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Great Britain

How Megan McKenna is putting her chequered past behind her in search of a new beginning

THERE'S something very different about Megan McKenna. And it’s not just her noticeably less trouty pout, which we’ll come to later because, really, how could we not mention The Lips?

No, aside from all that, the country singer who shot to fame as the unlucky-in-love reality star with a tenuous grip on anger management (remember that jaw-dropping tantrum in the diary room on CBB 2016, for which she was temporarily removed from the house by security?) is a changed woman.

As she prepares to launch a music career off the back of The X Factor: Celebrity, she’s calmer, softer, way more rational and impossible to reconcile with the seething, screaming, snarling girl viewers of Ex On The Beach, CBB and TOWIE will be familiar with.

“I’m a completely different person these days,” says Megan. “I’ve done so much growing up. I know people see me as Mental Megs – if I’d watched me, I’d think: ‘Oh god, I don’t like her.’ But the truth is I was just a broken, upset young girl and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.

“When I came out of Big Brother and saw it all back, I was like: ‘Oh my god, my mouth! My nan’s going to kill me.’ I just can’t behave like that. I’d be trying to express myself, but it would come out all wrong.”

Much of Megan’s frustration and distress, she says, stemmed from the psychological hangover of having been bullied at school – an experience that left her with poor self-esteem and simmering resentment.

She was angry and unhappy and those insecurities came to the fore (often with the help of alcohol) on reality shows where conflict was provoked and actively encouraged.

We also saw it happen during her explosive, toxic 18-month on/off relationship with Pete Wicks on TOWIE and she’s the first to admit that she was hopeless at handling tension – her instinct was always to blow up.

“You’re put into negative scenarios where you’re going to react in a certain way. Whether you’re on screen being cheated on or having an argument with your best friend, it’s never going be a happy scene, is it?

“But I’ve had therapy and I deal with things so much better now. If I feel there’s any weird tension or not a very nice vibe going on, I just remove myself from the situation.

It doesn’t take long in Megan’s company to know she’s a good person – a sweetheart, really – and so it’s cheering to hear her talking with common sense and perspective.

This has been a particularly difficult year for her personally, following the death of ex-boyfriend Mike Thalassitis in March, who she dated for much of 2018.


Megan, 27, has never spoken publicly about the tragedy and it’s made clear ahead of the interview that she won’t – can’t – talk about it today. However, she does allude to it, saying she’s had professional help to support her.

“Obviously, this year I’ve had a few little panic attacks,” she says, cautiously. “I’ve had therapy, because as much as I have people around me to talk to, speaking to someone I don’t really know just helps me to deal with emotions and put things in the right place.”

Alongside therapy, giving up drinking has been key in turning things around. In her bestselling 2018 autobiography Mouthy, Megan wrote about using alcohol to “rid demons” and decided to quit completely at the start of this year.

“I realised I didn’t want to be doing that any more,” she says. “I would go out and get paralytic. I’m talking downing the Jägerbombs like you would not believe. I don’t know how I did it.

"I was necking them three in a line, tequila, Sambuca… And I was waking up in the morning with my face all swollen from the alcohol. I’m coeliac and I’d constantly have a bad belly from a night out. Some nights I’d go to the toilet, be sick and then go back and carry on drinking. I was abusing my body.”

She says the celebrity lifestyle with its endless events and free bars can be dangerous.

“It’s constant. There are events on all the time in London and because I get nervous going to things, I’d down my drinks quickly. I used to think if I didn’t have a drink it was going to be a rubbish night, so I’d drink purely to get drunk.

“And then the morning after is just the worst feeling. I’m a mess and I can’t deal with it. It actually gives me anxiety now just thinking about it, so I can’t do that to myself any more.”

The all-new Megan is hoping that taking part in The X Factor: Celebrity, which started on ITV last night, will give her a second chance.

I used to think if I didn’t have a drink it was going to be a rubbish night, so I’d drink purely to get drunk.


Music has always been her first love – she’s been plugging away for years writing, recording, performing and looking for a break as a country artist – and this is an opportunity to show there is more to her than volatility and drama.

Anyone who has seen her sing live will know she has a truly beautiful voice and that her self-penned songs are quirky, clever and catchy, but Megan realises she has more to prove than most.

“I know people judge me from the shows I’ve been on, but I was growing up on telly, making mistakes, saying stupid things.

“It’s difficult coming from reality TV and crossing over into music, but I feel the show could possibly be that point for me. Like, fully. I’m just so happy X Factor came up. I feel like people are going to really see my love for music and how happy it makes me.”

Are people surprised when they hear her sing for the first time? “Always. They’re like: ‘Oh my god, you speak like a chav but your voice sounds so lovely.’”

Another move in her bid to be taken seriously has been the dramatic image overhaul – the Essex uniform of big hair, big lips and lashings of fake tan has been ditched. Megan had the filler in her lips dissolved and has deleted a raft of photos she can no longer bear to look at.

“I’m mortified looking back at some of my old pictures. I spent three years pumping it in, pumping it in, thinking: ‘They’re not big enough, let’s get some more.’

“I became obsessed with my lips. I’d take a photo of myself and if I didn’t think they looked big enough I’d make them bigger with an editing app.

“Honestly I think I had body dysmorphia, because when I look back at pictures of myself now I am horrified. I look like a duck. I don’t know how they didn’t bump into things! I can’t believe what I looked like.


“And no one could tell me. No one. Not my mum or anyone. It sounds pathetic, but I thought I’d look ugly without them.”

She remembers opening for Michael Bublé in Hyde Park last summer and how it should have been the pinnacle of her career so far.

“But every headline the next day was about me and my big lips. I’d left my job on TOWIE to really smash this and so to have everything become about my lips was upsetting. I want people to be talking about my voice – I don’t want people looking at my lips.

“I think I realised I was never going to be taken seriously while I had fillers, so I decided they had to go. I had so much in there. I didn’t just have one lot of dissolvent, I had to have two!

“I thought no one was going to like me without them but after the second week, I saw myself and thought: ‘Hold on, I look all right.’ I think I’d lost sight of what a normal face looked like.

"I was trying to mould myself into something I wasn’t. And now I think it looks ridiculous. I know I look better natural and I will never go down that route again. It’s just not nice.”

Performing is a dream Megan has harboured since childhood. Her younger years were spent going to various auditions and travelling all over the country for singing competitions.

In 2009 she got through to the semi-finals of BGT as one half of duo Harmony and made it as far as the six-chair challenge on X Factor in 2014, but nothing came from either. By the time Ex On The Beach came up the following year, she felt she was running out of options.

“I was changing jobs every week doing bar work and I didn’t really have any money. I got a job at an estate agent and I hated it, I had no clue what to do. But then MTV messaged me. They’d seen me out and about and it started from there.

“I remember I was in a really boring meeting learning about estate agents and I got the phone call. I excused myself, took the call and they told me I was on the show and flying to Mexico. I walked back into the meeting and said: ‘Sorry, I’ve gotta go.’ And I never went back.”

I was trying to mould myself into something I wasn’t. And now I think it looks ridiculous.


She says if she’d known what lay ahead, she might never have boarded the flight. “I thought it was a new dating show – that’s how they pitch it to you – and I was just happy to get away.

“I’d just broken up with my boyfriend and was really low and upset and it probably wasn’t the right time for me to go on it. Honestly, that show is agg.

"I think if I’d known what it was from the start I probably wouldn’t have done it because I would have been worried about my ex coming on. He didn’t, but they brought on the girl he’d slept with so it was just as bad.”

The infamous stint on CBB followed before Megan joined TOWIE as the best mate of Chloe Meadows. She spent a turbulent 18 months on the show before quitting in 2017 after experiencing betrayal and heartbreak and losing friends in the process.

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise because I left knowing who my real friends were. I learned that it’s not all about having a big group of girls, it’s about having people you trust.

The last...

Book you read?

I’ve not read a book in so long. I think it’s my own. No joke.

Movie you watched?

Bridesmaids. My favourite film of all time.

Box set you watched?

Manifest. I’ve nearly finished it. It’s really good, about a plane going missing.

Time you were drunk?

Probably the finale of Celebs Go Dating in February.

Time you cried?

A few nights ago on stage when I was talking about my grandad.

Kiss you had?

Ha! From my mum last night saying how proud she was of me.

“Most of the time on TOWIE I felt like I was in a corner. There would be times when everyone would be all right with me, but when me and Pete split the whole cast turned against me. And bear in mind what happened with me and him [Pete was caught sexting other women].

“It was making me so depressed – the drama and arguments over the stupidest things that on the show become the worst thing in the world.

“I just got to the point where it was not what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be doing positive things, surrounding myself with positive people.”

Travelling to Nashville in 2017 to film her fly-on-the-wall show There’s Something About Megan proved to be a turning point. She found somewhere she felt at home and it renewed her determination to make it in music.

“I felt like I belonged there. No joke, Nashville was the point where I said to myself: ‘I can’t be behaving [like that] and losing my s**t about silly things any more.’

“I came back in such a good headspace. Everyone was finally seeing what I loved to do and staying on TOWIE would have meant being dragged back into drama.

"Me and Pete split up again and I just thought: ‘I don’t want to be doing this and having my personal life on camera,’ so I made the decision to leave halfway through the series and I’ve never once regretted it.

“To make it in the US you need to be the first or be completely different. Well, I’m definitely the first Essex girl trying to crack it in Nashville! As long as you have got a good story behind the music and you sing from the heart, it’s country. All of my songs are relatable.


“If anyone ever wants to know anything about my personal life, they just need to listen to the lyrics in my songs, because that’s where all my little secrets are.”

Standing in front of Simon Cowell again for The X Factor: Celebrity 10 years after that first BGT audition was an emotional experience – not to mention nerve-wracking. Viewers will see her performance on Saturday.

“I always feel like Simon is the one. I’ve been trying to crack the music industry for years and suddenly I’m there singing for him in his garden in Malibu and I couldn’t believe I was there. The whole day was emotional.

“His house is unreal. It’s all white and I love that because my house is, too, but his is on another level. All glass windows, big fireplaces… Just perfection.”

She says she occasionally sees the girls who made her life a misery at school and takes some satisfaction in the fact she’s come out on top.

“When I first got my Range Rover, I was driving down my road and one of the girls was pulling out in this really… I’m not mugging little cars off because I’ve had a KA, but obviously I’m in this Range Rover.

“Anyway, she was in this little battered car. And as I drove past I caught her eye and I thought: ‘Good.’ She’ll know. They’ll all know who they are. And I just think I’ve got nothing to be angry about now.”

Stockists: River Island (riverisland.com), Topshop (topshop.com), New Look (newlook.com)

Megan McKenna looks dramatically different in make-up free selfie as she reveals new blonde hair and freckles

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