“I know this might sound super cliché, but it has to be my mum,” says the former Love Islander. “She’s the main woman in my life that’s just taught me everything. And I think subconsciously through being around her and the way she’s dealt with things in life – she’s always been so strong, so optimistic, got through everything with a smile on her face – I think I’ve reciprocated that.”
Luckily, the 23-year-old gets to see lots of her mum, Karen, as she’s still living at home with her in Portsmouth. “When I came out of Love Island, I was only two weeks out when we were struck with the pandemic – so I’ve been home and there hasn’t been a reason for me to leave yet,” she says with a laugh. “So as much as I’m a busy bee and I’m working all the time, I try to [be home] at the weekend and see her and we have dinner together and stuff.”
It’s not just the pandemic that Jones has had to contend with since taking part in the hit ITV reality show in early 2020. Just a few months after the series ended and the world went into lockdown, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the May, following surgery to remove a golf-ball-sized tumour.
She had further surgery to remove the rest of her thyroid (meaning she now needs medication to replace the hormones the gland usually produces, which play a vital role in regulating the metabolism) and was thankfully told she was cancer-free late last year.
So how is she doing now?
“I’m actually doing really well,” she says over the phone, as bubbly and friendly as ever. “Obviously, I was given the all-clear just before Christmas, so that was the best Christmas present ever and felt like the biggest weight off my shoulders, such a relief. But it’s definitely been like a dark cloud throughout the whole of lockdown really.”
She’d found the lump before going on Love Island, but didn’t know it was cancerous at that point, so 2020 was a heck of a rollercoaster. “My life changed with the show, then I came out and it was lockdown, and obviously all my appointments were delayed, so it has been a real journey to be fair.
“But I’m just so glad I was able to get into treatment last year, and I’ve been given the all-clear. I’m so fortunate it was a very treatable cancer.”
She’s glad to be bringing some focus back to other areas of her life – and was thrilled to join the judging panel for The Pour Moi Uplifting Women Awards, which launched last month on International Women’s Day.
The lingerie and swimwear retailer has set out five categories – Charity Champion, Activist Achiever, Extraordinary Entrepreneur, Innovator In Business and the Pour Moi Loves Award, for women who’ve faced and overcome significant challenges and adversity – and women can nominate themselves or a friend, colleague or loved one, etc, that’s inspired them.
Alongside fellow judges, including photographer Amanda Akokhia and disability campaigner Sandie Roberts, Jones will get to help pick the winners ahead of an award ceremony in May.
“It’s designed to celebrate women, for things they’ve overcome, things they’ve achieved. There’s a £5,000 prize for each category winner, and £2,000-worth of Pour Moi vouchers,” says Jones.
She loves that it’s “giving people the opportunity to recognise that they or someone they love has done really well or overcome something, and to show that little bit of appreciation” – a welcome relief from the body-image pressures that come with taking part in Love Island and being an Instagram influencer.
“I definitely feel under pressure,” Jones admits. “Right now, I’m really not enjoying my body, but I think that’s because I went through such a drastic change before Love Island.
“Obviously, I lost weight and toned up for the show [she recently revealed she’d lost three stone before appearing on the programme] and I managed to maintain that.
Then obviously being diagnosed with cancer, I have gone up like two dress sizes, so for me, especially if I’m posting on Instagram all the time, there is a lot of pressure to keep up with these other influencers and always feel like I’ve got to look good.
“So I am a bit stressed at the moment and thinking, ‘Oh summer’s coming up’ – but I need to not put that pressure on myself and remember I’ve been through quite a traumatic experience and that’s taken a toll on my body. And also with the hormone tablets, I am sort of fighting a losing battle at the moment.
“But I’m trying to stay really positive – and I do love my body and the fact that I’m confident. But I don’t know, I am finding it hard too. Does that make sense?”
Being honest about this stuff means a lot to her – because it’s something that affects so many women and young girls. “I hope people can remember that I’m real, I’m not just this person that posts on Insta and looks perfect all the time. And honestly, I’m a woman – your weight naturally fluctuates anyway, let alone if you’ve been through something like cancer.”
While she may have had the all-clear before Christmas, recovery is an ongoing process – emotionally as well as physically.
“I think for a while I was in denial that I even had it,” Jones shares. “With all the other women I’ve spoken to that have been through cancer, you definitely differentiate your life in two sections – life before cancer, and life after cancer is very different.”
She’s still getting to grips with the hormone tablets, which she’ll be taking daily for the rest of her life. “I’m very up and down with my emotions, it takes the tiniest thing to make me cry. But it’s something I’m trying to get used to and get my head around. It’s going to take a little while. Yeah, mentally it is difficult.”
The whole experience has given her a new outlook on lots of things. “I know this sounds really cheesy, but I think it’s definitely given me like a new perspective. It has given me a different outlook on how I view myself, and how I view things that come my way in life. Things that are really trivial but used to have such a big impact are really not important anymore. It’s just about being with family, and your health is the most important thing.
“I do take my personal happiness a bit more seriously now,” Jones reflects. “If I’m not happy about something or having a bad day, I know I’ve got the right to switch off from the world. I’ve got the right to put myself first.”