‘You’re surprised? I had no idea!’ Caroline Flack on why she said yes after just three months

In her first interview since her surprise engagement announcement, Love Island presenter Caroline Flack tells Judith Woods why she knew she’d found the one after just three months.

Love Island. Has it really been a year since we revelled in the sun-kissed surprise hit of last summer? Can 12 whole months have elapsed since the nation was transfixed by the high drama of string-bikini holiday romances conducted beneath blue Majorcan skies?

Soon we’ll be immersed once again in the turbulent emotional lives of beach-booty beauties and ripped man-hunks looking for love. Or fame. Or both. And no one is more excited than the programme’s sassy presenter-cum-superfan Caroline Flack. Can she shed light on a promised ‘new twist’ in the upcoming fourth series?

‘We all know that I can’t be trusted with a promised new twist!’ she shrieks. ‘I would get overexcited and tell someone. Everyone! Last year when they set up everything to introduce a new villa, I had no idea. I actually walked past it one day and noticed it had exactly the same lighting as our villa but when I mentioned what I’d seen to the producers I was told that it was just a private house – and I believed it!’

Zoe McConnell

Caroline is, in no particular order: petite, sparky, pretty, (spray) tanned more comprehensively than if she’d spent the last fortnight basting herself in Barbados, animated, self-deprecating, 38 years of age – and engaged, people! Yes, the woman who sparked more ‘Unlucky in Love’ headlines this side of the pond than Jennifer Aniston has hit the jackpot with a sparkling rock and a buff fiancé more than ten years her junior.

Her husband-to-be is Andrew Brady, 27, a former Apprentice contender turned Celebrity Big Brother inmate. Some people think he’s a cocky so-and-so, others that he’s a charming devil – it turns out he’s both. And as fortune favours the brave, he got the girl. After a swift three-month courtship, the nation’s sweetest single laydee is officially off the market.

‘Andrew proposed totally out of the blue and it was very low key,’ says Caroline, beaming. ‘I had no idea he was planning on asking me to marry him! But I knew things felt different in the lead-up; from the very first date with Andrew I felt as though I’d known him for years. I’ve never had that feeling before.’

Frankly, the good news came as a huge shock to everyone, as attested by the social media hullabaloo when she Instagrammed her ring. To be fair, the path of true love didn’t run smooth; their liaison was very on then very off. Then it was declared on again after Brady was snapped by the paparazzi poking his head disconsolately out of a window at Caroline’s North London home.

Zoe McConnell

She assures me she wasn’t keeping him prisoner. ‘It wasn’t a cry for help; his head was probably stuck out because I don’t let him smoke indoors,’ she giggles. ‘Look, the media go a bit crazy sometimes over nothing; this is my life. I’ve got one shot at it and I’m happy. That’s all that matters. We all need to take the pressure off ourselves and become more accepting and less critical of other people’s lives. I don’t read people’s opinion online because if you believe the good then you must believe the bad, so I choose not to believe any of it. I know what’s in my heart. Let’s enjoy life rather than bringing people down!’

Having been on our screens since 2002, when she landed a part in offbeat sketch show Bo’ Selecta!, Caroline has presented everything from music videos to CBBC shows, Big Brother’s Big Mouth, The Xtra Factor and, briefly, The X Factor itself with Olly Murs. Proving herself to be quick-witted, professional and immensely likable, she reached a huge mainstream audience when she took part in Strictly Come Dancing four years ago. Despite being relegated to the bottom two in week seven, she and partner Pasha Kovalev went on to take the glitterball trophy. Then in 2015 she began presenting Love Island – a dating show in which unfeasibly attractive men and women must ‘couple up’ or face eviction – as well as its spin-off show Love Island: Aftersun.

While the first two series were deemed reasonably successful, last year’s went stratospheric as everyone from Liam Gallagher to Phillip Schofield avidly tuned in to watch the ‘journeys’ of laid-back Marcel, insecure Gabby, weepy feminist Camilla and argumentative couple Chris and Olivia. If you don’t know who they or even the eventual winners Kem and Amber are, don’t worry, there’s a new cast along every year, so no need to play catch-up.

Today Caroline is basking in the glory of two Bafta nominations for Love Island: one for Reality & Constructed Factual show and one for Must-See Moment when rapper Stormzy made a cameo appearance. Caroline is beyond delighted, not least because she is entirely integral to the series. Just how has she survived in the notoriously competitive (for which read ‘ageist’) light entertainment business?

‘I’m not the cleverest or the prettiest or the thinnest,’ she says of her USP, ‘but I’m a grafter. I thrive on hard work and I always keep a sense of humour, which achieves a lot more in any situation than acting the diva. Live television means you have to be prepared for every eventuality and I love that.’ She sees her role as more than just reading an Autocue or ad-libbing with finesse. Even off duty, she’s on point.

Zoe McConnell

‘I feel as though I’m the Love Islanders’ big sister and I’m always sticking up for them online,’ she says. ‘It’s hard in the house – they are cut off and have no idea how heated things get on Twitter. Last year Olivia was hounded by girls on social media because of her volatility and “meanness” in her treatment of Chris, so I spoke up in her defence because I felt somebody needed to be a voice for her.’

It’s rather touching, especially because Caroline used to be the one being gossiped about; not for any professional achievements but her personal life, which now qualifies as ancient history. She famously briefly went out with Harry Styles at the height of his One Direction fame when he was 17 and 14 years her junior. There was an on-off relationship with music manager Jack Street and rumoured (but vociferously denied) links to James Corden, Olly Murs and Russell Brand. She was even ‘involved’ with the then most eligible bachelor in the land, Prince Harry. In her 2015 autobiography, entitled Storm in a C Cup, she wrote about how she met him through a friend and how they spent that first evening chatting and laughing.

‘However, once the story got out, that was it,’ she wrote. ‘We had to stop seeing each other. I was no longer Caroline Flack, TV presenter, I was Caroline Flack, Prince Harry’s bit of rough.’ She refuses to say anything more. Nor will she be drawn on the subject of his Windsor nuptials, other than to murmur that Meghan is ‘a really beautiful woman and, from what I can tell, beautiful inside, too’.

But back to Caroline, who will be tying the knot herself before too long. The elephant in the room, of course, is how come, at the age of 38, she is marrying a man not yet 30? Although, having met her, I’d just like to say that after ten minutes in the company of this energetic, flirtatious girl-woman, it’s hard not to think of her as anything but a millennial – far too young for a sensible 40-something partner. The only compromise she’s made to entering her late 30s is sartorial: ‘I wear my cut-off denim shorts a couple of inches longer, but that’s about it,’ she cries. ‘I can still put my leg over my shoulder. That’s all about pilates, though, nothing kinky.’

When I press her about the age difference she simply shrugs, because it doesn’t matter to her. ‘What can I say? You can’t help who you make a connection with,’ she smiles (actually she never stops smiling so let’s take the loved-up expression as read). ‘My mum says we seem like best mates – and that’s all I want. People spend too long overanalysing and overthinking things. Over the past few years I’ve seen so many loved ones go through very sad and tough times and I’ve come to realise that we can’t take anything for granted. I’ve never lived life traditionally or by the rules and I’m not about to change.’

As far as pinning down a date, or even a month, that’s not happening any day soon. The next few months will be full-on for Caroline as filming starts. ‘I’ve got a really busy summer coming up with Love Island and Aftersun so there aren’t any wedding plans at this stage,’ she says. ‘But I have asked my twin to be my maid of fun when the day comes.’

Caroline’s twin sister is Jody, a former film editor before she became a full-time mother with three children aged 12, nine and five. ‘I feel as though I’m half their mum and half their auntie,’ says Caroline. ‘I adore hanging out with them. Not so long ago Jody went to New York with her partner and I had the kids for four days, which was wonderful.’ It’s admittedly a bit premature (and impolite) to ask about Caroline’s own plans on that front but she’s always enjoyed multitasking and she’s never been afraid of stretching herself.

Last year she took on a fresh challenge in the shape of her musical theatre debut in the Gershwin confection Crazy for You. She received great notices and despite her relatively small part proved a huge hit with audiences. Having trained in musical theatre it was, to an extent, something of a homecoming. ‘I really enjoyed the whole thing; it’s quite exacting to perform the same show every night and I’d love to do it again. I’m in talks about something that might happen next year, which would be fantastic if it comes off.’

This year Caroline is striking out in a different direction with a flirty, fun clothing collection in collaboration with River Island. A spring/summer beachwear range, it’s quintessentially Caroline. ‘It was one of the most exciting things I’ve done,’ she grins. ‘I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, a bit bohemian, so I’ve included the sort of things I would wear: a beach kimono, a Hawaiian shirt, denim shorts, informal dresses. It wasn’t a case of just swanning in and putting my name to something. I made a moodboard and chose the fabrics and had a clear vision of what I wanted. I’m really pleased with all of it and I’ll be wearing it on Love Island as often as they let me.’

Zoe McConnell

Anybody wearing actual clothes on Love Island always attracts attention but that hasn’t stopped a staggering 80,000 buff young things clamouring to take part in the show within the first week of applications. Why do they do it? ‘Who would turn down a free holiday to Spain?’ says Caroline. ‘You can get a great tan and you might find love; if I were 18 I would probably apply for it. From the production perspective, it’s a self-producing show: we follow what happens and respond. We might think, “Muggy Mike looks a bit lonely, so let’s stir things up and send a new girl in”, but every love story is different. I stay in every night when it’s on, whether I’m in London or abroad. I want to watch it along with the rest of the country.’

By the way, Love Island has its own lingo: muggy means untrustworthy, a melt is someone being soppy, grafting is working hard to get romantic attention and cracking on denotes starting a new relationship with someone else. As far as the whole ‘sex on TV scandal’ goes (sex is called ‘dusting’, for some reason) Caroline is relaxed. Apparently contestants had sex way back in the first series but hardly anyone noticed. In Love Island 2017 there appeared to be a lot of activity under the sheets, but nothing explicit.

‘Sex isn’t vital to the show but it is part of relationships, so we allude to it but we don’t show it happening,’ she says. ‘Audiences prefer to see the contestants being loving rather than confrontational and that’s nice. Love Island has demonstrated that you can’t predict where relationships will go or where they will end.’ In art (or, indeed, a Reality & Constructed Factual show), as in life, it’s impossible to second guess the human heart on or off screen. But judging from Caroline’s aura of blissed-out contentment, love is very much in the air.

Caroline’s cut

GUILTY PLEASURE Dancing on my own in the kitchen.
WHAT DO YOU SPEND TOO MUCH ON? Expensive scented candles are my downfall.
MASTERMIND SPECIALIST SUBJECT Song intros – I can name a tune in the first bars.
SKIRTS OR JEANS Skirts because I have short legs.
SUNRISE OR SUNSET Rising early makes me a nicer person.
GREATEST IRRITATION Addiction to our mobiles. We’re losing the art of conversation.
FAVOURITE TIPPLE Iced coffee or vodka soda.
SHOES OR BAGS Neither. I’d far rather spend £600 on holiday flights than a pair of heels.

Love Island returns to ITV2 next month. The spin-off show Love Island: Aftersun follows live every Sunday. The River Island x Caroline Flack collection will launch in-store and online at riverisland.com at the end of this month