“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,” declaimed Zara to the Love Island Beach Hut camera. I was lounging on the sofa, but, hearing this, I sat up straight, goggling at the screen. “Whose misadventured piteous overthrows/Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
What was I watching? Had the channel somehow flipped over to Sky Arts because I’d accidentally sat on the remote? We’d just seen Georgia and Megan attempt to quote from Romeo and Juliet (“Oh Romeo, Romeo, outthought thou Romeo” and “How art thou – shalt thou – there though ow” respectively), looking panicked. But suddenly here was perfect diction, trained hand gestures, and the emphasis perfectly placed on the crucial word ‘death’.
And on finishing, she asked smugly: “Is that good enough?” tossing her hair back at the end, perfectly well aware that she had nailed the challenge.
My mouth was still open. Many thoughts were flooding my brain, to wit:
1. She was word-perfect.
2. This wasn’t even an obvious quote from the play – it’s the middle part of the prologue!
3. Her accent had suddenly turned much, much posher.
4. That question at the end was quintessential teacher’s pet.
None of this, of course, would have been surprising if Zara had already been prancing around the villa quoting poetry and using long words in a public school accent. But she hadn’t; she’d seemed like just another vapid pretty girl with an Estuary accent. We knew she was a ‘government advisor’, but I had assumed that the producers had taken something of a license with that. Clearly not. And just a few seconds later, in another Beach Hut clip, the Radio 4 accent had vanished and she was back to her Love Island persona.
So why hadn’t Zara been showing her real self in the villa? Did she think that the viewers and the ‘boys’ wouldn’t like her if she let them know she was educated enough to quote a relatively obscure piece of Shakespeare in a public school accent?
Then I thought about Samira. Bright, quick-thinking, no-nonsense, beautiful Samira, who isn’t being pursued by a single guy before Frankie’s arrival. OK, she’s terrible at flirting, but the boys who profess to wanting good conversation are dating girls who are better at playing with their hair than stringing a sentence together. Even the incredible good looks of Rosie, a solicitor who could have been a 1940s Italian film star, didn’t make her confident enough to come out with anything remotely intelligent-sounding on the show. Does this mean that Rosie made the right decision? Both she and Zara had men sexually interested in them (okay, the same guy, Love Rat Adam, but a damn good-looking rat).
Meanwhile, Dr Alex certainly doesn’t feel obliged to sound less plummy or pretend he isn’t a trained professional, and the reason he isn’t doing well has nothing to do with his brains, bless him.
So what message is this sending to women watching the show? That Megan, a sharp operator who has effortlessly and ruthlessly transitioned from one man to another and back again, can coo with big eyes at the very intelligent Wes that “it’s hard for me to express how I feel… I’m really awkward”, while throwing in a nasty dig about Laura’s age, and have him rush to reassure her? That a government advisor and a solicitor need to present themselves as dizzy gigglers to have any chance of attract men?
Thank goodness, my own experience counters this. Knowing poetry (me) or having a cut-glass accent (my friend Chloe) hasn’t remotely stopped us from garnering male interest. I once quoted a Keats sonnet to a young man for a bet and he pretty much fell in love with me on the spot. I know plenty of women with impressive jobs and lovely husbands; when I was dating, not a single man was ever put off by the fact that I was a novelist.
Would Josh, or Wes, or Adam, truly mind if their beautiful dates let them know that their brains were as impressive as their bosoms? Or are the girls scared they’ll be voted out if they put the former on display – that the public won’t like educated females, only educated males?
If there’s a third possibility, I’d love to hear it. Because those two ideas make me want to poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick out of sheer depression…
Rebecca Chance is the author of ten sexy thrillers, including KILLER HEELS and KILLER AFFAIR. Her latest, BAD TWINS, is a WH Smith airport exclusive now for travellers but everywhere from July 26th. You can pre-order it here.