Understanding Gemma Collins, Britain's Biggest Diva
Gemma Collins cancelled our interview so I did the diva thing and took photos of myself instead.


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Understanding Gemma Collins, Britain's Biggest Diva

My interview with The GC got cancelled, so instead I wore a load of her clothes and tried to understand the real her.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
Chris Bethell
photos by Chris Bethell

Despite what you've heard, there are two Gemma Collinses. Not a Gemma Collins twin or clone. Rather, Gemma Collins, the woman, and Gemma Collins, The GC.

Like Beyoncé and Sasha Fierce – Bowie and Ziggy Stardust – if you're going to produce art of such magnitude, only a magnificent persona will do. Following the arch of every great alter-ego narrative, once upon a time, pre-fame, we had only Gemma Clare Collins.


This Gemma Collins, you'll barely recall, was a used car salesperson. Brentwood's top wheeler dealer used her showmanship to woo Essex bros into purchasing motors with the same flair she now uses to flog Boohoo wrap dresses and meal replacement shakes on Instagram Stories. It was this razzle dazzle that brought Gemma Collins to the attention of The Only Way Is Essex producers. That show had a first season, of course, but never truly began until the second, when Gemma Collins appeared on the scene.

The first time we meet Gemma she's selling a car to Sugar Hut promotor Kirk, who in turn tries to sell his own dad to a then more innocent Gemma, looking for love. "I lav geezers," she says. This is Gemma Collins. One episode later, she's on her back, legs up like a dead crab, chatting about her designer vagina while someone furiously rips hair from her mons pubis. This, still, is Gemma Collins.

But at some point during that second series of TOWIE, Gemma Collins created a monster: The GC. The GC is a manifestation of Gemma's Id. The Id knows "no good and evil, no morality", according to Freud; it is a chaotic mass of instincts seeking release. The GC is who delivers the memays; who gets booked on every reality TV show going; who charges fans for selfies in which she is not just not smiling-with-the-eyes, but also not smiling-with-the-jaw. Gemma knew – she says in her new book, more on that later – that by nurturing The GC, letting her come out every now and then, she'd get more airtime. It was her golden ticket up and out of that dealership.


"It's like the turtle and the slug or the horse and the rabbit, I can't remember what it was. The slowest one won in the end." – Gemma Collins, 2014

Once Gemma Collins knew she could harness the power of The GC, the "spiritual" switch between the person and the persona became a ritual (I'm not making this up; again, it's in the book). Gemma Collins has to prepare to become The GC. She takes herself somewhere quiet, lies down and zones out, "because The GC takes up a lot of space, physically and mentally".

Imagine Gemma Collins in a darkened room, the hiss of an air humidifier playing put over the soft tones of a two-hour mix she found by typing the words "chilled out vibes" into YouTube. You thought you knew the real Gemma Collins, but you have no idea.

I had an interview scheduled with Gemma, in the hope of getting to know the real her, but it got cancelled at the last minute. So in a bid to understand Britain's biggest diva, I bought a load of her clothes – which you can see me modelling in the photos throughout this article – spoke to people who know her and did all I could to get to grips with the GC.

Playsuit, glasses and bag from Boohoo.

Gemma Collins is Miss Piggy incarnate: she has zero tolerance for most situations, loves garish clothes and beta males, and likely says "moi" a lot. When Miss Piggy was told by an interviewer, "You are a diva, a divine diva," she threw her head back and looked at the camera to say "I know!" – which I'm fairly sure Gemma has done at least once on Loose Women.


She's simply too much. She is a floor-length polyester-blend sequinned orange kaftan in 38 degree heat; she is playing "Shape of You" on the office speakers before your first coffee. In the words of broadcaster Michael Buerk on I'm A Celeb, when Gemma is near it's "as if a errrrr… if a strong wind, no, a hurricane, had blown up the creek and into the camp".

She is a force unto herself – but also, in many ways, she's a lot like all British women.

Like most of us gerwls, Gemma Collins says "basically" before every sentence, knowing that everything she's about to commit to words will be basic. She is perpetually A Bit Pissed Off ("[dramatic pause] Are you jokin' me? If ahm being honest ahm a bit pissed off"). You can imagine her crying at her desk when asked to do a task that is mildly stressful but is absolutely within the remit of her job spec. She drinks ten cans of Diet Coke a day. Her romantic dates are just job interviews. She "doesn’t smoke", but has a fag on the toilet at 11PM every single night. One unnamed showbiz journalist who worked with her on a feature told me Gemma once escaped a fitness bootcamp to go to the local Chinese restaurant. Little bits of wee come out when she laughs too much. She is all of us.

"[sobs] It's like havin' a job, workin' 24-7" – Gemma Collins, 2014

Many a heterosexual relationship can be reduced to the infamous Gemma and Arg dynamic.

See, for reference, the Gemma and Arg poolside showdown. Arg tells his mates "listen" as he lowers his bottom to fart onto the surface of a shallow swimming pool. Gemma swirls over with a sexy-destructive air, like Ursula the Sea Witch swathed in Missguided. One of the mates says crudely, "You's two gettin' together or what?" Gemma begins to undo her day-glo pink wrapping paper to reveal the luxury eclair underneath, with the immortal words: "You ain't ever… gonna get… this candy." Every emotion flits across Arg's face in the space of a second – surprise, arousal, confusion, grief, irritation – as his veneers poke out under a slack jaw, like a schoolboy who's been told "sweeties only on weekends".


Every British woman has the capability to stand tall in front of a pathetic, farting, floundering man, and say, "I don't even wanna go awt wiv you. You disrespect gerwls!" She is so violently ours.

Outfit from Boohoo.

To list every one of her noteworthy moments, outfits and phrases from recent years would necessitate another 3,000-word-long article, but for posterity, a few:

The oompa loompa in a sleeping bag look; when she saw a ghost; renaming memes "memays"; screaming "LOVE ISLAND!" at an awards ceremony while wearing 2015's space buns in 2017, then falling down a trapdoor; when she was "CLAUSTROPHOBIC, DARREN"; being a massive fan of the dictionary; every interaction she had in the CBB house with Chris Maloney; and best of all: "I'm Gemma Collins, Fearne. I'm 34, I've earned my diva-ship."

So much so that Gemma now has a whole new book out instructing other women How to Be a Diva.

T-shirt from Gemma Collins' actual Depop.

What is a diva exactly? Diva means female deity in Italian. It is a fabulous woman who other fabulous women and the LGBTQ community commonly flock to (Gemma Collins). The original diva [citation needed] was Boudicca, the warrior queen who came from near Essex (Gemma Collins). Divas are Michelle Visage, Cher, Cher's Twitter account, Mariah Carey. You know them when you see them.

People without banter – often straight men – can find divas too much. On one episode of Celebs Go Dating, Gemma is paired with a rude little man. Despite apologising profusely for being late, he remains passive-aggressive. "I'm just doing your diva bit indoors," he tells her. Gem curls her hair behind her ear and pretends not to hear. "Ya what?" she smiles. "Diva? You callin' me a diva?" For the millionth time in her life, her career, she's off. She removes herself with elegance and poise. "Call me a cab!" she says, striding out the door. "I ain't wasting my time on that."


Gemma Collins does not waste her time on that, meaning dry or petty or beige people. Gemma Collins is a diva.

“Fuck awf, Gillian McKeith” – Gemma Collins, 2016

You can read How To Be A Diva in two or three hours. I don't think VICE will get sued for me saying I can't imagine Gemma Collins wrote a word of it. She was not disturbed for thorough copy approval. I have read and absorbed more of her book than her. But what we do get very clearly from this ghostwritten tome (despite the above, I do believe this to be true) is Gemma Collins' firm idea of what makes a diva.

A diva, according to Gemma Collins, is:

• A strong woman who knows what she really wants in life and accepts nothing less
• Doesn’t compromise
• Has a backbone
• Speaks her mind slash has opinions
• Knows what she likes, and the things she likes are often pink and are always fabulous
• Is assertive and will not be pushed around

A diva has:
• An aura of fabulousness

The book sells the idea that anyone can become a diva, via "divolution", but some people – including, of course, our Gemma – are born divas.

When she was a tiny tyke she'd cry and cry relentlessly. Once, she had a tantrum and her parents had to hide in a different room. At the age of five, in the background of a family video, you can hear her mum saying, "Good girl, Gemma, good girl," like the guy who gets eaten on the loo in Jurassic Park, "hoping I don’t kick off".


Dreams began young – she went to Sylvia Young Theatre School, like all the great Brit singers and thespians. Here, elocution lessons attempted to pull the Essex out of the queen of Essex. However, little Gemma Collins would repeat, "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" over and over again to no avail.

At Gemma Collins Boutique, Brentwood.

Suffice it to say, the diva was always there, and it wouldn't be long before The GC emerged. Her mother – her genuine birth mother – is called Joan Collins, nickname The JC. The JC was as adamant as Gemma was that she'd be a star. Recently, The JC needed a wheelchair, so googled pictures of "celebs in wheelchairs", found Lady Gaga in a Louis Vuitton one and got it shipped over.

Gemma's favourite film is White Chicks. She lost her virginity to the soundtrack of Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack". Her fandom's "Beatlemania" to her prompted her to employ a bodyguard called Sid. She believes that if she'd been alive in the days before TV she would have been called a white witch.

On aesthetics: she believes shoes are the window to the soul. Like a medical requirement, her hair needs professional attention on a regular basis. Divas must throw away their hair straighteners. The bigger the hair, the bigger the power, the closer to fame.

"This is very expensive hair, it's fuckin' frazzled. Because you’ve only got straighteners in 'ere you 'aven't got heated rollers… straighteners are what fuckin' weirdos use on their hair. That's what you thinka me." – Gemma Collins, 2016


On love: her one weakness? Men. Her preference? "Gangsters and powerful leaders," like Liam Neeson, Tamer Hassan and Paul Hollywood. She does not do one-night-stands, and laments the fact that the more famous she gets, the bigger her hair becomes, the more unlikely it is she will find love. "They get jealous of the attention I get and feel threatened by my celebrity," it says in her book. "I understand. It can't be easy living with a legend."

This is a very important thing to know about Gemma Collins: almost as much as fame and good hair, she wants the happy ending. TOWIE ran on to its 22nd series off the back of Gemma saying she just wants her white knight in shining armour every single episode. She's a Venus in Capricorn: she wants stability in her love life, a constant, a partner for life. If you dig into the pomp, there is a vulnerability. She is just a girl who wants to have her Clive Christian kitchen and drive a Range Rover Evoque and be adored by one man.

At Gemma Collins Boutique, Brentwood.

If you cared to look past the caricature, there's always been so much real Gemma Collins to love. You only have to speak to the fans who've had that connection. Lewis, a 23-year-old from Scotland, set up the Gemma Collins memays account @gemmareacts in August of 2017 because he related to her and knew there needed to be a place to collate the GC gold. Gemma loved the account so much she wanted to meet him.

"We met for dinner in London at Selfridges in Oxford Street," he told me over Twitter DMs. "She wanted to treat me for my birthday hehe we text all the time, she's a really good person."


Symone, another fan, was blocked on Twitter by Gemma after tweeting things like "hi Gemma babe shall we meet for lunch" at her after she came out of the CBB house. One day, Symone met her at a paid meet-and-greet at Anglia Ruskin university. "She was really sweet, then I build up the courage and I'm like, 'Babe, I was just wondering why I'm blocked on Twitter,'" she tells me, to which Gemma said: "OH MY GOD BABE WHY DID I BLOCK YOU?" and made sure to unblock her.

"You just gotta roll with it. Roll with it, like Oasis said." – Gemma Collins, 2014

On a different occasion, Lauren met her at The Clothes Show, where she launched her plus size clothes line. There, she was a "down to earth, mum-like figure", just faffing around, "taking clothes to people suggesting that they'd suit them and what would look good on them".

Go to Brentwood and you might get closer to her still. When I visited Gemma Collins Boutique recently, I found TOWIE Harry's mum behind the counter. "Honestly," she said, as I bought a pair of heinous pink sunglasses, "the real Gemma Collins is so sweet. It's such a shame no one gets to see the real side of her."

Sweet Gemma. Real Gemma.

Outfit from Boohoo.

Summer, 2018. We are witnessing the natural culmination of all of Gemma's graft. Much like Beyoncé with the Met Gala, she managed to make this year's Love Island all about her: the "Get Gemma Collins On The Island" memes began when the show did, and recently Twitter users agreed that Caroline Flack needs to piss off as host and let Gemma take over. As I write this, she is posting online from the set of her new reality TV show – her very own reality TV show – and is approaching 1 million Instagram followers. A week ago, she posted a photo of a private jet, bragging that she was about to get on one, before a Twitter user pointed out the photo was from Google images. Soon after, Gemma uploaded three – three! – photos of her posing outside a real private jet with a nude Chanel bag and pink Givenchy sliders just to fuck with you.


But something felt different. The interview I had set up with Gemma Collins was cancelled. She was supposed to do nine meet-and-greet-slash-signings on a book tour, and cancelled almost all of them. The interviews that did make their way to the public went viral. In Now magazine, Gemma asked the journalist of her book, "Have you read it, hun?" before the GC, her PA and the journalist end up in an awkward three-way about whether the interview can happen. In another interview with a different publication, she said, "What magazine are you from again?" and ended up slamming down the phone. In a third, with Press Association, she admitted that she has not read at least some of the book: "I've not read that bit in the book, where was that? I've not seen that bit so I can't comment on that."

The balls to have someone else write a book for you, not read it, half-do a few select interviews and then get mad at journalists for not having read it while admitting you haven't yourself. This is surely the best press a British reality star's book has ever received.

"No one's ever peed on me. They wouldn't 'ave the cheek to do it." – Gemma Collins, 2017

Hayley Minn, the celebrity features journalist who did the now-infamous Now interview, told me she'd always been a big fan of Gemma, and had interviewed her in the past, and that they'd gotten along well. "So to leave that interview in tears was horrible," she said. "I just think the GC needs to be kinder to people around her and remember where she came from."

A theory: the merger has begun. In How to Be a Diva, Gemma says, "I would never let [The GC] take over my life because she'd drive me absolutely fucking nuts… when I've been the GC for a day, I need to put her back in her box and lie down in a dark room for a few days."

However, it would seem Gemma Collins has dived right into her alter ego and doesn't want to wade back out. The exact moment it happened occurred in April of this year, documented in an Instagram/Snap story thankfully archived by @gemmareacts. "I'm ere to enjoy myself, GC-style, d'ya know what I mean," she says. "I jus' wanna be me."

Look at that woman and tell me that is not The GC, locked and loaded. The GC is here to stay.

As for the future? Gemma outlines in her book that she doesn't just want British fame. Gemma Collins wants America. She wants to be in a film opposite Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson. She will play Matron Mama Morton in a Chicago production. Gemma Collins wants a talk show.

Say her name, America. She's Gemma, ya silly cunts.