When Megan Barton Hanson applied to go on this summer’s Love Island, she thought she was signing up to a free holiday. She didn’t expect to leave hand- in-hand with her current boyfriend, Wes Nelson, after declaring her love for him in front of an enraptured nation. And she certainly didn’t think they would be one of the few couples who are still together.
But now, with an impending TV show of their own and a new pet hamster (named after Jon Snow – the Game Of Thrones character played by Kit Harington), this Love Island couple can be, as the former glamour model tells Grazia, ‘the smug ones’.
Life, she says, has changed immeasurably since the show, which saw 4.1 million viewers tune in for the final. ‘I went from living in Southend-on-Sea, going down the high street with literally no make-up on and in tracksuit bottoms to now, where everywhere I go, people know who I am,’ she says from the North London apartment she now shares with Wes.
Most importantly, the show has given her the confidence she never had. ‘You can’t put on a persona,’ she adds of life inside the villa. Megan admits that, before Love Island, she used to hide behind her semi-naked Instagram feed. ‘But now I know I don’t need the social media, the followers and the sexy photoshopped pictures for people to like me. Knowing that was really good for my confidence. I realised that people love me for me. Wes fell in love with me for the stripped-back version of Megan from Love Island. It was like the old-school version of dating before social media – no filters, none of this outside influence, we were just getting to know each other on face value.
We’re talking shortly after the 24-year-old revealed last month that she has struggled with depression ‘on and off throughout my life’, and that six months before she went on Love Island she felt so depressed she asked her mother’s permission to kill herself. Today, she says the show was her cure. ‘The whole experience was completely out of my comfort zone. I came out feeling stronger.’ But despite her newfound self confidence, Megan is still ‘shocked’ by the relentless abuse she received for having been so open on screen about her plastic surgery.
‘Especially as it’s more common for reality TV contestants to have had surgery than not,’ she says incredulously. ‘But you get through it,’ she adds, stating that she now uses her platform, ‘to talk about bullying and mental health. There shouldn’t be so much stigma surrounding these issues.’
So, what’s next for Megan? After gracing the cover of Grazia straight after her villa exit in August, she’s keen to become a fashion model, saying, ‘I was so happy to actually be shot in cool clothes rather than being half-naked.’ And she’s intent on continuing to speak out about mental health, too. ‘I want to inspire, to be like Adwoa Aboah with her online community Gurls Talk,’ she says.
‘I love talking to people and I want to continue raising awareness of anxiety.’ But, for now, she’s still just soaking up this year. ‘Going into the villa, I thought it would just be a really good experience and that I’d have some fun. I never thought I’d be on the cover of a magazine, or with a boyfriend. I honestly couldn’t be happier.