Loudmouthed, lairy, in-your-face… that’s former Geordie Shore star Vicky Pattison, right? Wrong, says Judith Woods, who meets a smart, focused woman leaving past excesses behind.
Vicky Pattison. Love her? Hate her? Or – let’s be honest – do you sort of know the name but can’t quite fit it to any number of interchangeable reality-show faces? If so, you’re excused.
In the beginning it was Geordie Shore, followed by Judge Geordie (yes, it really was called that), Ex on the Beach, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! which she won, and Celebrity Masterchef in which she was runner-up. And those are only the shows you’ve heard of.
‘That’s a pretty fair assessment of me public profile,’ laughs Vicky, in her broad Geordie accent. ‘I’m under no illusions. I did every job that came up. Maybe when I have children I’ll withdraw from the public eye and say, “Right, this bit’s private, just for me.”’ She pauses for a single beat. ‘Or maybe I’ll splash them all over the cover of Hello! and make them earn their keep!’
I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed by her hard-won self-knowledge or her comic timing. Now aged 33, Vicky displays both in the sparky, entertaining podcast she launched in the first lockdown, while holed up at home in Brentwood, Essex, with her boyfriend Ercan Ramadan. It’s called The Secret To… and the themes have been freewheeling: body confidence; how to survive a nasty break-up; building a business on social media. Guests have included Olly Murs, Roman Kemp and Scarlett Moffatt and the ensuing funny, frank exchanges are a tonic, even if the language veers towards the salty.
‘Oh, mate, it’s just pre-drinks swearing,’ grins Vicky, ‘not your full-on kebab-shop rant. I’m having real conversations with real people – we’re not trying to peddle perfection. Everybody’s sick of hearing how blessed celebrities feel; we want to know who drank their first glass of wine before 11am. It’s all about being truthful.’
Quite so. Over the past few years the former loudmouth, lairy TV personality has been spearheading her own reinvention. Or maybe rehabilitation is a better word. By her own admission, a lot of water – and even more dirty laundry – has flowed under the Tyne Bridge since she first appeared on our screens aged 23 and all hell broke loose (AKA TV gold). She was drunk, aggressive, divisive and topped it all by bonking under a duvet while the cameras rolled. Oh, and she was arrested in 2013 for lashing out at two women in a nightclub.
‘I’m hugely grateful to Geordie Shore for giving me my start but I cringe at so many of the mistakes I made publicly,’ says Vicky, ruefully. ‘I am utterly mortified that I hurt two people; it’s not an excuse but my mental health was at rock bottom. My most bitter regret, though, is the rift Geordie Shore caused between me and me mam.
‘She was so shocked and disappointed that her graduate daughter had morphed into this monstrous caricature she didn’t recognise. I hardly recognised her myself.’
Newcastle-born Vicky was an original Geordie Shore cast member. With a degree in drama from Liverpool University and a stint working in the notorious Majorcan party resort of Magaluf under her belt, she felt she was ‘right cosmopolitan’ and thrilled to be chosen.
‘The ultimate reality TV show trifecta was The Only Way is Essex, which was ridiculously glamorous and super-dramatic; Made in Chelsea, which was pure, vicarious escapism; and Geordie Shore, which was car-crash TV,’ she says. ‘It was supposed to be “constructed reality” but we were often too drunk to follow a script. The producers let us go right ahead.
‘I did feel slightly pressurised into having sex but, much as I’d love to blame someone else for my behaviour, I can’t. I was very naive but you can never be old and wise if you’ve never been young and daft. Some life lessons are harder to learn than others…’
She trails off with a shrug. Ten minutes into Vicky’s articulate, charismatic company and it’s easy to empathise with her mother, but their relationship healed after Vicky left the show in 2014, whereupon she stepped on to the reality show merry-go-round in order to ‘make hay while the sun shone’.
‘I never wanted to be famous, I wanted to be rich. To look after my family, live in a nice house and take lovely holidays. Reality TV allowed that to happen. There was a core cast of around 35 people on the reality circuit, all vying for the same jobs and contracts,’ she says. ‘Now you have the reality juggernaut that is Love Island, with up to 40 young people twice a year, all hoping they are going to find love, make it big with fashion contracts and become the new Molly-Mae [who came second on the show in 2019 and is now a hugely successful influencer]. But most will be thrown back into real life and that must be tough.’
Vicky made damn sure she stayed in the spotlight. There was the de rigueur fitness DVD, which makes her wince because, behind the beach body, she was ‘miserable, hungry and bored. I look back and it was all so vapid,’ she observes. ‘Thanks to lockdown I’m 54 in bikini years and that’s fine. I have lumps and bumps – so what? There’s a lot to be said for being confident in your 30s; it gets a bad rap among younger people. I love it.’
By 2015 her fame reached critical mass when she was asked to take part in the 15th series of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! ‘I thought I might not be a popular choice,’ she says. ‘But as I was waiting to go into the camp, incommunicado, I was blissfully unaware that social media was going crazy, demanding I be axed from the show. What did they think I was going to do? Drink Jägerbombs and perform slut-drops on the jungle floor? My only aim was to be myself and make me mam proud.’ Vicky did more than that: she won hearts, minds and the public vote and was duly crowned Queen of the Jungle.
On her return to the UK she was picked up as a panellist on Loose Women and a slew of reality shows and books beckoned. By the end of the decade she had announced her engagement in a magazine and signed up for a TV documentary leading viewers through the preparations for her blingtastic Big Day. But her fiancé, businessman John Noble, cheated on her in Dubai on a lads’ break and the story hit the tabloids.
‘It was awful, heartbreaking. I felt destroyed,’ she says quietly. ‘I now know I dodged a bullet but I ignored the red flags. I was so in love with the idea of being in love that I was loyal as a dog; regardless of how badly I was treated, I kept coming back for more.’ Vicky kicked Noble out and they haven’t spoken since. Then, at the point most tear-stained brides would have imploded with humiliation, she swiftly changed the title of her TV show to Vicky Pattison: The Break Up and kept the cameras rolling as she wept and grieved. It was a remarkable testament to her single-mindedness.
‘I had spent years trying to make something of my life. There was no way the cancellation of my wedding was going to take that away,’ she says, with steely conviction. ‘I thought, “I can’t be the only strong woman taken for a fool by a fella with a wandering d***. Why should I be ashamed?” everybody felt sorry for me but there was no way that was going to be my narrative, so I put on my lipstick and went on This Morning the very next day. After that, I didn’t stop working. I painted on a smile and pretended to be OK ‒ until one day I woke up and I was OK.’
Her partner Ercan is very different. Although he appeared on The Only Way is Essex, he left after the briefest of stints and is now on course to become a personal trainer. According to Vicky he is simply ‘too nice for reality TV’. When, during the 2020 lockdown, she spearheaded the creation of care packages for the elderly and vulnerable by drumming up support from big brands, she and Ercan packed them together. ‘He’s the sort of person who didn’t hesitate to get on board and I really admire him for that.’
They’ve been an item for more than two years and over Christmas suffered with Covid-19, which she succinctly describes as ‘aches, pains and exhaustion, coupled with a shedload of sweating and a whole heap of whingeing’. Although Vicky admits marriage and children are her ultimate life goals, she is striving not to get ahead of herself.
‘I’m trying hard to stop and smell the roses – not always on the lookout for the next job, the next step, the next progression,’ she says. ‘I have a lovely life, some nice handbags and shoes, I’m a happy bunny.’ I ask how she would feel if she had a daughter who wanted to emulate her by entering the reality TV world? She pulls a face.
‘To be honest, I would warn her off; my perspective was entirely warped by reality TV. I overshare, I have no filters, I have made myself public property,’ she says. ‘I look at influencers and feel that might be a better option; they have more freedom. They are in control of their image. As long as they look great in a pair of designer boots, nobody expects more. My job’s not done until I’ve been papped on Brentwood High Street looking like a tiny homeless man in baked-bean-stained joggers.’
Her self-effacement and scathing humour will take her far; to that end there are ‘top secret’ TV projects in the offing that she can’t talk about. After a brief hiatus, she’s launching a second series of her podcast, and don’t be surprised if she pops up on panel shows before her Big Reveal.
‘The truth is, anyone from reality TV who dares to branch out will have scorn poured on them,’ she says, matter-of-factly. ‘So, whatever I end up doing, I’ll make sure I’m brilliant at it before I unveil it to the world.’ I have every reason to believe her.
Vicky Pattison: The Secret To… is available on Acast and all major podcast platforms. New episodes are released every Thursday