Ferne McCann shocked TV viewers on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here... when she ate a live spider in one of the most infamous bushtucker trials yet. Ahead of her visit to open the Belfast Telegraph's Holiday World show on Friday, she tells Una Brankin why she'll be looking for love during her stay here.
It's 9.30am and Ferne McCann sounds drowsy, down the line from London, but she has been up since 7am for a doctor's appointment. The hugely popular reality star and presenter has a painful trapped nerve in her shoulder, which follows a leg injury she sustained while playing netball last year. And between those trips to her GP, just before Christmas she had two moles removed from her striking face.
"One was on the middle of my nose, the other just to the left of it," she explains. "I had them lasered off two days before Christmas. It was for cosmetic reasons but they could have carried a risk of skin cancer. When I was watching myself back in the jungle (on I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here), I noticed how prominent they were, so I decided, let's just get rid of them.
"They looked like a cigarette burn at first but I've been putting rosehip oil on them and it's great for scarring."
One of the standout cast members of The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE), Ferne is coming to Belfast to launch Holiday World on Friday, a coup for the organisers, given her current popularity. The 25-year-old Londoner has been in huge demand for TV panels and chat shows since she came third in I'm A Celebrity, in December, and she has won praise for her first broadcast as a show business reporter for ITV's This Morning last week.
"I was cringing looking back on it, but to land something like This Morning is amazing," she admits, in a slightly husky Cockney accent. "I was on the show on Thursday so I didn't see Eamonn (Holmes, Friday's co-presenter) but I've met him before - he's great craic.
"The feedback's been great. Mum and dad are so proud."
With a name like McCann, Ferne reckons she may have some Irish relations she hasn't met yet. She's excited when she hears I have in-laws of that name.
"No way. You don't meet many McCanns in England. I asked my dad (Simon) and he says we might have an Irish connection way back. I'm so excited to see Northern Ireland; I've never been before. I've been everywhere else - I've had some incredible holidays in Mauritius with my family. I was in Peru last year and went to Machu Pichu, and the Australian Gold Coast was beautiful, and mum and I had an amazing time in Italy.
"But I can't wait to come to Northern Ireland. I absolutely love the accent - yours is so nice and soothing at this time of the morning."
Ferne's particularly close to her mother, Gill, who she describes as a best friend, and her younger sister Sophie (22). "I'm going to be an auntie - Sophie's about to drop," she says. "I'm so excited; I can't wait. I'd love to have kids one day but I've been single for nine months. I'm quite happy and content with that; I don't mind. I've a lot of single friends to go out with. But I'll have to see who's in Belfast."
Renowned for her straight talking and unbridled wit, Ferne's weekly commentary for Star Magazine is the longest running UK celebrity column to date. The opinion piece gave the publication a direct link to the much-watched I'm A Celebrity shenanigans and it now has the advantage of having Ferne's regular musings on her fellow TOWIE star Gemma Collins' progress in the current series of Celebrity Big Brother.
"It's too early to tell who will win - there are 16 of them in there but I'm Team Gemma all the way. She's incredible, hilarious. She can be tricky, but she's so entertaining. She has a real honest side and she's very loyal and generous and warm.
"It was so typical of her giving her designer shoes to Tiffany (a fractious American contestant) the other night. She'd give you the shirt off her back. But she will snap at some stage, Gemma being Gemma."
As the go-to girl for brand endorsements these days - including Caprice lingerie - it would be easy to assume this is just another superficial reality star on the make for a brief snatch of fame. But she's deeper than you'd imagine, and articulate. Fern practises meditation and, refreshingly, refers to it as such, rather than banging on about "mindfulness".
"I'm very spiritual, really keen on Buddhism and meditation," she declares. "It soothes the mind; our minds can get very busy and it's good to find time to calm down and be still every now and again. I had loads of time to meditate in the jungle. Lady C did it for 20 minutes every day; she's very strong-willed. You have to embrace being in the moment."
Almost 1,450 complaints were received by the TV watchdog Ofcom and ITV after Ferne swallowed a live spider on a Bushtucker Bonanza task on December 6. However, Ofcom has decided not to investigate the controversial I'm A Celebrity episode, which saw Ferne swirl the water spider around a glass before gobbling it - having already eaten a wriggling witchetty grub and a lamb's brain.
The fledgling presenter has no regrets.
She says: "Yeah, I think it was an over-reaction. It was a bit much. I understand, but witchetty grubs and other creepie-crawlies are eaten live. There's no difference
between them and a spider. It's just that everyone's more familiar with spiders, we're sensitised to them.
"The thing is, I'd lost every challenge up until then and I thought, 'I can't not do this'. It was mind-over-matter. Once you're in the right mindset, that's half the battle for doing anything.
"I was surprised how strong I was. The whole experience gave me a sense of achievement. I had no worst bits - I loved every minute of it. I wasn't very fond of doing tasks, but I felt so lucky to be there and I'll be forever grateful for it. The worst part was coming home, but I'm keeping in touch with some of the others. I'm seeing Lady C on Wednesday and Dickie on Saturday, and my mum's really friendly with the Hadleys."
Fellow jungle camp-mate George Shelley, from boy band Union J, recently compared Ferne's singing voice to Amy Winehouse and hinted they were going to write a song together. They pair came up with a novelty rap on the show and were rumoured to be dating, which Ferne denies.
"I love to sing but I don't think I'll be making a career out of it any time soon," she laughs. "Amy Winehouse inspired me. I have a husky twang a bit like hers, but there's no way I could be compared to a legend like her. She's definitely an influence and I've been told I look like her.
"I toyed with the idea of a nose job but if I was going to get it done, I would have done it by now. I haven't had any non-surgical work done but I am going to have a Vampire facial.
"The results are supposed to be amazing. I think I'm too young yet for Botox and fillers, but I'm not against them. Girls want to enhance their lips but there are good make-up tricks, with lip liner, to make them look fuller."
Such beauty tips, along with fashion and foodie content, can be found on the Ferne McCann blog.
With a keen eye for business, she also launched her own clothing range with an online fashion retailer, the collection selling out in just two days of going on sale.
Before joining TOWIE, Ferne was one of London's top hair stylists and a colourist at Sassoon's.
Naturally "mousey", she has just changed the caramel colour in her long thick hair to chestnut, for a fashion shoot.
But, as much as she enjoys giving fashion and beauty advice, Ferne has bigger ambitions.
"I've always wanted to be a TV presenter and I'd also love to do a good British drama or a feature film," she concludes. "I do want to fall in love and have a family, but I'm going to push my career as far as I can, be independent and smash it. I want to buy a house where I can live with my mum.
"I definitely think this year is going to be very busy. I can't give too much away but there are some very exciting projects being discussed as we speak. I'm very lucky - I haven't done everything yet, like a book or a TV show. I do feel I've some exciting stories to share and people do seem to want more of me - the real me. I'm so grateful."
Belfast Telegraph Holiday World Show will be at Titanic Exhibition Centre, 20 Queen's Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast on Friday, from 1pm-6pm, and Saturday and Sunday when it will be open from 11am-5.30pm. Tickets cost £5 for an adult, £4 for senior citizens with a special family price of £10 for two adults and up to four children. Visit http://www.holiday worldshow.com/visit/belfast/ for show details and tickets