Gemma Collins reveals why SHE'S having the last laugh…February 15, 2023
Kicked out of posh members’ clubs. Denied service in designer boutiques. Written off as a dim reality star. But in this riotous encounter, the irrepressible Gemma Collins reveals why SHE’S having the last laugh…
- Reality star Gemma Collins opens up on being in Tatler, hailed as ‘queen’ of ‘huns’
- The Romford-born media personality tells Jenny Johnston of her rise to fame
- READ MORE: Gemma Collins sparks split rumours from fiancé Rami Hawash by sharing cryptic Valentine’s Day posts about ‘loving yourself’
Gemma Collins is wearing a tweed frockcoat and country boots. Give her a gun and a labrador and you could wave her off on a grouse shoot.
She makes a surprisingly convincing toff, declaring: ‘I’m going to have to buy a stately home now, aren’t I?’
Is the ultimate Marmite celebrity, who made her name on reality show The Only Way Is Essex, really pitching for membership of the aristocratic set? ‘We’ve all got to start somewhere, honey,’ she says, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. ‘Jesus was born in a stable. Let’s keep it real.’
Of all the startling social phenomena that came out of TOWIE — vajazzling, thongs for men, eyebrows that are visible from space — Gemma Collins was the biggest and blingiest of them all. And, 12 years on, she’s proved to be the most enduring.
The gobby former car saleswoman from Romford, never knowingly seen without a pair of diamanté shades and hair extensions, became a goddess of the genre, a heroine . . . to a certain type. The other type mostly shuddered at her brashness. It was a very British thing, this love/hate relationship with Gemma and all that she represents.
Romford-born reality star Gemma Collins (pictured) opens up on being in Tatler, hailed as ‘queen’ of ‘huns’
Yet, hold onto your deerstalkers, posh people. After working her way through surely every reality show on the planet — I’m A Celebrity, Big Brother and Dancing On Ice included — it seems Gemma, now 42, has finally shattered the class ceiling.
This month, society Bible Tatler has devoted two pages to a ‘new’ social tribe — the huns, so named because of their insistence on calling everyone ‘honey’, or ‘hun’.
Gemma, who is quoted within the article, is hailed as their queen. Not only has Tatler acknowledged the existence of this branch of British sub-culture, it cheekily suggests that a young generation of toffs now want to be part of it.
Pass the Prosecco! Bring on the bling! Everyone to Greggs for a steak bake! Even Gemma, who arrives for our interview in head-to-toe Fendi (with dinky gold bag to match, natch), struggles to explain what being a hun actually is.
Tatler says it’s about more than acrylic nails and fake tan. It’s being proud to shout about your ‘holibobs’ to Dubai on Instagram. It’s about Kerry Katona (possibly in a kebab shop). It’s about Pam from Gavin & Stacey.
Gemma says it’s about ‘a feeling, a positivity. A hun is someone who is their authentic self, who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, who celebrates the fabulousness in the everyday, because, let’s face it, there is a lot of s**t going on in the world.’
Whatever it is, Tatler wants a part of it. You may quibble with the society magazine’s shifting of the social goalposts (and, given that ‘hun culture’ has been a thing on social media since 2012, genuinely want to ask them ‘You OK, hun?’), but Gemma is thrilled.
Why would someone with 2.2 million followers on Instagram be bothered about featuring in a magazine with a circulation of 79,000? This is about class warfare, hun.
‘It is an amazing thing,’ says Gemma. ‘Some people don’t want to accept or admit that I’ve moved up. People can still be quite snobbish about it. The “Oh she’s from TOWIE” thing. I just wish they could pat me on the back and say: “You done good, girl.”‘
She adds: ‘I mean part of me doesn’t care. Part of me is like, “F*** you, honey!” But sometimes it hurts.’
Next month, the social high flying continues when Gemma takes part in the celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off, which is basically reality TV for the middle classes.
Next month, the social high flying continues when Gemma takes part in the celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off
She reckons the breakthrough — when she started climbing the social ladder, as well as making millions — came in 2021 when the Italian fashion designer Valentino asked to dress her.
Her long-suffering manager, Mark, broke the news to Gemma.
‘I did think it was a joke,’ she recalls. ‘I said: “Mark, SHUT UP! No way! Ring them back and check the number.” I thought we were being scammed.’
It was a defining moment. Yes, she had wardrobes rammed full of designer clothes, but in the frankly insane world of high society, you know you have arrived only when you get the frocks for free.
And now we have Tatler genuflecting. I joke that she will be playing polo next. Or hanging out with the royals. Maybe she does already?
‘Well, I bought some elephants off Charles and Camilla,’ she says, which is, somehow, peak Gemma Collins. She means she bought some life-sized wooden sculptures at a charity event ‘to save the elephants’ — an initiative dreamed up by the Queen Consort’s late brother, Mark Shand.
Since we are talking about royals, we play a little game of which royal she would be. She first opts for the Princess of Wales. ‘Kate is a bit of class. But I’d probably be Sarah Ferguson. Oh, no — Princess Margaret, in Mustique, with the fag. She always looked as if she was having a bloody good time.’
Gemma’s real goal in life — after having a baby girl whom she would call Dolce Bella or Dolce Vita (‘my favourite cheese used to be Dolcelatte,’ she says by curious way of explanation) — is to land a role in The Crown, but you couldn’t really call her a die‑hard royalist.
She’s sympathetic to Harry and Meghan and, although she loves what King Charles is doing for the elephants, she would bypass him and give the crown straight to William and Kate.
‘I mean, I loved the Queen,’ she says. ‘Christmas wasn’t the same without her. The Queen was The Queen. She was the Number One Hun. Is anyone bothered about the rest of them?’
Gemma certainly knows a thing or two about keeping yourself in the spotlight. ‘You give people what they want,’ she says, utterly candid about the process of monetising her ‘authentic self’.
That’s why she invented her diva alter-ego, The GC (Gemma is much nicer than The GC, she insists).
‘Yes, I was selling myself. What else was I going to do? I wasn’t a grade-A student. I was never going to run a bank or be a lawyer. And I always said I wanted a job that was fun and fabulous. Well, there is no job that fits that description.’
There is now. Gemma spent the pandemic living in The Dorchester, ‘like Judy Garland’ (although I’m not entirely sure Judy Garland would have sent out for KFC Bargain Buckets, which Gemma did).
There have been book deals, clothing deals (she’s the current face of New Look), endorsements and a lot of shopping along the way.
‘At one point I had money to burn. I had Knightsbridge Fever. I was spending £50K a day in Gucci. But shopping gets boring after a while, when you can afford it.
‘For me, it was a form of self-harm. Sometimes it’s the thrill you are after — not the stuff. I can understand why Winona Ryder nicked that stuff [the actress was convicted in 2002 of shoplifting designer goods worth $5,000 from Saks Fifth Avenue].’
Obviously, there are some who recoil at Gemma’s . . . front.
Blonde ambition: Gemma Collins, in Valentino, with fiance Rami in front of her wooden elephant sculptures
A few years ago, she was invited to Annabel’s, the elite private members’ club. Finding herself in the same room as Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, she said ‘Hi Leo’, breaking the club’s ‘do not speak to VIPs’ rule.
Despite saying ‘You do know that I’m famous as well, hun’ to a member of staff, she was asked to leave. She’s still smarting: ‘I’m not even gassed about Leonardo DiCaprio. Sure, we all liked Titanic, but . . .
‘It was reported that he’d got me thrown out, but his people contacted me later to say it wasn’t him.’
Between us, she wouldn’t recommend these places ‘which are full of Hooray Henrys’.
‘What gets me is a lot of the people who go to them are living off daddy’s money or their husband’s money. A lot of them are prostitutes. A lot of them can’t even afford a drink — that’s the truth of it.
‘You can say what you like about me, but I pay my own way. No one in life has given me a tenner — I am self-made.’
The owners of Annabel’s, she concludes, can ‘kiss my a**e’.
There is hurt beneath the bluster, though. She rages about snobby sales assistants ‘who think my money isn’t as good as the next person’s’.
Take Louis Vuitton, where she ran into trouble while browsing their scented candles.
‘I’m not being funny, honey, I could have bought their whole candle collection 20 times over, but as soon as I picked one up, the woman came over and said: ‘Can you put that down, please?’ ‘
Did she have a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman moment?
‘No. I was embarrassed, but I think I laughed,’ Gemma says. ‘That was a disgusting way to treat anyone.’ Yet she insists she has no interest in fitting in. Estuary accent still very much intact, she says: ‘I’ve never tried to change, I’d rather die than compromise.’
Apart from that time you did the boot camp to lose weight (conforming to the unwritten rule that our celebrity icons must be thin, which Gemma never was)?
‘Oh yes. I regret that. I spent six weeks starving and got down to a size 14, but the woman — very highly strung; she needed an apple turnover — was disappointed I wasn’t a 12. I should have said: “F*** off, bitch!”, but I needed the £20K.’ (Which she earned for the resulting fitness DVD).
Our chat lurches from scented candles (‘Always go for Diptyque, hun’) and the price of Madonna tickets (‘£4,000! I love you, Madge, but not that much’), to international politics.
She comes out with lines like ‘I was driving through Palestine thinking: “Who is going to sort it out?”‘ and ‘What Hitler done is unforgivable’. (Her manager Mark moves to the front of his seat as she shares her views on the Taliban.) She goes on to say she thinks modern politicians are ‘all corrupt’ (‘No, Mark. I am saying it’). ‘It’s all favours, isn’t it?’
And she can’t forgive Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for having a wife who didn’t initially pay tax in the UK on her foreign income. But there is an exception. Even though she chides former PM Boris Johnson for ‘borrowing that £800K’, she still loves him.
‘I have a soft spot for Boris. I can read him like a book.’
Boris is a hun, she says, ‘but I don’t fancy him’.
And this is why Gemma still reigns on the reality television circuit. She gives and just keeps giving — no detail spared.
Today, we whip through her binge-eating, her fertility issues, her dating history (‘Men are at my disposal — I can toss them to the kerb’).
She wears her heart on her sleeve — alongside the small scars from the period when she self-harmed. She made a documentary about the subject, and, to be honest, it was a hard watch. ‘But that’s me. I’m not going to hide things or bulls**t people,’ she says.
She talks about the career flops. Two of her businesses (a shop and a clothing brand) have gone under, which left her ‘feeling like a failure’. She’s barred from being a company director after one of her businesses missed VAT deadlines and failed to pay more than £70,000 it owed in tax.
She gives a convoluted account, which seems to boil down to her not being the female Lord Sugar she thought she could be. ‘I’m not embarrassed about it. I never did it to hurt anyone — no one went hungry,’ she says.
‘It happened because I made some schoolgirl errors. I didn’t realise that I had to go home and fill in all these forms.’
Gemma doesn’t do forms. Since some difficulties with the taxman, her dad and Mark run everything on her behalf.
‘I don’t open a single letter . . . You can’t be the front person, the middle person and the back person,’ she muses.
‘Why would I spend two hours doing a tax return when I could be out there saving elephants?’
She’d ‘like to go again with another business’ (‘Dear God, no,’ says Mark), but also accepts that it’s pointless.
‘When companies are offering you a quarter of a million pounds just to be the face of their brand, well, I don’t really have to do it myself.’
Now her dad pays her a wage: ‘Enough to pay my bills and mortgage and a few thousand every month to spend.’ She gives a big sigh. ‘It’s really boring, being an adult. There is so much to pay for — NI, corporation tax. It’s a p***‑take really. Although we do get good things out of it, like the NHS.’
Do you have a pension, I ask. ‘Have I got a pension, Mark?’ she asks. He nods.
At home, there is a Mr Gemma Collins. Her fiance, mechanic Rami Hamesh, 48, was an old flame from her pre-fame days who came back into her life during the pandemic.
She’d had a very public on-off romance with her fellow TOWIE star James Argent in the intervening years, while Rami had married and had a son.
Then, both single again, they reconnected, and now share her luxury barn conversion near Chelmsford.
Will they get married (when his divorce is finalised)? On the one hand, she ‘loves him to death’ and appreciates that he grounds her.
‘I made mince and dumplings for dinner last night and it’s good to do that sort of normal stuff. When I say things like: ‘I’m freezing. Let’s go to the Maldives next week,’ he says: ‘You can’t live your life on holiday, Gemma.’ ‘
So what’s the problem? ‘I do get bored with dinner at 7pm every night. I do get itchy feet. And does it pay me to get married? What if it goes t**s up?’
On the issue of children, it’s complicated. She’s been open about her fertility struggles (she suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome, which makes it harder for women to conceive) and says that in the past she has ‘felt like a failure . . . although, as Jennifer Aniston said recently, that shouldn’t make you feel any less of a woman. Damn right, honey!
‘I think I will have a girl — I just feel it — but also I know that if I do have a child I would have to change my life, and do I want to? Some days I think: “F*** it. I want to be in Downton Abbey.”‘
She accepts that people either love or hate her. The point, as she sees it, is that millions want to be the next Gemma Collins. Every year we get a new batch of reality TV stars, and Gemma has to ask herself whether she’s still relevant. If she’s not invited to something, it really is the pits. ‘I do get upset. I phone up Mark and say: “Do you think I’m still famous?”‘
She might get a cookery book out of Bake Off, I reassure her. She’s in Tatler! Being called a queen! She brightens.
‘I don’t have to defend myself any more. I’m like a royal,’ she says. ‘What was it the Queen said — never complain, never explain. When I heard that, after she died, I thought: “I’m having that. That’s my new motto.”‘
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