykard Jenkins. And while a career as an influencer beckoned, she chose to return within weeks to her role as an orthopaedic nurse at a busy hospital in southwest London.

Rachel says, “I really enjoyed my time on Love Island, but after leaving the villa, I knew I could never give up nursing. So many people said to me, ‘Why don’t you pursue a career in influencing?’ But I didn’t ever consider not going back to work. Nursing is my vocation – it’s what I love to do.

“It’s great that the NHS is getting so much recognition and praise right now. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had so many young girls message me to ask about how to get into nursing and what they can do to help, rather than where my outfit is from. It feels so refreshing.

“The last few weeks have been a learning curve – I’ve been working in a different department to where I’d usually be, as I’m filling in for colleagues who have moved to work with coronavirus patients.

Closer magazine issue 903
Closer magazine issue 903 ©Closer

“I actually tested positive for COVID-19 in March, which was crazy. I remember feeling something was not quite right, but other than that, I had no symptoms. I spent two weeks isolating at home, before returning to work. I feel really happy I’m back helping.

“I think there should be a shift towards reality stars being praised for their achievements, rather than superficial looks. We should look up to people for their kindness, their empathy, and for what they’re doing to help the world.

“They could always do a future Love Island with just doctors and nurses – that would be amazing!”

Read even more inspiring stories in this week's Closer magazine, out now.

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