EVERYONE has left lockdown feeling a little bit changed forever – perhaps more grateful for life’s simple things, or a smidgeon fitter after sweating it out with Joe Wicks.

Maura Higgins is no exception.

To ease isolation boredom at her home in Essex, where she lives with her hairdresser friend, she began exercising for the first time, ditched her “atrocious” junk food diet and, in a bid to get her head straight after splitting from fellow Love Islander Curtis Pritchard, imposed a man ban that has sparked – to date – six months of celibacy.

“Has this been the longest I’ve been without sex?” Maura ponders the question for a split-second.

“No, I don’t think so, because after a nine-year relationship I didn’t meet a guy until seven months later. That was a long time. Although, during lockdown it was nice not having the pressure of thinking about dating.

“I’ve never jumped back into a relationship and I’ve never had a one-night stand, so even if lockdown hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have been with any guys. But now I definitely feel like I’m ready to be with somebody. I’m 100% single and ready to mingle!”

Whoever the lucky chap turns out to be, it’s certain he won’t, ahem, know what’s hit him.

“God help the next man I meet, I’m not sure he’ll be able to put up with me!” chuckles the former model and ring girl from County Longford, Ireland.

So will the sex be better after a break? “I hope so,” smiles Maura.

“It depends who the man is…”

From the moment she swept into the Love Island villa last summer, Maura’s openness when discussing sex sent shockwaves through the show.

Singling out Tommy Fury with her “sex eyes” and declaring the boxer was giving her “fanny flutters” – catchphrases that became her trademark – despite his fledgling romance with Molly-Mae Hague, made Maura unmissable viewing.

Then overnight she became a feminist heroine and show favourite after overhearing Tom Walker say: “It’ll be interesting to see if she’s all mouth or not,” moments before they were due to visit The Hideaway for the night.

Maura declared in no uncertain terms that her sexual boldness did not mean she was undeserving of respect and she would not be sleeping with him. 

Maura, who turns 30 in November and is in insane shape after her lockdown fitness drive, declares she feels more confident now than ever.

“I 100% feel the sexiest of my life. I’m getting sexy for my new man!” she laughs before getting serious about her goals.

“I’d like to have a child some day and I do want a big wedding. I always thought: 33 marriage, 38 a baby. I want someone that’s caring, funny, who’s similar to me – who doesn’t take life too seriously – keeps their private life private and is mature!”

It’s impossible to believe that Maura isn’t throwing a cheeky dig at 24-year-old Curtis, who she dated for eight months before calling it quits in early March, a fortnight after she and Dancing On Ice skater Alexander Demetriou were eliminated from the ITV show.

On top of speculation surrounding her closeness to Alex, who subsequently split from his pro skater wife Carlotta Edwards, many accused Maura and Curtis of maintaining a “showmance”.

She confirms her feelings for the dance pro were “genuine” but – admitting it for the first time publicly – voices fears that Curtis was unfaithful during their relationship.

In January, hours before her first live skate, he was caught on film in a passionate New Year’s Eve clinch with a brunette partygoer.

Then in March, just before Maura confirmed the split to her 2.9 million Instagram followers, another video emerged showing him grinding with fellow dancer and model Amber Pierson, 21, during rehearsals for his tour with brother AJ.

The day Fabulous meets Maura at a studio in east London, pictures drop of Curtis and Amber smooching and holding hands, apparently confirming they are an item.

“Everything happens for a reason and, to be honest, I wish him all the best. I’m in a good place now. It’s not nice to see, but I’m fine. It’s kind of a kick in the teeth that I’ve been cheated on by my last two boyfriends, but I will be stronger for this,” says Maura, who has previously spoken of one ex who was unfaithful in 2017.

That heartbreak propelled her to sign up for Love Island. Looking back, Maura regrets not tackling the rumours head-on with Curtis, especially when the first video came to light.

“It was the first live show of Dancing On Ice and at the time I was so focused on my first skate that I didn’t want to make it an issue,” explains Maura.

“I tried to brush it aside and maybe it was the worst thing that I could have done. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have performed my first live show as well as I did but, looking back, in my gut I knew that there was something.”

During the relationship, Maura also grew frustrated by Curtis’ inability to give a straight (no pun intended) answer to the media about his sexuality. Following weeks of speculation online, in an interview with The Sun, he sat on the fence, declaring: “You can never put a label on anything.” 

Maura sighs. “I just feel like: ‘be honest’. He never says he’s straight, he never says he’s gay. I just feel like, whatever it is just be honest and say it.”

Did she ever ask Curtis outright if he was attracted to men and women?

“Yes. He said he was straight. So he said that to me, but he didn’t say that in public. I find that quite strange. Just be honest. Say what you said to me, you know?”

Switched on and straight-talking, Maura wastes no time clarifying the truth about various men she has been linked to in recent months, starting with Islanders Chris Taylor – “we’re like brother and sister” – and Michael Griffiths, who she reportedly enjoyed a dinner date with recently.

“God, come on! This really annoys me,” she says, evidently irked.

“That day he had a girl there with us. That’s the mental thing. There is nothing between me and Michael and there never will be. Ever!”

And what about Alex, who she previously labelled “a very close friend”.

After the 28 year old separated from his wife in April, did their friendship ever bloom into anything more?

“No, no, nothing there,” insists Maura. “We still speak. Not as much, obviously, but we’re still friends.”

Since returning from Mallorca last August, Maura has proved herself to be one of the most popular and in demand Love Islanders in history.

She signed up as an agony aunt on ITV’s This Morning when Love Island finished and last month starred in her own ITV reality show Maura Higgins: You’re Joking Me!, which followed her training for the famously gruelling 5k Spartan Challenge.

“It was complete hell,” she says. “ITV like to torture me. They get a laugh out of it!”

But it’s in the worlds of fashion and beauty that Maura is most at home. She’s released a fashion collection with Boohoo.com and signed a six-figure deal with Ann Summers, which was recently renewed for a second year.

In June, she unveiled a 34-piece make-up collection with cosmetics giant Inglot: "A few make-up brands approached me but Inglot jumped out.The opportunity is mind-blowing”, she aid.

And from next month her range of fake eyelashes will be sold in Primark in the UK and Penneys stores across Ireland.

Maura admits she has always “struggled” financially in the past. After quitting school in her teens, she earned “50 quid a day or even less” brewing tea and coffee in a hair salon then after a decade of hairdressing, moved into modelling.

It may have involved global travel, but because jobs were stop/start, Maura was “never guaranteed an exact wage”. She’s now said to be worth in excess of £1million.

This summer, Love Island was forced to take a hiatus due to social-distancing regulations, although many have argued the breathing space was needed following the suicides of former contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon and, earlier this year, host Caroline Flack, which sparked a debate about whether the show has a future at
all. Maura prays it does.

She says: “It would be a big shame if it was axed. I feel like with the break this year, it’ll come back bigger than ever.

“I can’t imagine what Caroline must have been going through. It just shows how important it is to be able to speak about how you feel. You have to talk to somebody. If you bottle everything up, that’s when things can go seriously wrong.”

Maura, who describes her workload immediately after Love Island as “overwhelming”, applauds the after-care she received from ITV and says she is still close to the producers. “I still get calls, messages, seeing how I am to this day.” 

She says her mammy Sharon “settles” her if she ever feels “down about stuff or anxious over something”. But what has been the biggest emotional challenge she has had to overcome in her life?

“Losing my best friend Andrew,” says Maura.

“He was killed in a motorbike accident four years ago. That was definitely the worst time of my life. That experience taught me to live every day in the moment. I get the question so many times: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’, and I can’t answer it because after that happened, I vowed to just enjoy every day and now I will not look to the future too much. You’re just not ready for something like that. It was awful.”

Ask her to pinpoint when she feels most vulnerable and conversation darts back to love. “I don’t want to get my heart broken again,” she says.

“That’s why, turning 30, I’m thinking I have to find the right man, the man I’m going to marry, the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”

Maura’s slender size 6, 7st 12lb physique is often likened to that of a Victoria’s Secret model, but since launching herself into daily Joe Wicks HIIT workouts and transforming her diet, she is visibly more toned today.

“I don’t have a six-pack, but there’s definitely definition, although I did a lot of squats to try to build my bum, but I may as well be wasting my time. I’ve realised I’m never going to have a bum so I’m just going to have to deal with what I’ve got!

“I still wear the same size clothes, they’re just looser.”

She confirms that she has had fillers in her lips, but says any other surgery rumours, including a breast augmentation and nose job, are utter nonsense.

“Years ago I did think about getting my boobs done, but I’m glad now that I didn’t,” she says.

“They’re very small, but I’ve grown to love their size and I would never get them done, 100% not. I’m actually just feeling really confident in myself.”

She adds: “A few years ago I would have been very scared about turning 30 and thinking: ‘No, I don’t want to get to my 30s!’ But now I feel better than ever. I feel great, the best I’ve ever felt!”

In the wardrobe with Maura

What item in your wardrobe can you not live without? My black Chanel bag. 

 Most expensive item? The Chanel bag! I won £15,000 in Vegas a few years ago on Black Jack, so I bought my dream bag, which was £5,500.

 Last item you bought? A black Prada bucket hat. 

 Most embarrassing thing in your wardrobe? My chap boots. They go up to the top of the thigh and have a strap with a buckle. They’re very raunchy and not a lot of people like them! 

 Describe your style… Bold, sexy and very brave.

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