Reality star ‘unrecognisable’ as first ever celebrity joins Love Island

Fans were left divided over casting of ‘The Only Way is Essex’ veteran reality star

Ellie Muir
Tuesday 04 June 2024 08:00 BST
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Joey Essex enters Love Island villa as first ever celebrity contestant

Love Island fans have been left “genuinely shocked” after it was revealed that the first bombshell of the new series was The Only Way is Essex veteran star Joey Essex.

Joey, 33, made his reality TV debut back in 2011 and was known for his tagline “reem” while appearing on the show that followed the drama-filled lives of a group of young people living in Brentwood.

Joey walked into the Mallorcan villa declaring that he’s looking for a queen to help rule Essex with him, while a post from the Love Island Twitter/X account said he is looking to find a wife.

While the Islanders look pleased to be in the presence of the celebrity, Joey’s casting has been met with mixed reactions from viewers – since he’s the first-ever celebrity to compete on the show, which breaks away from the traditional format of having normal people, or lesser-known influencers, join as contestants.

Some viewers branded the reality star “unrecognisable” having not seen him on screen for several years. Joey appeared on the show buzzcut, which differs from his signature quiff viewers saw him donning during his peak fame while on TOWIE.

Viewers remarked they had to “double check that it was actually him” when host Maya Jama introduced Joey to the Islanders, while others said they thought Joey was Ron Hall, who was a finalist of season nine of the reality show.

“A buzz cut Joey Essex on Love Island was not in my bingo card for 2024,” said one fan.

Others were critical of the decision to cast an already-established celebrity on the show.

Joey Essex on ‘Love Island’
Joey Essex on ‘Love Island’ (ITV)

“[Love Island] just confirmed once again that it’s just people who need to help their platforms,” said one viewer, as another added: “It might be time to end the show completely – bringing in Joey Essex pretty much defeats the purpose of the show.”

Another fan branded the decision to cast Joey a “big mistake” because the rest of the contestants will be starstruck by him “sucking up to him as he’s famous”.

In the first episode of the series, Jama introduced several twists that break away from past seasons. Instead of having to line up and decide who they fancied straight away, the Islanders were given the chance to mingle and get to know each other a little before playing a game, which saw the girls rank the boys in order of who looks the most like boyfriend material, and vice-versa.

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Jama then revealed that the Islanders were coupled up based on how they are ranked.

The cast of ‘Love Island’ 2024 so far
The cast of ‘Love Island’ 2024 so far (ITV)

In The Independent’s review of the opening night of series 11, critic Rachel McGrath questioned whether the producers’ changes will be enough to keep Love Island feeling fresh and relevant in 2024.

“At the height of its popularity in 2019, the sun-soaked series pulled in an average of more than 5 million viewers, and 3.6 million of us tuned in to see Amber Gill crowned winner, just weeks after suffering one of the show’s most painful Casa Amor dumpings (Michael “Chaldish” Griffiths has still not been forgiven).”

“What made that series so compelling was how real it felt,” said McGrath, but also wondered whether Joey is actually looking for love or not “doesn’t matter”.

“Is the perma-tanned king of reem truly looking for love? Maybe it doesn’t matter after all. As long as the drama keeps coming,” McGrath concluded.

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