Swapping Love Island for first love: Amber Davies talks ahead of 9 to 5 The Musical role in Birmingham
Awkward encounters and everlasting love. Temper tantrums and sizzling stand-offs.
Love Island is the nation’s most talked about summer TV show; where the beautiful become deified and a bunch of 20-somethings swap careers as bar tenders and trainee lawyers to become Instagram influencers and red-carpet-walking minor celebrities.
Amber Davies survived the heartbreak train two years ago, when she and then-partner Kem Cetinay were series winners. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their relationship didn’t last for too long once they’d left the villa, but the entertainer used the show as a springboard to greater things.
And Amber is convinced that other contestants from this year’s show will follow in her footsteps by making a career from showbusiness once the show is done. The North Wales celeb was a dancer before signing up and had worked at the circus-themed London club Cirque Le Soir – the same place that 2016 winner Cara de la Hoyde worked before joining the show.
Amber joined the thousands of wannabes who send their details to the makers of Love Island because she was out of work. She’d been looking for a break on the stage but decided to audition for the TV show after finding jobs hard to come by.
“When I graduated I looked really, really young so the job offers I was getting were far and few between. I needed a good few years to grow up. Everyone asks if it was a tactic to go into Love Island so that I could have a career in showbusiness. But that literally that wasn’t the case. We had no idea how big it was going to be. It was kind of just something to fill the time and head in a different direction. But it really worked out well and I’ll always be so grateful for the platform that it’s given me. It’s allowed me to go on.”
Indeed it has. Her career has soared since those heady days of two summer’s ago. She earned a reported £5,000 an hour for personal appearances after leaving the show before landing a lucrative contract with the clothing brand Motel Rocks, worth a reputed £500,000.
Good Morning Britain signed her up for a week while she was linked to Liam Payne at the end of 2018, following the pop star’s split from Cheryl, and Diversity’s Perri Kiely, a former winner of Britain’s Got Talent. Essex lad James Hawkins was also linked to Amber – not long after she’d split from her Love Island co-star Kem Cetinay.
And yet her first love is none of the aforementioned – it’s performing. She dreamed of featuring on the stage and screen as a youngster and has worked hard to realise her ambitions.
“Singing and dancing and acting is all I’ve ever known. I have an older sister who was in musical theatre and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. She moved out when she was 16 to do a diploma course and performance has always been a massive part of my life. My mom and dad have been supportive throughout. In many ways, they’re my number one fans. They would never miss a production when I was in it – and I’ve been in plenty of them over the years.”
And it’s another production that will bring Amber to the region soon. She features in 9 to 5 The Musical at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre from September 6 to 14 – and is hoping that plenty of Love Island fans will buy tickets.
9 to 5 The Musical tells the story of Doralee, Violet and Judy – three workmates pushed to boiling point by their sexist and egotistical boss. Concocting a plan to kidnap and turn the tables on their despicable supervisor, the show follows the women’s plan – and shows what happens when the CEO pays an unexpected visit.
Amber is thrilled to be leading the line. “When I got asked to go in and audition, I was petrified because it was one of the first auditions I’d had since coming out of the Villa. The role is perfect for me and the character is such an incredible character to play. I didn’t have to think twice about taking the job; it was an easy decision to make.
“I’ve done such a long stint in the West End so I didn’t have to think twice about the tour because I’m keen to get around the country. It’ll be such a wonderful experience to travel up and down the country.”
Amber says the chemistry between cast members is what makes the show such a success. They’ve formed a small ‘family’ on the road, where they look out for one another and socialise when they get time.
“We’re in hysterics every day because it’s such a funny show.
“I play Judy Burnley and she’s basically a very naïve young sweetheart. The show follows her journey from meeting Violet – they cross paths at the right time and she helps her to find her own feet. Judy realises she doesn’t need a man to do well in life and she blossoms into this strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man and who builds lifelong friendships with two women. I think she turns into Amber at the end.”
Amber was unfamiliar with the comedy when it was presented to her. She was unfamiliar with the 1980 American comedy film produced by Bruce Gilbert, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton as three working women who live out their fantasies of getting even with their boss, played by Dabney Coleman.
The film had grossed over $103.9 million and become the 20th highest-grossing comedy film. It also provided a star vehicle for Parton – who was already established as a successful singer, musician and songwriter – and launched her permanently into mainstream popular culture. A television series of the same name based on the film ran for five seasons, and a musical version of the film (also titled 9 to 5), with new songs written by Parton, opened on Broadway on April 30, 2009.
Amber is refreshingly honest. “No, I didn’t know what it was about until I was offered it. I sat down and watched it with my dad. I was in shock when I saw it. The Broadway production is a little bit different to ours. I love it. We had Dolly Parton write a new song for us and it’s brilliant to be debuting this song for the first time for Dolly. She came down to watch it and was very impressed with us. I was petrified to meet her for the first time. But she was one of the most humble women I’ve ever met, she really made an impression. She just took a liking to me, I think, and really looked after me and gave me such amazing advice. There was no fuss, no hassle, she was just a really great role model.”
With steady work coming in, money in the bank and a recognisable name that puts bums on seats, Amber would appear to have it made. And yet she doesn’t consider herself to have won life’s lottery. For her, it’s all about hard work and making sure she can sustain the success she’s enjoyed, while trying to move forward and build. She has long term plans and is determined to carve out a long-term career. She also realises that the carefully-curated Insta-lives that people like to portray are a million miles from reality.
“This life isn’t as glamorous as it seems at times. If people find themselves in a similar situation to me and ask me if I have any advice, I just tell them about the amazing support system I have around me. It’s not an easy ride but life isn’t. I have it very fortunate compared to others so I don’t complain about the pressure.”
And how about the concerns that have arisen this year for those who appear on reality TV shows. An estimated 38 people have died by suicide after finding fame on TV shows. From Love Island stars Mike Thalassitis to Sophie Gradon, a number of people have been broken and find themselves unable to cope. They are engulfed by the millions of social media followers, trolls and hangers-on. Such episodes have led to a change on Love Island, where producer Richard Cowles has said the show will now insist that all islanders meet with a therapist whether they ask for one or not. The show also provides the islanders with social media training and advice on financial management.
Amber hasn’t needed that level of support because her family are so close. “My support system is great, if I ever have an issue or a problem, I always voice it to my mum. She’s a mental health nurse so she’s my little therapist. I’ll always be Love Island’s number one fan, I think it’s such an easy watch. It’s a 9 o’clock show and there’s nothing too crazy or complicated about it. I watch it when I come off the stage if I’m doing 9 to 5. I like the drama of it. I watch it religiously.
“I think after some of the things that have happened recently, ITV have knuckled down on after-care because there’s a lot more pressure. But look, Dani Dyer has a ton more followers and tonnes more responsibility that me. I just think it’s good that that support is building and building. ITV were brilliant with me. I don’t have anything bad to say. As an adult you’re responsible for what you sign up for. If you don’t think you’re able to cope with what’s going to happen then you shouldn’t sign up for it.”
And yet those pressures persist. While a run on a TV show or a part in a big budget musical is an adrenalin-fuelled funride, the audience seldom see the boring moments between high drama nor care for the slog from cheap hotel to stage door. They don’t think about the absence of structure or stability in home lives – that’s for the ‘star’ to deal with.
Amber doesn’t mind. That’s all she’s ever known. “I didn’t ever have a normal social life because I’d be spending hours in dance lessons. I was totally dedicated. This was something I’ve always wanted to do. From a young age, I was competing in competitions. I built my confidence over a long period of time.
“Working in the West End or regional theatres is great because the audience makes it feel great. It never gets old. I’d love to work on Broadway, that’s a massive thing for me, but TV is harder to get into. I’d love to look at soaps and straight acting but there’s plenty of time.”
She continues to learn from her less-famous sister, who led the way. “My sister is still a massive role model to me. She walked straight into the West End at the age of 19 after graduating. So she showed me that my dreams are achievable. I watched Wicked when I was younger and Rachel Tucker was unbelievable and that’s always stayed in my mind. But I also love the longevity of someone like Dolly. There are plenty of role models.
“It’s great to have so many different things to do. I think I’ve done things that I never thought I’d do. I have my own clothing range and go to the Pride of Britain and work with big names. Love Island opened so many doors. I never thought it would happen to me personally but it’s an amazing industry.”
And yet there’s a paradox. Despite being a famous face who is reminded of her achievements as Love Island continues to dominate TV screens, Amber is just as happy away from the bright lights.
“At heart I’m quite a private person. You have to be honest and open with fans and followers but also keep something back. It’s really hard to balance and it’s taken me a while to figure it out. Every day I learn lessons and I realise things I shouldn’t have said. I’m not perfect but I’m learning all the time and trying to do my best.”
No one can ask for more.