JENNY JOHNSTON asks Kai and Sanam how DID the teacher and social worker end up winning Love Island?
Theirs is, as one fan pointed out, the love story we didn’t know we needed.
Kai Fagan and Sanam Harrinanan flew back from South Africa this week, as the newly crowned — and most unlikely — winners of Love Island.
Autograph and selfie-hunters (mostly from the TikTok generation) clamoured to meet the glossy young couple with perfect teeth at the airport. Flashbulbs popped.
They tell me that one of their first tasks — before being hurled into a media frenzy of TV appearances and influencer meetings — was to go shopping. Of course it was. Gucci? Prada?
They laugh. ‘Matalan!’ says Kai. ‘And we only went because we’d run out of clean clothes. We have no plans to change.’
Kai Fagan and Sanam Harrinanan flew back from South Africa this week, as the newly crowned — and most unlikely — winners of Love Island
To say that Kai and Sanam, both 24, are not your typical Love Island winners is to put it mildly. They are not even your typical contestants. In this, their first interview, they tell me that they were both shocked even to get selected for the show.
‘We are quite boring, really,’ says Kai, ‘We never got involved in all the stuff you think Love Island people have to do — the rows and the controversy. Because of that, we never expected to win. We were shocked when it seemed people liked us.’
Does the crowning of Kai and Sanam signify a major change in direction for programmes like Love Island or (whisper it) even the death knell for that section of the TV industry?
There is no bling about them at all. Kai worked as a PE and science teacher in a tough comprehensive in Greater Manchester and played semi-professional rugby for Burnage before applying. Sanam was a social worker in Bedford. They have five degrees between them. They are categorically not airheads.
Our conversation is unusual. I have interviewed Love Island stars before, and frankly it can be torturous because they tend to lack life experience and live in a social media bubble.
These two don’t. They are in that sweet spot where they have experience of gritty jobs, but did not do them for long enough to become jaded. They seem genuinely to want to change the world (and not in a beauty contestant sort of way).
They also share — even now — a sense of bewilderment at what goes on in shows like Love Island.
‘During the final, all these people were coming up to fix our hair or touch up our make-up,’ says Kai. ‘That’s not me! I’m just a little lad from Sale. I was thinking, ‘You really don’t need to do this, you know’.
We spend much of this interview talking about their jobs and how they have impacted on their lives (short answer: massively).
Kai worked as a PE and science teacher in a tough comprehensive in Greater Manchester and played semi-professional rugby for Burnage before applying. Sanam was a social worker in Bedford
Kai’s school had a high percentage of kids from troubled backgrounds, including refugees.
‘Even kids with PTSD who had fled war zones,’ he says. ‘When the war in Ukraine started, we had kids from there. I have been in situations where it’s hard to even be sure what age the kids are, because there was no paperwork.’
He buzzes when talking about ‘reaching’ those kids. ‘I went into teaching thinking it was about the subjects, then I realised that where I thought I could make the biggest difference was actually in the extra-curricular stuff.
‘Some of my former colleagues have been in touch to say ‘well done Kai’. Pupils too — but for them it’s still ‘Mr Fagan’.’
Sanam’s masters was in media perceptions of social workers. ‘I was worried about going on Love Island because of that,’ she says. ‘Would people realise we could be nice?’
Her professional experience involved liaising with children — often troubled ones — after they had been placed for adoption.
‘I loved it. To build up that rapport — seeing them go from kids who didn’t want to speak to me at all, to have them chatting away — was incredible. To their adoptive parents, too. It was part of my job to support the development of those relationships.’
So why, why, why would they jack in such worthwhile jobs to go on a reality show many feel is vacuous?
‘The people I ultimately want to work with — kids — watch it,’ says Kai. ‘You can have whatever view you like of shows like Love Island, but believe me — and I’ve seen it in classrooms — the kids watch it, and the people on Love Island are their role models.
‘One of the common conversations I’d have with these kids — who are all on TikTok and social media — is about who they are being influenced by.’
Sanam nods. Like Kai, she handed in her notice to go on the show, but only because there was no other option.
‘But I am meeting my former manager on Thursday to chat about how I can continue to help them. And this will give me a platform that I just wouldn’t have had before.’
‘Obviously there are tasks on Love Island… like with the chocolate sauce,’ says Kai, referring to the night Sanam licked chocolate sauce off his chest. He looks a little mortified
Hold on, are they saying they believed they could have more influence over the younger generation as reality TV stars than as teachers and social workers? They don’t quite go that far — ‘I believe in the power of education,’ says Kai — but the suggestion is there.
Kai asks directly: ‘Would you be talking to us if we were a teacher or a social worker?’.
Whatever, Kai hopes their love story will be a force for good. ‘A lot of the kids I have taught come from broken homes, and I know it was the same with Sanam. A lot of them will never see a positive relationship. If they can look at us and go ‘yeah, it is achievable’ then that’s a positive thing.’
Drawing on his own role models, Kai adds: ‘Marcus [Rashford] has been an inspiration since he burst onto the scene, everything he has done to [alleviate] child poverty through the free school meal schemes is amazing.
‘I can see how helpful and impactful his work has been and it is honestly an inspiration to me and everyone else in the country.’
Maybe we have to think again about what ‘influencer’ actually means, because these two say they are going to use their £50,000 prize money not to buy designer gear but to invest in ventures that help disadvantaged children.
What will happen, though, when they get offers for modelling or to launch fashion labels, or ranges of fake eyelashes (which is de rigueur for Love Island success stories). They don’t quite say they will turn this down.
‘Obviously, if there is something we would use anyway, or a product we feel positive about, then yes, but we are going to be careful about it. We won’t sell out. We won’t become what we are not.’
Which brings me to the heart of the matter: can we really believe these two strangers met, dated in front of over three million viewers and genuinely fell in love?
‘We are in love,’ says Kai. Sanam actually said it first — publicly on the show, but laughs about how she didn’t mean to. We had said [to each other] that we were going to keep everything private, but it just slipped out,’ she says.
Sanam says she was immediately bowled over by Kai; and vice versa. ‘We just had these proper conversations,’ says Kai. ‘We had similar backgrounds, jobs, values, morals. I just thought she was amazing..’
As is the way of Love Island, before long they were sharing a bed. Which is not remotely normal. They both laugh.
‘Yeah, but you do things all the wrong way round on Love Island. We’ve never even been on a proper date yet, out in the real world, but we have had all this intense pillow talk, because you do.’
People will be sceptical, obviously. The ‘kerching’ factor is always higher when couples come out of Love Island, because frankly, a happy couple sells. These two do seem genuinely smitten, though.
‘And my mum loves him,’ says Sanam. ‘She’d never said nice things about any of my previous boyfriends. Mind you, I’d never wanted to introduce them to her.’
Are they still, um, sharing a bed? They both look coy but confess that they are. ‘When you start off sharing a bed with someone you don’t not want to share a bed with them,’ says Sanam. Can we talk sex then? They’d rather not. Have we found a Love Island couple who are actually quite private, too?
‘Obviously there are tasks on Love Island… like with the chocolate sauce,’ says Kai, referring to the night Sanam licked chocolate sauce off his chest. He looks a little mortified.
‘But we said quite early on that we wanted to keep that side private, because it is private.’
Are they thinking of marriage? A family? I expect them to tell me to mind my own business but they nod enthusiastically.
‘We are both living with our parents and in different parts of the country,’ says Sanam, referring to the fact that Kai lives with his mum in Greater Manchester, while she lives with hers in Bedford.
‘But we have looked at the map to see where we could live together that is exactly between the two.’
How many children are we talking then? ‘I think two,’ says Sanam. Kai nods.
Let’s watch this space — and it will be interesting to see how Kai and Sanam’s victory impacts on the future of Love Island. There were murmurings on social media about how this series was less explosive — and therefore less gripping. Can you be too boring?
Not according to these two. ‘I guess people voted for us because we were real,’ says Kai. ‘We plan to stay that way.’