*”Dani’s cover interview with YOU magazine took place in November ahead of the difficult decision for her and Jack to part ways on Thursday 6th December. Regrettably, by this point, the magazine had already gone to print, meaning this interview contains inaccuracies and old quotes about their relationship. We need to respect both Dani & Jack’s privacy in such a difficult and upsetting time and therefore aren’t able to provide any further comment on the break up. Dani had such an amazing time shooting this cover feature with YOU magazine, the whole team have been amazingly supportive and accommodating. We hope YOU’s readers and Dani’s fans will still enjoy this interview and continue their support for her”* – A statement from Dani Dyer’s PR.
She’s the Generation Z poster girl who won over the nation with her old-fashioned values. Dani Dyer tells Sarah Oliver how she keeps it real after winning this year’s most talked-about reality show.
If there’s any such thing as an ultra-modern cockney sparrow I think it’s Dani Dyer. Apart from some serious hair extensions, which cascade almost to her bottom, she’s tiny. Just over 5ft tall with dainty hands, size three feet and a face too small to encourage her to have her lips filled again any time soon. The biggest thing about her is her motor mouth.
The runaway reality star of 2018 – actually the runaway star, never mind the reality bit – has gone posh and lived in Essex for the past decade. But she was born in East London and still scatters her aitches as fast as her opinions and aphorisms. She is probably the only person I have ever met who could say the words ‘I would rather have drunk pickle juice. I do like a gherkin’ and not have it sound like a double entendre.
Dani is the ultimate Generation Z girl, the one who’s got all the smarts and feels all the feels. She rarely gets the ’ump (one of her words) about anything. In a world dominated by plastic boobs and silicone lips at one end of the teen and early-20-something spectrum (Generation Z was born after 1994) and snowflakes and Twitterstorms at the other, she’s the 32B real deal.
She’s huge right now. She and her boyfriend Jack Fincham are still floating high in the celebrity stratosphere after winning this year’s Love Island. Their relationship managed to elevate the whole programme from a guilty pleasure, in which someone might have sex on telly, to the level of national conversation. She is in a West End show this Christmas, starring alongside her dad, the EastEnders actor Danny Dyer, and, together with Jack, has an ‘at home’ reality show launching next month. A new book, What Would Dani Do?, is coming out next year. Her Instagram account has a mighty 3.4 million followers with fans including bona-fide cool girls such as the Stranger Things actress and teen Hollywood superstar Millie Bobby Brown.
Dani can therefore legitimately claim to be one of the faces and voices of her generation and it would be an unwise Millennial, Gen X-er or Baby Boomer who didn’t take her soft power seriously. ‘It’s mad,’ she says. ‘Who would have thought I’d get all that? Actually I’m scared of my followers. I don’t know what to do with them. It’s been overwhelming, having people being kind to me for just being myself.’
Being herself is 22-year-old Dani’s superpower in an age when authenticity is highly prized. Her fame, now immutable, actually only dates back six months to Majorca in June when she tottered – groomed, glammed and bikini clad – into the Love Island villa. She coupled up with stationery salesman Jack, 27, and stayed loyal to him for the rest of the show. Unlike some other contestants, the couple refused to have sex on screen. ‘I wanted to be able to look Jack’s nan in the eye afterwards and know he could look my nan in the eye, too,’ she says. She wore his underpants at night in bed with him to preserve her modesty. Calvins? ‘Yeah, course. Roomy.’
Now it’s a chilly winter morning, many, many degrees cooler – in every sense – than those red-hot villa days and nights. Dani is warming her hands on a newly sweetened coffee having paused to ask if anyone would mind if she took a lump of demerara. Generation Z maybe, but pan-generational good manners are, in part, what’s made her the nation’s new sweetheart. ‘I’ll keep me coat on while we chat,’ she says. ‘What’s the worst that could happen, eh?’ The jacket is lovely, fake fur the colour of red squirrel, it looks as warm and cosy as a cuddle. It’s from her own clothing range. Another surprise. ‘I have to have class in my clothes,’ she says. ‘Sexy but classy. I don’t do trashy.’
And she doesn’t: what emerges is a young woman who doesn’t do ‘trashy’ in any aspect of her life. She’s modest by today’s standards, frugal with her new income and, given that she’s planning to move out of London next year with Jack and their French bulldog puppy Sandy (because she’s Dani, ‘like in Grease’), she sounds pretty wholesome, too.
For starters, she’s a real homebird. Her favourite night involves a takeaway chicken balti, a face pack and Netflix, wearing properly ironed pyjamas. ‘My favourites are my red and white Coca-Cola ones, even though they make me look like Where’s Wally?’ If she does have to go out to a celebrity party, she longs to be home by 11pm and when she gets back she always has a cup of tea and a handful of Galaxy Counters. Does she count them out like Elizabeth Hurley counts her raisins? ‘No, I stick my hand right into the bag. I can hear them, in the fridge, laughing at me if I don’t.’
She is very happy with Jack. He’s a man who looked at a tooth-whitening chart in the dentist’s and picked the shade marked titanium dioxide (the whitest white known to science) but, boy, she loves him and that eye-blinding smile. With his sculpted abs, trademark quiff and perma-tan, you might think she’d want to make more of an effort than the comfy cotton PJs – her other faves feature Elsa from Frozen – but she says not. ‘He has no great expectations. I set the bar pretty low.’ He’s The One, though? ‘Yes. There wasn’t anyone fit to tie his bootlaces on Love Island.’ That’s nice. ‘It’s true.’
The couple are currently living in their first home, a smart rented apartment in London’s Docklands. ‘Imagine if your mate moved in with someone after dating for five months. You’d say, “Are you insane?” but I feel like we’ve been together for years. People said Love Island was testing, but it was a bubble. Coming out, that was the real test.’
It’s one they’re taking in the full glare of the gossip columns with everyone desperate to know the state of their sex life since they didn’t do it in the villa. It’s not something Dani’s about to share – ‘that’s never gonna be a chapter in my book’ – but Jack did recently tell a newspaper that it had been disappointing at first but was now blistering.
Ooooh, she was cross about that. ‘He was talking sh**. People seem to want to know what we are getting up to of a night-time but this is our life, not some sort of sex-education class.’ Nor will she post anything louche online, aware of the perils of her digital footprint. ‘No, nothing nudey, no bits hanging out. That’s for Jack. And my own sanity.’
Social anthropologists believe Gen Zeds have more in common with their grandparents and great-grandparents than the generations that immediately precede them, so perhaps it’s not surprising Dani sounds almost old-fashioned in her attitude to relationships and sex. She is looking forward to marrying Jack and starting a family, though not right now: ‘I am 22 and feeling it.’
She’s old-fashioned in her attitude to money, too, a saver not a spender. The priciest thing she has bought since becoming massively famous is a belt. ‘A Gucci one. Expensive.’ But still, a belt. She is currently planning to top up her Jo Malone moisturiser pots with Dove or Garnier to save money and recently put back some steak from Waitrose when she spotted the £50 price tag: ‘Imagine cooking that and burning it, you’d be gutted.’
Her earnings could be significantly higher but, savvy about her personality and lifestyle brand, she won’t endorse cosmetics lines and diet products. She’s much more about body confidence, scoffing sausage, mash and onions – her favourite meal – and indulging in the odd glass of rosé or a Porn Star Martini (passion fruit, champagne and vanilla vodka) at weekends. She admires the Kardashians and their 24/7 commitment to their looks but, when asked which one she likes best, it’s not Kim with her big sculpted booty or her supermodel sister Kendall Jenner, it’s Kris, the momager and brains of the family.
‘I would not have loads of work [cosmetic surgery] done,’ says Dani. ‘People love you for the things that ain’t perfect. You could be the most beautiful girl in the world and have a grey, bland, used teabag personality, and then you aren’t beautiful in my eyes.’ They’re the words of a true iconoclast in an age when being sexed-up and made-up seems to matter more than who you are or what you do. She puts slogans on the T-shirts and jumpers she designs, such as ‘God Is A Woman’ and ‘Girls Do It Better’, to encourage others. ‘When girls are young they need those words in their head to big up their own securities, to own it a little bit.’
I’m amused, though, when I ask her who she’s designing for, and she says, ‘Mmmm, young girls from 15 to 25,’ before adding as an afterthought ‘and even older.’ Zeds might accept they are growing up but they haven’t started to think about growing old. Not yet. That’s still something that happens to other people.
Listening to Dani, what stands out is that in a world of constant change, where the core skill is an ability to adapt and update as fast as an app on a smartphone, Zeds need a steady inner life. Dani might be tapping, typing, swiping, scrolling and scattering heart emojis across the internet, she might be happy to be an early adopter, an influencer and social-media driver, but she sounds as though she’s reached back to the last century for her social, moral and economic values.
She was born four years before it ended, in 1996, the daughter of Danny Dyer and his school sweetheart Joanne Mas who found herself pregnant at 18. When Dani was three, with Danny senior’s acting career about to take off, the couple separated. They would eventually reunite, have another daughter, Sunnie, now 11, and a son, Arty, five. They married in 2016 with Dani as maid of honour. The Dyer clan are so close that Dani doesn’t hesitate to name her mum and her nan as her role models. Her pride in her dad and the work they’re doing together – you can see them on stage in Nativity! The Musical and on TV in Through the Keyhole – lights her up like a beacon.
After school she trained as a dental nurse and went to lots of fruitless auditions while pulling pints at a pub near her home. Love Island changed her life – and made her life – because it was the perfect vehicle for the perfect Zed girl to showcase her opinions, values and ambitions. Before that she says, ‘trying to get going in my career was like looking for the end of the rainbow. I could never get there.’
Now she has arrived and she’s got her pot of gold, though it has cost her in some ways. She misses her privacy, the chance to shop in Primark without the risk of being mobbed, the fact that if she doesn’t post on Instagram for a couple of days people wonder if she’s split up with Jack, the way a big meal encourages people to speculate that she’s pregnant. ‘But I ain’t gonna moan,’ she says. ‘Why would I?’
The only thing that really troubles her is the judgment of the internet on women like her, how they look and how they curate their lives. Politics, climate change and the war on terror don’t keep her awake at night – probably because Generation X and the Baby
Boomers are still in charge of those – but the pressure to be someone online that you can’t
live up to in real life, that bothers her. In a nutshell, it’s her ability to ignore that pressure,
to be herself, that has made her the nation’s Generation Z favourite.
‘There are so many more avenues for people to judge and be judged these days. I always say there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I have no idea how people get to thinking they’re better than others. We all come out of someone’s vagina, after all,’ she says. That’s maybe keeping it a bit too real, but she does have a point.
Dani will star in Nativity! The Musical at the Eventim Apollo, London W6, from 19 to 31 December; eventimapollo.com. Her new TV show Jack and Dani: Life After Love Island starts next month on ITVBe.