It attracted 100,000 applicants, each hoping to be one of the lucky 11 chosen to experience the glamour of Love Island.
But out of all the hopefuls for the new series, just three were selected – with the remaining eight approached directly by ITV, which makes the hit reality show.
Critics say it makes a mockery of the recruitment process – and the row now threatens to eclipse tonight’s launch of the eighth series of the programme, which has proved as controversial as it is successful.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that ITV targeted its highest-profile contestant – Gemma Owen, the 19-year-old daughter of former England footballer Michael Owen.
Critics say it makes a mockery of the recruitment process which 100,000 applied for this year
Producers also contacted model Indiyah Polack, 23, and approached fitness fanatic Davide Sanclimenti, 27, when he was in a nightclub.
Love Island has been keen to publicise that Tasha Ghouri, 23, is the show’s first deaf contestant, but do not mention that staff got in touch with the model directly, as they did with salesman Ikenna Ekwonna, 23, fishmonger Luca Bish, 23, and 22-year-old student Liam Llewellyn.
Amber Beckford, 24, a nanny from London, was also approached by ITV, but decided to go through the application process. That leaves only paramedic Paige Thorne, 24, estate agent Andrew Le Page, 27, and microbiologist Dami Hope, 26, to have emerged from the official recruitment process.
One insider said: ‘There were almost 100,000 applications this year, which is about the same as most years, but the final cast doesn’t reflect that.
‘There is a lot of talk about how they want real people to join Love Island, but in reality that is far from the truth. It seems such a mockery. What is the point of wasting your time going through the process?’
The Love Island website states: ‘If you think you’ve got what it takes, then we want to hear from you straight away’
The Love Island website states: ‘If you think you’ve got what it takes, then we want to hear from you straight away.’ Candidates are asked to fill in an application form and, if chosen, go through a series of auditions.
The latest series is based in a new villa in Majorca, but producers have refused to reform the show by making it any kinder, despite questions about the psychological impact on contestants and the pressure they face by being thrust into the limelight. The broadcaster has, however, provided them with five months of mental-health support in advance of the show.
‘Things won’t get any nicer for the contestants,’ said a production source. ‘Viewers like to see the rollercoaster rides of the stars, their real journeys, and sometimes they are upsetting. That won’t change.’ Former contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis took their own lives, and Ofcom received thousands of complaints when Dani Dyer sobbed in 2018 after being shown a video of her boyfriend and fellow contestant, Jack Fincham, in another villa with a former partner. The regulator ruled that ITV did not break broadcasting rules. To prepare them for the ten-week series, contestants will hear from former Islanders and have ‘inclusion training’ covering ‘micro-aggressions’ and the language around disability, sexuality, race and ethnicity.
They will also get support on how to manage the likely lucrative endorsement deals that they may be offered. The show will be presented by Laura Whitmore, who took over following the suicide of Caroline Flack in February 2020, with the winning couple sharing a prize of £50,000.
ITV has hailed the inclusion of deaf contestant Miss Ghouri, whose appearance follows the triumph of deaf EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis in Strictly Come Dancing.
Miss Ghouri was born deaf and at five was given a cochlear implant, which turns sound into electrical signals and sends them to her auditory nerve. The dancer and model said: ‘It’s just a part of who I am.’
Star player Gemma has bikinis to promote
Gemma Owen is hoping that her bikinis catch admiring glances from more than just her fellow Love Islanders.
The 19-year-old daughter of former England footballer Michael Owen lists Kim Kardashian as her inspiration and plans to use her appearance on the ITV show to promote her swimwear range. ‘I am a big fan of Kim Kardashian, I find her very inspiring,’ she said. ‘She is a businesswoman who has achieved so much and I would love to do what she does.
‘Like her, I have my own range of bikinis. It’s called OG Swimwear and I will be wearing a couple of them.’
The teenager launched the firm during lockdown and her collection boasts 27 pieces, ranging from £90 to £105.
Love Island has ended its deals with fast-fashion brands such as Boohoo and Misguided and this year’s wardrobe will be supplied by eBay. Contestants will also be given hair and beauty products from Boots.
Gemma Owen is hoping that her bikinis catch admiring glances from more than just her fellow Love Islanders