Maura Higgins: ‘I really hated it. Apart from that massage, the rest of it can kiss my ass’
Maura Higgins: You’re Joking Me! takes the former Love Islander out of her comfort zone
Maura doesn’t take to her new training regime with stoical good grace
“I’m Maura Higgins. On Love Island I showed the world that I’m a strong-willed woman who knows her own mind,” says Maura Higgins, Longford-born star of the aforementioned Love Island and now of Maura Higgins: You’re Joking Me! (Monday, Virgin Media One).
Then we cut to Maura in a sexy cat costume straddling a startled hunk in the Love Island villa. This footage should probably be placed into the next space probe alongside those engraved mathematical equations and the works of Mozart as a message from mankind.
You know, just to keep alien civilisations up to speed on the cut of us.
And yet in Maura Higgins: You’re Joking Me! it seems hunks are no longer the medium in which Maura expresses her creativity. No, ITV2 (which originally made the show), an entity she speaks of as though it is her imaginary friend, has ordered her to go on an obstacle course.
That’s it. That’s the pitch. ITV2 has appeared to her in a dream or as a burning bush or as a repeat of Morse and has ordered her to go meet a muscular trainer called Paul Olima. “Well, he’s Irish. At least he’ll be good crack,” says Maura, hopefully.
Paul’s job, it turns out, is to draw her away from a life of takeaways, booze and fags. Instantly, I’m tired of this format. I’d love to see Maura training Paul how to live her life for a change. It’s not easy being a legend. Paul wouldn’t last a week living like Maura. Instead Paul is judgey.
In fairness, Maura doesn’t take to her new training regime with stoical good grace. Indeed, I like to imagine her on one of Shackleton’s expeditions. “The running, the jumping, the climbing, all that shit, I don’t want to do any of it,” she says to Shackleton in my imaginings and to Paul in this programme, and: “Hopefully, I’ll break a leg and I’ll have to go home.”
Paul does what he can. He makes her play rugby with some huge men who look like massive thumbs. “At least I’ve always been good at grabbing balls,” she says, quoting Seamus Heaney.
He sends her for dance training with 85-year-old Esther, who gets her to do an exercise that simulates a porpoise moving through the waves. “What the hell is a porpoise? What the hell is going on?” says Maura, reasonably.
“She is the most unfit person I have ever met, ever, at any age,” says Esther.
There’s a set piece where she must propel her Love Island beau Curtis on a rickshaw. “Now we’re sucking diesel,” she says, which causes me to put my hand to my chest and sing the national anthem but which causes Curtis, the foul coloniser, to mock her.
Then Paul sends her to a Russian spa where men in what look like Smurf hats hit her with big leaves. It’s the only part of the whole show she enjoys. She has a great grá, it seems, for having men in Smurf hats hitting her with big leaves. She grew up in a Catholic country, I suppose.
All in all, it’s like the labours of Hercules, culminating in something called the Spartan Race, a 5km obstacle course held in an English sportsball stadium. It’s kicked off by a man wearing nothing but leather underpants and an impractical cape.
Then Maura climbs walls, throws javelins and clambers across monkey bars, something she undertakes, as always, with quiet stoicism. “My f***ing f***y is cut,” she yells, again quoting the poetry of Heaney.
Some friendly hunks from both Love Islands (the television one and “Ireland”) come to cheer her on as she rounds the stadium. Paul runs with her and occasionally hauls her over obstacles. I’m surprised by the end of it he isn’t simply carrying her under his arm while she smokes a fag.
It has been a learning experience for everyone. “I really hated everything,” says Maura at the end. “Apart from that massage, the rest of it can kiss my f***ing, goddam ass.”