Gemma Collins is the TV titan and queen of memes that all reality show producers want on their payroll. But she’s so much more than that
The Only Way Is Essex, Sundays from 25 March, 9pm, ITVBe/HD (CH 119/179). Also available for 7 days in Catch Up > Channels > ITV Hub
We first met Gemma trying to sell Kirk Norcross a BMW. Kirk was confused at the idea of a woman selling a car: “It’s not really girly, is it?” But Gemma put him in his place: “I’m very passionate about my career. My life is my job.” And with that, we were sold.
This was back in 2011. The Only Way Is Essex was still in its infancy and had yet to find its heart. Gemma arrived in series 2, on the hunt for “someone powerful… like Tony Soprano attitude, and like Mr Big from Sex And The City”. She wasn’t exactly your typical TOWIE girl. Yet, within months of her screen debut, the series had won a TV BAFTA. The show is now on its 22nd run. And The GC Factor has undeniably played a big part in that.
To understand the phenomenon that is The GC, you have to go back to the start. Born to working-class parents made good, she attended the esteemed Sylvia Young Theatre School in London (which boasts alumni including Billie Piper, Rita Ora and TOWIE narrator Denise Van Outen) and then went on to work as a used-car saleswoman – and it’s this combination of performer and hustler that has made her fly where others have fallen.
Gemma knows how to work the camera. Like Clint Eastwood, she can steal every scene with just a change in facial expression. Most of TOWIE’s stand-out moments have featured Gemma, whether it’s her telling on-off love interest James “Arg” Argent that “You ain’t ever gonnna get this candy”, or putting young whippersnapper Ferne McCann in her place: “I’m Gemma Collins, I’m 34, I’ve earned my divaship”. The TOWIE producers have reportedly fired seven cast members to guarantee more Gemma airtime in the upcoming series, she’s that good.
Although she may have once spent £1,000 on fortune tellers after a bad break-up, Gemma isn’t normally frivolous – she has business nous and a serious work ethic. In an interview with The Guardian, she said: “I don’t really turn anything down… I feel guilty if I have a day off.” Thus, she’s done most celeb-based shows going: Celebrity Big Brother, I’m A Celeb, Splash!, Celebs Go Dating, Celebrity Juice, Virtually Famous…
Her autobiography Basically: My Life As A Real Essex Girl was an immediate bestseller. (See Call Me By Your Name star Armie Hammer’s dramatic reading of it here.) Then there’s the online plus-size clothes shop and the Brentwood boutique – this is a woman who knows her kaftans. And it’s paying off: according to wealth management specialists Spear’s, she has a net worth of £2.7 million.
And then there are the memes. Oh, the memes. How it happened, no one really knows. But once you Google “Gemma Collins memes”, your life will never be the same again.
She’s not all about the sassy one-liners, though – there is a tender side to Gemma that makes her relatable. Her friendship with Bobby Norris is one of the show’s greatest and longest-running love stories – replete with all the ups and downs of the most authentic of relationships (his mother being ill, her trying to be a vegan). The moment when Gemma is told she won’t be able to freeze her eggs is truly, cripplingly emotional.
You can laugh with Gemma. You can cry with Gemma. You can share a kebab with Gemma. Her appearance at the 2017 Radio 1 Teen Awards sums up her appeal perfectly. She’s on stage to present an award for Best TV Show to the stars of Love Island. But, as it’s The GC, this happens…
And, once again, Gemma steals the show. Get this woman an OBE. Or at least an appearance on Desert Island Discs.
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