In April  2020, most of the world was locked down, locked in and desperately scouring Netflix for something to watch. Queue ‘Too Hot To Handle’, the saucy escapist reality tv show we all needed, but there was a twist, these sexy singles were sworn to chastity. 

 

‘Every rag was so fun. In New Bar they would black out the windows with bin bags and then you’d have Pat Flynn playing and your Orchard thieves. It was just so funny’. Nicole makes us all that bit more nostalgic for the good old days of on-campus learning. Did the infamous commerce party lifestyle prepare her for her career as an influencer? ‘Oh definitely. Everyone was a party animal’ she says laughing.  To meet a celebrity in real life is odd, to meet a celebrity over zoom is surreal. She is sitting on the bed of her hotel room in Dubai, a hotel room she shares with Chloe, yes ‘Too Hot To Handle’ Chloe, and David has a room on the floor below her. So were the connections from the show meaningful? ‘Do you know what? It really did help me. People think it’s just a show but no, it was a retreat. You only saw 6 hours and we were filming for 14 hours a day, every day, for 30 days ’. 

 

This was intriguing, we did only see a fraction of what was going on in the villa. So what outtakes should have made the cut? ‘There was a lot of stuff that went on that was not shown. I mean I had a date with David which was funny. I wish they showed that. I lost money with David – I kissed him’, myself and Emer Walsh exclaimed. Nicole nonchalantly replied ‘Yeah, there were a lot of scenes that I loved that weren’t shown’, I’m still reeling from that cash-losing shift but Nicole continues, ‘There was one at the very end where we wrote a little letter to our past selves, it was so emotional. Sharron was bawling crying, I was bawling crying. So were Chloe and Rhonda.’. Nicole says this disappointedly, but she reflects ‘We were all fuming in the group chat asking, why was that scene not shown? But look,’ she shrugs ‘There’s a reason they didn’t want to show everything. There weren’t enough episodes.’ We couldn’t agree more Nicole.

 

‘Myself and Chloe are best friends, we’re actually planning on moving in together’, she continues, ‘I have never had that strong a friendship with someone’. At least one meaningful relationship came out of THTH then. ‘It’s so funny when we came out we literally could not be separated. She came to live with me for two weeks after filming. Then when we went out, people would ask me who’s this? And I would say “Chloe, my best friend”, and they would ask how long have ye known each other? Oh, a month!’ Other relationships though?  ‘Some of them were genuine,’ she says knowingly. You can say an awful lot without saying much it appears. 

 

The filming experience may look like paradise, but it by no means is. Contestants were not allowed to have their phones or even know what time of the day it was. ‘It was so annoying. The odd time they will tell you. So you wake up at 8 am. Lunch is at 1 and dinner is at 8. You can kind of work it out that way.’ She pauses, ‘But it’s nice not having your phone and taking a step back. My poor mother though, I was just like “Look mom I’m going on this show and I don’t know much about it, I don’t even know the name of it. I just know it’s for Netflix” and sure she was freaking out like “OK, I can’t contact you on the phone, you’re in Mexico and that’s all I know. Jesus”. 

 

Nicole O’Brien is an obvious candidate; a gorgeous, business savvy Cork woman with Leeside charm, but her candidness is disarming. She has no qualms in saying ‘I was obviously disheartened a lot of my scenes were cut, but it worked in my favour. I don’t know how. I think people saw how I am – I’m just chill. I am the mammy of the group.’ For someone who went on a reality tv show, she seems remarkably nonplussed, ‘I was not expecting the response, I was gaining 70,000 followers a day’. That skyrocket into the limelight can’t be easy, in an era where negativity and misinformation lurk on every corner.

 

So what was the next venture? Lovd by Nicole. ‘After the show I was getting a lot of DMs from people struggling with mental health issues and wanted advice. I was thinking to myself “Oh my god this is so sad. I can’t just look through these messages every day and not do anything” so I said to my manager “is there anything we can do?”. I am obviously not qualified to give advice but I wanted to set up a platform with qualified specialists to do so’. This was the genesis of Lovd. ‘We interviewed loads of different psychologists from all over the world in different fields. We have Sara from America and she helps you with confidence. Then we have Tim who does anxiety and he’s absolutely amazing. Finally, we have Tom who does perfectionism, and people wouldn’t think that being a perfectionist can mess with your head. But it does.’ Perfectionism seems to be a uniquely modern problem, ‘It is, it’s to do with social media. Everybody wants to be perfect looking. You just have to get yourself out of that mindset and train yourself to not care what others think’. Nicole continues ‘I have dealt with all three of those issues separately. Most of my DMs fell into one of those three categories. So we set it up.’ She says this as though it is the most natural thing in the world, but you have to admire her ability to be so solution orientated. “It’s 18 videos approximately in each course, about 20 minutes a video and it goes through different elements on each topic. It helped me so much. There’s so much information in each of these courses that would take you so long to find on the internet and it’s just been compacted into one place.  The feedback that we have gotten has been amazing. It makes me so happy that we have been able to help all these different people. We’re bringing out more courses’. 

 

It’s hard to imagine O’Brien as anything other than the assured businesswoman on the other end of the zoom call. Are people less happy now because of the internet or are we just more aware of it because of the internet? Nicole exhales ‘I think people are less happy now. You see people on these editing apps using filters etc. I think everyone is comparing themselves to other people.’ For someone who makes their money from instagram she has a remarkably sanguine approach: ‘Everyone seeks validation, and that is what it’s about. But don’t get wrapped up in it. Post whatever you want to post. You do you. It’s good to have a break now and again. I lost my phone for like a month in college. It was great.’ Not something you usually expect to hear from an influencer.

O’Brien was almost in a different reality TV show, ‘I was meant to do Love Island when I was in second year. I decided not to do it a week before I went into the villa. Instead, I went on my J1. The notoriously toxic dating show has had 4 suicides linked to it. O’Brien considers herself very lucky. ‘None of the negative stuff had happened at that point, I was just thinking about how I was too young to do it. I definitely would have done something stupid. I thought “look, if they want me for a TV show, they’ll come back to me for it. I’ll finish my degree.” If I had done the show I wouldn’t have gone back to college.’ Is Nicole happy she completed her degree? ‘100 percent. I’m launching my own clothing brand this year,’ she continues ‘and if I didn’t have the commerce head on me, it would have been much more difficult. I am so happy I stayed and I studied commerce and didn’t give up on it’. Sure look, she got a few more nights out in Havana’s out of it. 

 

Life is different for O’Brien now, getting recognised in public is a new norm ‘I was out for dinner last week. Myself and Chloe were sat down. This girl comes up and says “Hey Nicole and Chloe” and we asked her what was her name. She said, “I’m just back from filming season 2 of Too Hot To Handle”’. Myself and Emer gasped.

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