Gemma Owen, the daughter of British footballing legend Michael Owen, has been cast as one of the original five women in this year’s lineup.
So far, so-classic-Love-Island-nepotism. Remember Dani Dyer, Tommy Fury, and Sophie Piper?
But this feels different, more sinister than the average nepo-baby hire. Because Gemma is only 19. A fact she announced on her entrance to the villa this past Monday, where she told the other female contestants her age and that it ‘always’ surprises people.
My instant reaction was one of confusion; I audibly shouted ‘pardon?’ at my TV screen.
She was born in 2003, and only celebrated her birthday last month, with one Twitter user noting that she was just 16 years old during the pandemic.
I’m sure Gemma feels like she’s mature enough to go on the show.
At 19, we all thought we were full blown adults, with the world completely figured out – including dating.
On reflection, most of us would laugh at our naivety, because an ID does not an adult make. I think back at my dating life, during my late teens, and I want to wrap my former self up in cotton wool.
Men in their late 20s and 30s would approach me constantly, telling me the same lie: that I didn’t look my age and that I was ‘really mature’. At the time, I thought that was a compliment and that it made me special – that these men saw something in me that I couldn’t.
In all honesty, I looked exactly my age and was about as mature as a mild piece of cheddar.
It’s a well-known (and sad) reality that young women are often preyed on and groomed by older men, because we’re not yet wise enough to spot all the red flags or old enough to realise that a teen should have nothing in common with a grown adult.
So, I felt a pang of worry when during Tuesday’s episode, 27-year-old Davide and Gemma kissed and coupled up. What if this situation escalates and Gemma isn’t mature enough to know when she’s being manipulated or treated badly?
The life experiences of someone nearing their 30s and a teen are worlds apart. I’m 27, like Davide, and the thought of dating a 19-year-old makes me queasy – because what on earth would we have in common?
Gemma is the one of the youngest contestants to appear on Love Island (there’s been one 18-year-old and two other 19 year olds). But aside from Emma Jane Woodham who was 19 and coupled up with a 28-year-old, they’ve all partnered with men in their early 20s.
Of course, the legal age of consent in this country is 16, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable for someone just three years older to be dating a 27-year-old.
A huge amount of maturing happens between your late teens and your late 20s, so this coupling has given me the ick. It made me realise that there should definitely be an age limit on who can apply for the show (what if Love Island did a series for people age 18-20, 21-30, 30-40? How fun would that be?)
And it’s not just the age gap relationship that makes me worried for her.
Gemma is already being trolled and mocked – more so than any other contestant on this year’s Island so far. She’s been accused of being rude (when she mocked Luca’s surname) and ‘boasting’ for hinting at who her dad is.
It’s a hard watch, seeing a teenage girl being put in a situation where men a decade older than her could date her for public entertainment, and then see her berated for it.
At 19, I’m not surprised Gemma wanted to go on Love Island – it’s eight weeks full of sun, fun and the potential to earn a lot of money. But, at 19, you might not be so aware of the dangers and dark sides: it’s a lot of public attention for anyone to handle, let alone a teen.
I’m sure producers approached her – given her surname – to tick off their yearly nepotism casting, but they should have held off for a few more years. I’d love to see Gemma on the show at 21, when she’s older and in a better place to find love.
It seems that the Love Island producers have not learnt their lesson when it comes to responsibly looking after contestants – especially given the show’s claims that its ‘duty of care is a continuous and ongoing process for each Islander’ following the tragic deaths of former contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon.
It’s not a lie that these young people get thrusted into fast-tracked fame, where the public can build them up or tear them down depending on what made an episode’s edit.
The least that should be done is ensuring the cast are of an appropriate age where they won’t be left vulnerable to grooming.
Teenagers nowadays have grown up online, where they are exposed to so much more than millennials were and that encourages them to grow up too fast, to cosplay adults before they actually are.
19 is simply too young, and I hope next year that a 21 and over age limit is introduced.
In my opinion, anyone with ‘teen’ in their age should be discounted.
Gemma might have a wonderful experience, she might even be the exception to the rule – but what if she isn’t?