REALITY TV star Jamie Laing knows exactly what the public have thought about him for years.
Born to millionaire parents, he found fame on E4’s Made In Chelsea, where his escapades — wild parties and boozing at a string of exclusive venues — made him a genuine love or hate figure.
“I was such a plonker in my younger years,” he admits. “If I saw myself back then, I’d say, ‘That guy’s an absolute w***er’.
“So I understand it. Made In Chelsea fans liked me, I think — but when I did Strictly Come Dancing with a much bigger audience, I realised that being white, privileged and posh was not very sexy.”
He recalls that nobody ever assumed he was having an affair with his Strictly dance partner Karen Hauer — because she was out of his league.
He says: “Every single time we did interviews, the journalists would ask all the other couples, ‘So, are you guys hooking up?’, and they never asked me.
“I said once, ‘Why do you never ask me that?’, and they were like, ‘Well, look at her, she’s a goddess’.”
Not that he hasn’t had his share of romance. Jamie, who is related to the man who invented the famous McVitie’s digestive biscuit in 1892, became infamous on Made In Chelsea for his bad behaviour, dating and dumping a string of girls.
Now he has written an autobiography, I Can Explain, in which he holds his hands up to some of his more reckless antics.
Jamie also reveals how his hard partying took its toll on his health and led him to several brushes with death.
The book starts with his early years in Oxfordshire, which were so blissful he had no idea his life with parents Penny and Nicholas was not the norm.
Jamie says: “As a kid we had a swimming pool, a tennis court, grounds, bicycles, all these things, and I thought that’s how everyone lived, because I knew nothing else.
“I remember going to my friend Tom’s house, which was on an estate, and I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a swimming pool there.”
After leaving school at 18, the fun and games continued. Jamie decided to go travelling in South America with friends, excited about the lack of responsibility.
He says: “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have any homework, I don’t have any exams, I don’t have to speak to Mum, because I didn’t have a mobile phone. The only thing I have to worry about is not dying.”
There were some close calls, though.
In Bolivia, Jamie and his friends were persuaded to hand over 50 dollars and travel to the deep jungle with a man calling himself Johnny Cash to try ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drug made from cacti.
He says: “The whole thing was miserable, but to cut a long story short I ended up spending eight hours on my hands and knees with my nose to the ground, thinking I was a truffle pig.”
Another time, on Brazil’s Copacabana Beach, Jamie was robbed by a gang holding a machete to his throat. They took all his belongings including his clothes, leaving him standing in just his boxers.
“That was really scary,” he says. “I thought I was going to die. I had total PTSD afterwards and freaked out if anybody came near me.”
After a few more scrapes — including nearly being gored at the bull run in Pamplona, Spain — Jamie decided it was time to settle down.
Aged 22, he went for a job interview with a wealth management firm, but he felt deflated instead of excited, and it was then that he was offered a part in the second series of the new E4 hit Made In Chelsea.
He says: “I liked the idea of not knowing where it will end. That felt better than putting on a suit and getting up at six every morning.”
Jamie quickly became one of the biggest names on the show, thanks to his lovable rogue personality.
He and best friend Spencer Matthews would often fall out over girls, and Jamie had a reputation for loving and leaving them.
Now he admits that monogamy has never been his strong suit — he first cheated on a girlfriend aged just six with Eliza Winwood, the daughter of singer Steve Winwood.
But he says being on the show made him exaggerate his tendencies until he did not know who he was any more. He says: “I don’t want it to sound like I’m blaming anyone else for the way I behaved, but with reality TV you can’t go into a scene talking about the weather.
“Viewers want to know who you’re kissing, they want the arguments and the scandals. So, to get to the top of the food chain, you have to be that person, and you have to break up and kiss others, and create scandals, fight and argue.
“It’s not that you consciously go, ‘I’m going to break up with this girl’. It’s just that you become a heightened version of yourself to get more airtime and more likes on Instagram.
“And the version of myself that I became over ten years on TV is not a version I admire.”
A particularly bad moment came when he cheated on girlfriend Tara Keeney while filming the show, leaving her to find out for herself as she watched the show go out live two months later.
“That was a low,” he admits. “It was easier than telling her to her face. I just didn’t have the balls.”
More recently, Made In Chelsea has lost out in popularity to the new reality kid on the block, Love Island, which has been engulfed in scandal and subject to 33,500 Ofcom complaints this year.
Jamie says he is glad he did a reality show when he did, before social media had hit current heights of popularity and before the new wave of “cancel culture”.
“We were hugely fortunate because we weren’t particularly aware of what people thought about us, although Twitter was just starting at the time,” he says.
“Now, if you make one bad move, it can be brought up. I’m sure how we acted, if it was in the current climate, would have been a disaster for us. We’ve all made silly comments and done stupid things.”
The show, along with too much partying, was at the centre of Jamie’s struggles with his mental health.
He’d always been an anxious child, but his first serious panic attack happened not long after joining Made In Chelsea.
“I was just watching The Voice and this feeling came over me,” he says. “I couldn’t breathe properly and I thought I was dying. I went to the hospital, where they told me it was a panic attack and sent me home.
“I went to bed thinking, ‘If I feel like this tomorrow, I just don’t want to wake up’.”
That was the beginning of six months of general anxiety disorder, which Jamie hid from family and friends before confiding in his mum and getting help.
He says: “When I watch those early episodes of Made In Chelsea I can see it in my eyes. I can see how hollow they look.
“I think it was burnout, but also being on a TV show, realising that I’d chosen a career with no promise of a future. I thought my insecurities would disappear because I was on a TV show, but it made them worse.”
Now, thanks to therapy and the love of his family and friends, Jamie is in a better place. He reached the finals of Strictly last year — although he almost didn’t appear on the show.
His insecurity about being 5ft 9in led to him wearing “lifts” in his shoes when he was first cast in 2019, but they gave him a condition which caused awful pain in his feet and he had to pull out.
Luckily, he was given a second shot last year and got through to the final.
He says he will be watching Strictly this year and rooting for Karen, as well as his friend Ugo Monye, the former England rugby union player.
Jamie says: “Strictly was an amazing turning point for me. Suddenly people didn’t just see me as that posh idiot from Made In Chelsea.
“It was really hard work, but so much fun. The audience had an assumption about me, but then they saw I was resilient and kind.
“I’m so grateful as it has led to so much more and I feel balanced for the first time in my life.”
But he reckons a new snogging ban on Strictly, brought in to curb Covid, won’t work. “They won’t stick to that,” he says with a laugh. “There’s always going to be a snog.”
Not that he ever had the hots for Karen, of course — he is happily loved up with girlfriend Sophie Habboo.
“Sophie’s better than me in every single way,” he gushes. “I’ve never been as calm as I am now. I was always either incredibly ecstatic or incredibly anxious.
“She makes me balanced. She’s a real hero and has stuck by my side through lockdown and various burnouts and I will be forever grateful.”
Jamie, now an ambassador for mental health charity Calm, hopes his happy ending will be inspiring to anybody with similar problems. “It is so important for people to realise that they’re not alone,” he says.
“Two thirds of suicides are male, and 175 people a week take their life due to suicide. And it’s because men just don’t talk about things.
“So I want to encourage every man to speak out, because it’s OK to talk about it. I think once you realise we’re all in this together, then you start to feel much better about things.”
- I Can Explain, by Jamie Laing, is published today by Seven Dials, priced £18.99 in hardback. Also available in ebook and audiobook.
Source: Read Full Article