Zara McDermott: From Love Island and hard-hitting documentaries to Strictly Come Dancing

Zara McDermott will make history as a contestant on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.

McDermott was announced to participate on the 2023 run of the popular BBC dancing competition in August, telling BBC Radio 1: “I am nervous, excited, every single emotion honestly – I cannot wait.”

Her appointment makes her the first ever Love Island star to appear on the show.

Since 2018, McDermott, 26, has risen in prominence after joining the fourth series of the ITV2 reality series, and now hosts documentaries about hard-hitting subjects for the BBC.

McDermott entered the Love Island villa two weeks into the show, and was immediately picked by Adam Collard, who controversially dumped Kendall Rae-Knight to couple up with her.

Four weeks into the series, though, she was torn from Collard after being sent home by the boys. Instead of leaving with McDermott, Collard decided to remain in the villa, but the pair still embarked on a seven-month relationship after the series ended.

The TV personality has made several appearances on other reality shows, including The X Factor: Celebrity in October 2019. She featured on the show as part of a group called No Love Lost alongside fellow Love Island stars Eyal Booker, Samira Mighty and Wes Nelson. They were mentored by Louis walsh and finished in eighth place.

That same month, she made her debut on Made in Chelsea alongside her partner, Sam Thompson. McDermott’s last appearance on the show arrived 14 months later, in December 2020, after temporarily splitting with Thompson.

Since then, McDermott has received acclaim for documentaries she has made with BBC Three. The first, Revenge Porn, was released in 2021, and it saw McDermott discuss her own experience of having her nude photos leaked as a teenager – an incident that led to her being suspended from school.

Other documentaries that followed, all of which were acclaimed, tackled subjects such as rape culture, disordered eating and the disappearance and death of teenager Gaia Pope-Sutherland in 2019.

While many may think Love Island was McDermott’s first time on television, her screen debut actually arrived in 2009, when she was just 16, on BBC series Wanted Down Under. The lifestyle show focused on McDermott’s family, including her parents and younger brother, as they considered moving to Australia. (Spoiler: they didn’t.)

Zara McDermott (PA Archive)
Zara McDermott (PA Archive)

Before her TV career, McDermott worked as a policy advisor for the Department for Education.

After splitting from Thompson during her time on Made in Chelsea in 2020, McDermott rekindled her romance with the TV star, and they have been together ever since.

McDermott told OK! in November 2022 that she doesn’t re-watch episodes they featured on as “it would be a bit weird”, but said she “can’t get enough” of the new series.

She said that she and Thompson are “in such a good place”, and debunked rumours of a possible engagement, stating: “There’s no need to rush or change anything, because I wouldn’t be with Sam if I didn’t want to be with him forever. And when [an engagement] happens, it happens. If that’s in five months or five years, I really don’t mind. I genuinely trust that timing is everything.”

While McDermott may be the first ever Love Island contestant to participate on Strictly, she’s not the first Made in Chelsea star. In 2020, Jamie Laing competed and finished as a runner-up.

After being announced as a Strictly contestant, McDermott told the BBC: “I am so excited to be joining the world of Strictly! I grew up watching it every year with my nan and she was the biggest Strictly fan. We would dance around the house and I have such fond memories of that time in my life.

“I even remember the first-ever series, and being mesmerised by all the beautiful dresses! I can’t wait to throw myself into this experience and start training. It’s going to be incredible.”

Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC One in September.