Love Island's Amber Gill gets honest about her mental health during lockdown: 'I was in a really bad headspace'
Amber Gill knows people find her relatable. "I get so many messages from girls being like you've built up my confidence, and you've made me stand up for myself," she says, explaining that this comes with a certain level of responsibility.
Following her Love Island win in 2019, she's been given a platform to start and influence conversations – and today, she's using it to talk about mental health.
Speaking very openly, Gill tells me her mental health deteriorated during lockdown and that her weight fluctuated. The latter was seized upon by the tabloids.
Lockdown weight gain
Detailing her own personal experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gill says: "When the first lockdown began, I thought it was all fun and games. I wasn't really working, and as I got into it the only enjoyment I was getting was ordering takeaways or cooking up really unhealthy meals."
Yes, she gained weight, like many of us stuck in quarantine. But the 23-year-old, who admits to being as "ballsy" and "headstrong" as she was perceived of in Love Island, says she wasn't fazed.
"Honestly," Gill stresses, "it didn't bother me. I didn't even notice that I'd gained weight until I started getting comments on TikTok about it.
"What I did realise was that I just wasn't myself. I was in a really bad mental headspace. I'm positive, I'm productive, I like talking to my friends and family – and I wasn't doing that. I knew I was going to be in a bad way if I carried on the way that I was."
A holistic lifestyle brand
Determined to work on her mental and physical health, Gill began looking at how she could become more active again. This led to the creation of her six-week fitness plan, Amber Flexx – a programme she then began promoting on social media. "I needed to be honest about how I was feeling in lockdown, really put it across, and tell my followers what I did to uplift myself." But this incited its own criticism.
During her time on Love Island, Gill praised for promoting a more "realistic" body type. So when she brought out a programme claiming to "ATTACK YOUR FAT STORES" and "SMASH YOUR BODY GOALS", some fans weren't happy, claiming she was promoting diet culture.
"How disappointing that Amber Gill is selling a fitness plan for £50 with no formal training to profit off insecure women," wrote one Twitter user at the time of its launch.
When I raise this with her, the reality star maintains that this was never her intention. "I tried to exercise and get healthy because I was in a bad headspace, and the weight-loss was just a by-product of that.
"The platform was born because I think that sometimes in the influencer world, my voice is a different one – and not one that people are used to. I managed to get myself back into the swing of things in a way that was really easy and achievable. If I can do it anyone can."
In fact, Gill chalks up much of the criticism to elements of the branding of Amber Flexx that she wasn't on board with.
"A lot of it was down to the team I was working with," she continues. "Our views of what I wanted it to be would clash. Going on, it will be more focused on actually trying to push people to make better lifestyle choices. I'm coming out with more content soon, it's not just going to be a six-week program and be done.
"It's ultimately going to be about holistic wellness. Well before Love Island, I was meditating with crystals – I was a Reiki practitioner. Tarot cards, angel cards, I've got everything. That's what I'm about.
"I love it [my spirituality]. I don't want anyone to say anything bad about it. It's ridiculous, I know, because people say bad things on my platform all the time. But it's kind of my precious thing. It's helped keep me grounded, keep my head, and kept me at peace."
Gill has been misunderstood before. The initial reaction viewers had of her during the first few weeks of Love Island was not favourable. The then 21-year-old strutted around the Majorcan villa telling people that she was a diva, and openly berated the first islander she was coupled up with – Callum Macleod – telling him that he "looked old" and "didn't suit sunglasses".
After a few weeks, however, it was apparent that Gill's "sass" was just forthrightness. She proved to be a great friend, who wasn't afraid to say whatever was on her mind.
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Elements of this didn't make the final cut. However, she showcased her loyalty for all to see when a dispute broke out between her pal Yewande Biala and former Love Islander Lucie Donlan earlier this year. After Donlan claimed that Biala had "always bullied her", Biala hit back at the claims by tweeting: "You refused to call me by my name because it was too 'hard to pronounce' now you wanna say I bullied you!! Bullied."
Gill defended her friend on Twitter and publicly called out Donlan for her "micro aggression" and "privilege".
Diversity on Love Island
Speaking about the incident, and what she calls a "lack of diversity" on the hit reality series, Gill says: "I was witnessing what was happening, and I knew it wasn't right.
"A lot of black women with ethnic names have learnt to just 'get over it'. And that shouldn't be the case. It's respectful to at least try – I'm not asking the girl to say everything fluently, but you at least have to put some effort into it.
"I know how especially Nigerian names have some beautiful meaning behind them. So, I felt it was a bit insensitive and ignorant for someone from another culture to not even try. Doing stuff like that can cause self-doubt and make you want to change and dilute yourself. Yewande is her name, and everyone should hear it."
Towards the end of our conversation, Gill tells me that she's always been this way, and will never stop talking out when she feels the need to.
"I'm a Leo," she laughs. "But really, it's just who I am as a person. And I don't know where the hell it comes from. I know what I wanna say and I'll say it. And I'll go for whatever I want."