Perhaps it was inevitable that Maya Jama would one day become the spiritual successor to Britain’s biggest TV matchmaker, Cilla Black. Because the 28-year-old, who begins her tenure as presenter of ITV’s Love Island tomorrow, has the same bubbly personality and keen desire to pull a “Lorra, Lorra laugh” out of life that made the late Liverpudlian such a crowd pleaser During the 18 years she spent as Blind Date’s Cupid.
More importantly, Jama backs that cheerful likeability with an impeccable professionalism and steely determination to succeed, just as Cilla did.
When the news broke that she was taking on the coveted role from Caroline Flack and Laura Whitmore, she told fans, “Sounds a little wild, but everything I’ve ever really wanted in life, I have.”
Maya Jama will begin her reign as presenter of ITV’s Love Island tomorrow
And that’s less because of the random whims of the universe than because of her own personality, which she describes as “fearless, determined, and tunnel vision-focused.” She’s wanted to be on TV since she was a kid and says she’s “very ambitious” and “super, super confident” about making that dream a reality.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to posit that her will to succeed stems from a desire to escape her difficult early life, in which her father spent much of her childhood behind bars for violent crimes and her boyfriend died when he was caught innocent in the crossfire of one Gangland shooting when she was just 16.
Rico Gordon was killed when two gangs engaged in a gun battle after a Bristol carnival. A stray bullet hit the 21-year-old in the head while he was on the phone with Jama. Two men have been jailed for his murder, but the star’s friends say she still unfairly blames herself for the death. He had traveled from London to visit her and was asking directions to her house when he was shot at.
“Your whole world is changing,” she later said of that moment. “You’re a little girl and you realize, ‘Okay, that’s adult stuff’.” I was devastated, I was so sad.’
Jama’s friend Rico Gordon was killed when two gangs engaged in a firefight after a carnival in Bristol
The murder prompted her to leave Bristol, friends say, so she moved to London to make something of herself. Leaving her hometown also meant she was able to escape the toxic influence of her Somali father. Jama visited him in prison until the age of ten, but separated from him when he was a teenager. She later explained, “I just felt like, ‘If you can’t even bother getting out of jail, why am I bothering going to you?’ ‘
She has also implied that he hurt her mother, telling Vogue magazine how the years before he was sent away were marked by vague memories of seeing her mother’s blood on the kitchen floor and “just knowing that something was wrong”.
Jama has not spoken to her father since filming a documentary about him in 2017, which led to a short-lived reunion between the two, but remains close to her Swedish mother Sadie, who was just 18 when she was born.
In an interview last weekend, Jama reflected on those early experiences, saying: “I hate the word ‘strong’ because why do you always have to be strong? But I’m resilient.’
After moving to London, Jama lived with Rico’s family for some time, even sleeping in his old bedroom while she threw herself into work, starting with a job as a runner for production company Jump Off TV.
She then got the opportunity to be in front of the camera where she hosted the weekly music video countdown and quickly rose through the highly competitive world of broadcasting, becoming the youngest person to host the mobo awards at 23 and getting after a stint at Radio 1, a job at community radio station Rinse FM and going mainstream with shows like Channel 4’s The Circle; BBC1’s Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer and ITV2’s Celebrity Juice.
Jama and Stormzy met in 2015 when both were completely unknown. Their relationship blossomed and the couple had a four-year romance. Pictured: Maya Jama and Stormzy attend the 2017 Elle Style Awards on February 13, 2017
Her rise to fame was fueled by her natural, fun on-air aura, and friends said she wanted to put aside the heartache she was enduring to live a more carefree, fun-loving life. It might have been these qualities that drew Grim superstar Stormzy to her. They met in 2015 when both were completely unknown. She played one of his tunes on Rinse FM and he tweeted a thank you.
Their relationship blossomed and the couple had a four-year romance. She doesn’t like to talk about their relationship now, but has said: “We were so young when we met, we were just starting our careers. At that point, he hadn’t even released a single. We were just babies.’
Rumors that they reunited last year turned out to be false, and she now describes herself as “really, really single”.
A serial monogamist, she was last seen dating basketball player Ben Simmons, to whom she was reportedly engaged, but now insists she has no one in mind.
Despite this, starting tomorrow she will try to choreograph love games for other people: the contestants of the ninth series of Love Island.
Money is easy for Jama now – she regularly flies in a private jet, has a penchant for designer clothes and has bought her own house in London. Pictured: Maya Jama at the Fashion Awards 2022, Royal Albert Hall, London, December 5, 2022
The show was dogged by controversy. Alongside Caroline Flack’s suicide at the age of 40, two contestants took their own lives, spotlighting the producers’ duty of care to those involved. TV regulator Ofcom has received thousands of complaints about the way some contestants have been treated amid allegations of “bullying, gaslighting and misogyny” on the show.
Jama is a smart host choice because, like Flack, she is perceived as a woman who would like female viewers to be friends and male viewers to date. Indeed, ITV bosses are hoping Love Island will be the launch pad for other prime-time shows for what they describe as their “perfect choice” of presenter. For her part, Jama says the job on Love Island is her “golden ticket” and sees making the dating show happy as her mission.
This year’s entrants include a biomedical student, a PE and science teacher, a financial advisor and a farmer – all trying to secure love, or at least the £50,000 prize.
Money is easy for Jama now – she regularly flies in a private jet, has a penchant for designer clothes and has bought her own house in London.
Jama is a smart host choice because, like Flack, she is perceived as a woman who would like female viewers to be friends and male viewers to date. Pictured: Maya Jama attends British Vogue’s Forces For Change dinner at The London Hotel on December 4, 2022
Her success after such difficult beginnings comes as no surprise to Kim Baker, Jama’s psychology teacher at Bristol’s Cotham School. She says: “She was a very attractive person – very charismatic. She had a presence and a large group of friends mainly because she had such a laugh and giggled incessantly. She had a great determination to do well. She had a real bite. Perhaps she looked at her family background and thought she would live a different life.
“She’s proof that you can do what you really want if you persevere. She’s living the dream now, and it’s great. When she was here at school, I thought, ‘This girl is going to go far.’ There was really something about her – a really strong personality.”
This strong personality is just what she needs to keep this year’s Love Islanders in check – and propel their incredible career to even greater heights.