Love Island ‘needs to be more transparent’ with cast before the villa, says Niall Aslam
Niall told The Tab: ‘Everything just needs to be more honest, open and out there’
Niall Aslam is calling for Love Island bosses to improve their care for contestants before the villa and whilst they’re on the show, urging them to be “more transparent” and “more compassionate”.
Just nine days into his stint in the Love Island 2018 villa, Niall had to be flown to a psychiatric hospital suffering with stress-induced psychosis.
Speaking to The Tab, Niall says the show’s production team and healthcare professionals were aware of his autism and additional needs before he went on the show. Niall says in his first days in the villa, he struggled to eat or sleep.
He believes Love Island needs to improve its pre-care for contestants and better prepare them for the show, saying: “Everything just needs to be more honest, open and out there”.
‘I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping’
An email seen by The Tab shows Love Island’s producers and healthcare staff were aware of Niall’s autism.
Niall says he needed to use his coping mechanisms, but he couldn’t get time out away from the rest of the villa. He says: “I’m like a literal thinker, so it’s just everything just took me off guard and stressed me out a lot”.
He asked for plain food to eat, like he’s used to, but says this didn’t come for four days, despite him asking for it multiple times and being vocal about it. Niall says: “I’m not eating, I’m not sleeping. They didn’t take anything I said serious.”
Niall also asked for music to listen to, which he needs. But he says he was played “one song once”, and the team then “made out they gave me the world”.
‘No one told me what was happening’
Niall says the lack of care for his needs got too much, and “eventually everything just started piling and piling and piling and piling on top.”
He says he then started talking to himself. He segregated himself from the group and says he worked himself up.
He says: “I’m a student in Coventry one week, then I’m first one out on the biggest reality TV show in the UK, I’ve had a lot of pressure on me.”
Niall says he was put in a car to see a doctor in Palma – without, he says, anyone letting him know where he was being taken. “No one told me where I’m going and eventually you start asking yourself ‘what’s going on’ and I ended up with stress-induced psychosis,” he says.
He says he was put on lots of medication and flown to a psychiatric hospital – again, “with no one telling me that’s what was happening”.
Niall says the whole experience was “overwhelming”.
A spokesperson for Love Island told The Tab the show “fully supported Niall during and after he left Love Island and in line with his and his family’s wishes”.
‘Love Island needs to be more transparent and compassionate’
Niall doesn’t think Love Island looked after him enough during his experience with the show – “that’s not even a debatable question”, he says.
“If you have someone who’s never had a psychotic episode in their life and then within nine days under your care he’s had his first psychotic episode, I don’t really think it’s a question.”
Many people talk about the importance of after-care for contestants on Love Island and other reality shows, but Niall says more so than this “it’s the pre-care that needs looking into”, and the care during the show.
“You don’t know how hot or cold the water is until you’re in that water,” he says. Niall believes contestants need to be better prepared by the production team before being on the show.
He says before going on and whilst being on the show, bosses need to be “more transparent” and “more compassionate”. He says: “Everything just needs to be more honest, open and out there”.
About the show’s production team, Niall says: “They need to stop dealing with things like everything’s PR. You’re dealing genuinely with people’s lives. You’re dealing with people, you’re not dealing with robots”.
The Love Island spokesperson told The Tab the show’s “processes” have “continued to evolve” with each series. Love Island’s duty of care protocols, published ahead of the most recent series, include giving detailed explanations of the positive and negative implications of taking part in the show.
‘People want to erase my story’
About whether Love Island should have diverse people with disabilities on the show, Niall says: “If you’re gonna do it you’ve got to take proper care of people.”
He supports any contestants who are “willing” to go on the show.
But, Niall says, “sometimes I think you’ve got to go back to go forward, and you’ve got to acknowledge mistakes of the past instead of just trying to gleam over things.”
This year’s contestant Hugo was born with clubfoot. Some media outlets called him the “first disabled Islander” – even though Niall was on the show, three years ago.
But “this isn’t a story of ‘who was first'”, Niall says. “It’s bigger, it’s a lot deeper.
“It’s about my story and people minimising people with non-visible disabilities.”
Hugo is the first contestant with a visible physical disability on the show, but Niall says “there’s probably more people out there that have had non-visible disabilities on the show, that I might not even know about.
“But it’s the fact I’ve been so vocal about my story and how bad it was, and my disability. And the fact that that’s not going to get recognised.”
He calls this “transparently bad” and says: “I think people do actively want to erase my story.
“It was upsetting because it’s like, after everything I went through personally, being hospitalised, put on all these medications, and people want to act basically like it never happened. I’ve been so vocal about it for such a long time.”
Niall says he doesn’t want to “sit back and be quiet”, because then he’d feel like he’d be “doing a disservice to people with non-visible disabilities” including autism.
Since Love Island, Niall’s been doing mental health work and is an ambassador for the National Autistic Society.
He says lockdown was tough, being left alone with his “own thoughts”, but is doing much better now. He’s keen to get into writing, interested in comedy and writing children’s books.
A spokesperson for Love Island for ITV told The Tab: “We fully supported Niall during and after he left Love Island and in line with his and his family’s wishes. Our medical suppliers are contracted to look after the health and wellbeing of our Islanders. Welfare and duty of care towards our contributors is always our primary concern, and we have extensive measures in place to support the islanders before, during and after their participation on the show.
“We have continued to evolve our process with each series, as the level of social media and media attention around the islanders has increased, which includes enhanced psychological support, more detailed conversations with potential Islanders regarding the impact of participation on the show, bespoke training for all Islanders on social media and a proactive aftercare package.”
The spokesperson also pointed to Love Island’s duty of care protocols, published last month. About care for contestants before and during filming, these protocols are: “Registered mental health professional engaged throughout the whole series – from pre-filming to aftercare; Thorough pre-filming psychological and medical assessments including assessments by an independent doctor, psychological consultant and reports from each Islander’s own GP to check medical history;
“Potential Islanders are required to fully disclose any medical history that would be relevant to their inclusion in the villa and the production’s ability to provide a suitable environment for them;
“Managing cast expectations: detailed explanations both verbally and in writing of the implications, both positive and negative, of taking part in the series are given to potential cast members throughout the casting process and reinforced within the contract so it is clear;
“Cast are told they should consider all the potential implications of taking part in the show and work through this decision-making process in consultation with their family and those closest to them, to ensure they feel it is right for them; Senior Team on the ground have received training in Mental Health First Aid; A welfare team solely dedicated to the Islanders both during the show and after.”
Featured image via Instagram @niallaslam