Ekin-Su won the eighth season of Love IslandReva Croft

There’s something incongruous about a Love Island star at the Cambridge Union – it’s a building I associate more with members of Parliament than members of the villa. When Ekin-Su strides into the Union’s library, striking with dark hair and a tailored jacket, she leaves behind her a cloud of floral perfume.“She smells amazing”, a girl whispers in the audience. But behind her slick appearance, Ekin-Su is modest, funny, and unapologetically authentic when she speaks to the student audience.

Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu rose to fame last year on season 8 of Love Island. Entering the villa on day three, she quickly became a fan favourite – being named the “greatest Love Island contestant of all time” – and went on to win the show alongside Davide Sanclimenti.

I sit down with Ekin-Su after her Union appearance. Both confident and self-deprecating as she talks, Ekin-Su reiterates how “strange” she is; she also tells me she’s happy to have found “someone as strange and as Mediterranean as [her]” in Davide.

“There was more support from the producers than from the people on the island”

When asked about her background in beauty pageants, she speaks about a childhood in which she was “really badly bullied”. She recounts one incident where she was cruelly invited to a field one afternoon by others at her school, before they “chucked a bottle of piss on [her]” and pushed her down a hill. This was a formative experience, she tells me: “It traumatised me, but it made me strong. It made me who I am today”. Competing in beauty pageants was an attempt to “be strong” and grow confidence, but soon she realised this wasn’t a world she wanted to be part of. “It may sound cliche”, she says, but “looks fade. Beauty is on the inside.”

She applied to Love Island on a whim, having had little luck with dating apps, and tells me she thought she would last just two weeks before “being booted off”. She had no idea that she had become the public and media favourite. “I thought everyone hated me for crawling on that terrace!” she laughs.

When Ekin-Su was on Love Island, she was 27 – young by any standard, but comparatively old on a show where one of her fellow competitors was just nineteen. She says that, in her experience, age doesn’t always align with maturity. It’s all about confidence.

“If the girl that someone chucked urine on can [win Love Island], you can do anything”

“If I had gone on Love Island when I was 20, I wouldn’t have been that confident, because I was quite insecure”, she says. But she was surprised by the maturity of some of the younger contestants on the show: “it’s a mentally hard place to be.”

There’s been a lot of talk about the impact shows like Love Island have on mental health, with three tragic deaths linked to the show. But when asked whether she felt supported, she’s unequivocal. There was more support from the producers than from the people on the island, she says: “they had my back”. Since she’s left the villa, Love Island has paid for her to see a psychologist every week.

Her relationship with Davide is going from strength to strength – but how does she keep that relationship authentic in the face of so much scrutiny on social media? She admits that it’s been “hard” navigating the public pressure. On days where she doesn’t post on Instagram, or doesn’t like Davide’s picture, she’s flooded with rumours that they’ve broken up. Privacy is very important to them: “you don’t need to involve everyone in your relationship. The more private, the better.”

Ekin-Su’s views about social media are perhaps the most surprising for an influencer: if it wasn’t for her job, “I’d leave it completely”, she admits. For her, though, the hate she receives online only makes her more confident. “There’s a lot of opinions out there”, she points out, and tells me how she reads the “Daily Mail comments” to feel stronger in herself: “It’s like reverse psychology. The more negative stuff I see about myself in the press the more I want to be confident.”


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After her success on Love Island, I wonder what her advice would be to students looking for love? “There’s no rush!“, she laughs: “you’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you!” She then adds: “your priority isn’t love right now! Your focus should be uni – your degree is a lot more important”. She also believes love comes from within: “get to know yourself first. Don’t go looking for love and you might find it”, she exclaims. “Go to the library and you might meet someone cute!”

What’s next for Ekin-Su? “Absolutely anything - I like to surprise people!”, she says, her eyes lighting up. Her next thing “could be a serial killer”, she jokes – I hope.

She leaves the Union on a hopeful note – telling the student audience not to listen to their critics. “If the girl that someone chucked urine on can [win Love Island]“, she says: “you can do anything.”

Love Island may be an “illusion”, but it’s an experience she wouldn’t change, and Ekin-Su urges everyone in the room to apply. “You never know”, she says, “[it’s] where I met the love of my life.”