Reality television is adept at creating the perfect villain. Nasty Nick from Big Brother. Katie Hopkins in The Apprentice. The woman who sabotaged a fellow contestant’s Baked Alaska on The Great British Bake Off.
Now, Love Island has provided its own nasty piece of work, in the form of Adam Collard. Collard is a 6ft 5in personal trainer from Newcastle, a 22-year-old beefcake blessed with the physique of a Greek God, if a Greek God were to appear on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. Collard’s looks are so eye-poppingly ludicrous that his former fellow contestant, Niall Aslam, was moved to comment: “You can’t trust a guy with abs like that.”
And so it was to prove. Shortly after uttering those words, Aslam’s fledgling romance with Kendall Rae-Knight was scuppered by Collard claiming her as his own in the first recoupling ceremony. This, in spite of the fact that Rae-Knight had said she was quite happy with Aslam and that they were getting on well, after bonding over a mutual love of Harry Potter (ah, millennials!).
But Collard is not someone who listens to a woman. Not really. He makes a great show of doing so – tilting his head, maintaining eye contact and speaking in a low, steady voice – but, in truth, he isn’t listening at all. He is assessing his prey. He is working out their vulnerabilities and insecurities and then, like the classic toxic male that he is, Collard uses this knowledge against a woman at her weakest point in order to extract maximum advantage for himself.
This week, we saw Collard criticise his current squeeze, Rosie Williams, behind her back. When she called him out, he initially feigned ignorance and then made it seem like she was unbalanced and making too big a deal out of it (“OK, Rosie,” he said, practically rolling his eyes). Finally, he tried to claim he was treating Williams badly because he liked her too much, the defence of every coercive manipulator since time began. Note to Collard: when you truly like someone, you don’t treat them badly. Clue’s in the word “like”.
Before that, we watched Collard couple up with Rae-Knight and then become aggravated that she wouldn’t kiss him enough or show him the requisite amount of passion. Within 24 hours, he had tired of her supposed insecurities and, in a textbook bit of gaslighting, managed to make Rae-Knight feel her anxieties were groundless and, ultimately, a turn-off. Then he dumped her and, minutes later, moved on to Williams. When Rae-Knight admitted she felt jealous, he told her he preferred her that way.
He’s the type of man who tells you to stop shouting, when he’s the one with the raised voice
Rae-Knight, whose fiancé of five years suddenly broke things off without explanation last autumn, was understandably keen to take things slowly in the Love Island villa. She explained to Collard that she had been hurt and that it would take her a bit of time to trust someone new, especially when she’d only known that someone for a matter of hours and was suddenly sharing a bed with him.
Well, you might say, she knew what she was getting into. This is Love Island, for goodness sake. Isn’t the whole point to cop off with strangers? Of course, this is the kind of thing that is said about women all the time – that they are somehow responsible for encouraging “the wrong sort of attention” from men. This is a pernicious piece of non-reasoning that forgets that it is always the predator who is in the wrong and never the victim.
No man is entitled to a woman’s body. No man is entitled to push a woman to go at a faster pace than she wants. No man is entitled to suggest someone is frigid or unattractive because she doesn’t want to rip his clothes off.
And yet most women, myself included, have had experience of some kind of Collard in their lives. It’s a subtle form of control and it manifests itself in the guy who calls you crazy for telling him how you feel. The one who accuses you of “overthinking” when actually what they mean is “you’re thinking, and that’s inconvenient for me”. The man who tells you to stop shouting, when he’s the one with the raised voice.
Love Island is often criticised for its perceived superficiality, but in airing the exchanges between Collard, Rae-Knight and Williams, the producers have done something incredibly important: they have prompted a discussion about how insidious the wrong kind of love can be. On Twitter, Collards’s naked toxicity was immediately called out. My friend, whose boyfriend is also called Adam, has started referring to the Love Island contestant as “Badam” in order to distinguish between the two. As a gender, we’re finally wising up to this kind of emotional manipulation.
How heartening it is that this kind of behaviour is no longer normalised. Tonight there’s a Love Island recoupling. Let’s hope Collard gets dumped.