Culture

Love Island's Iain Stirling: 'I Imagine They Follow the Normal Masturbation Rules'

We asked the 'Winter Love Island' narrator about behind-the-scenes gossip, why the show is so polarising and if he reckons any of this year's Islanders will shag on TV.
15 January 2020, 9:15am
love island winter
Photo: ITV

Iain Stirling's Love Island routine is pretty simple. Every day for the next six weeks (aside from Sundays), a bus will arrive outside his hotel in Cape Town at 1PM sharp. He'll be driven to the Winter Love Island production centre – which, this year, for the first time, is right next to the villa itself.

Iain and his mate Mark will have lunch in the canteen before taking their seats in the scriptwriters' room, that night's episode of the show cued up for viewing. The show's producers will have come up with a simple script that covers the basics. Stirling will rewrite it and make it funny. Once the bosses sign off on it, he's free to go.

"Right now I'm in South Africa, it's 12PM and I've not even gone to work yet," the 31-year-old comedian – who's been the voice of Love Island since 2015 – tells me over the phone. "This job is the fucking dream." Given Stirling has so much time on his hands, I asked him about Love Island secrets, shagging on television and what his early impressions are of the islanders this year.

Iain Stirling

Iain Stirling.

VICE: Being so close to the action, you must know all the gossip from inside the villa. Tell me some, please?
Iain Stirling: I actually don't want to see anything apart from what's on the show, just what punters see. There are always character bios for me to read when I arrive of all the contestants, but I don't bother. Same with extra footage or searching out gossip. I mean, an element of that is laziness, but it's also that, for what I do on the show, it makes sense for me to see the same things as everyone at home. I did try to look over a wall into the villa this week, but a security guard asked me what I was doing, so I ran away.

At least tell me some things about how the show actually works that I might not know already.
Well, the team working on it is in the hundreds: you've got a camera team filming all the dates and the glamour and slo-mo shots. Then you have the challenge team, who come up with, build and curate the tasks. There's the inside villa film crew, and another which looks after the villa, and the edit team – each has both day and night. The gallery has directors and runners, and there's the sound team, plus execs, transport, catering, cabling, me. It's huge.

Anything else?
The villa is basically a booze-free zone. They don't have to cook, but they do eat together. We don't show mealtimes, though, because it would be a nightmare to cover and you wouldn't be able to hear what's being said. There's also more professional support with hair and beauty now, I think. If you jump on ITVHub and watch the early series, by the end they all look quite scruffy – now they don't.

Are they allowed to masturbate?
I have to assume so? I imagine they're asked to follow the normal masturbation rules: not in front of people? Not in communal places?

How do you think Love Island has changed since becoming the cultural behemoth it is now, both in what happens during filming and the way we watch it?
What I like – and what's rare for a show which has got a lot bigger – is that the format is very similar. It started as five boys and five girls, people came in, and the winner at the end gambles over the cash. It would be naive to say it hasn't changed at all. If you know a show can lead you to fame and fortune, it might affect your approach.

But the big leveller the show has – the reason it's still really good – is that relationships always fuck with your head. There's something about being in a relationship with someone else; you can't fake it 24/7 for weeks under constant professional surveillance. If you don't like that person, it will come out. It doesn't matter if you've coupled up because you want to be an influencer and that person can keep you in the villa. If they pick someone else, it'll still annoy you.

I guess, even last year, people were saying, "Oh, it's cast with influencers and everyone is playing the game," but in the end they all still acted as you would as a normal human.
Honestly, Amy leaving Love Island? I don't want to get up my own arse, but I've watched Hollywood movies that are less convincing. Curtis broke her heart. When you first start dating someone, maybe you share a bed once a week or less – after a few months maybe more regularly. Imagine sharing a bed for 21 nights – that's easily a six-month relationship realtime. And you're sharing a unique experience, too.

winter love island 2020

Can you tell pretty quickly what role the Islanders will play in the show? What are your first impressions this year?
You can never get it bang on, but you get a sense. The guys were always the harder ones to judge, especially when we had more laddy guys in full of bravado, boasting at first about how many women they shag every week and then quickly becoming loved up.

This year, I reckon Shaughna will be the everywoman of the series. Sophie is holding her cards close to her chest – I think if she falls for someone, or has her heart broken, we'll see a transformation. We'll see incredibly real stories from the twins: sibling relationships are impossible to hide.

I'm not sure how I feel about Connor. I quite liked him, but it's always a warning light when a man makes a mistake and puts it on his partner. For all Nas' talk about falling asleep during sex, there's every chance he's never even kissed a girl in his life – he's a sweetheart suffering from the idea of how a man should behave.

And Ollie? He's so wealthy and upper class that, from my background, I'm struggling to empathise with him. People won't get it unless he's honest and open. Even then, it's hard to hear sob stories from someone with that much privilege. I write a lot of scripted comedy – if you're writing his part for a sitcom or a drama, something needs to happen to him to make him relatable and give you some common ground. [A couple of hours after this interview, it was announced that Ollie had quit the villa.]

It feels like Love Island is incredibly polarising. Why do you reckon some people make such a big deal about not watching it?
I know some people just won't want to watch it, but what's strange is that people come up to tell me they don't the whole time. Nobody goes up to Dermot O'Leary to tell him they don't watch X-Factor. I think there's a bit of intellectual snobbery to it. It's a shorthand way of showing you're clever. One way to show you're intelligent is by reading a book or watching an interesting documentary, another is to say you don't watch Love Island. That's easier. I don't buy that it actually means anything, though. As it happens, last night I watched Love Island and then Akala's address to the Oxford Union on race.

The broadcasting of shagging on ITV2: thoughts?
I think there might be a bit less shagging on TV this year, because they know it'll be on television. But I actually think there might well be shagging, They're beautiful young people in a luxury villa – there probably will be some shagging.

Sometimes it's important for the narrative, but you can tell that story through the conversations afterwards. It's not a moral question – if anything, that's less of an issue now, because people coming on are so aware of what happens with the footage from the villa. What I don't know is if we'll show it. It's done now – people have shagged on TV. We broadcasted it before because it was an interesting thing to show and deal with. Now, having sex on telly? It's done.

Lastly, does it irritate you that nobody is asking you about you or your comedy in interviews, and just asking for Love Island gossip instead?
I'm not fussed. The great thing about standup is I have my outlet to talk about my life and feelings and where I stand. I don't have a desire to talk about that stuff in an interview. I reckon lots of comedians are actually quite jealous that I have something to talk about, whereas they have to speak about what it's like being a comedian, which isn't that interesting, or their personal lives. And I'm actually big fan of the show, so it's fun. We all just want to talk about it.

That we do. Thanks, Iain.

Iain Stirling is on tour with his new-stand up show "Failing Upwards" from the 6th of March to the 31st of May, which will be recoded for a Prime Video comedy special. More info and tickets here.

@MikeSegalov