Her doubts around Arg’s fidelity made her go mad, but Lydia Bright is now over her break-up and finally has something to smile about
You can spot it a mile off. Lydia Bright has a sparkle in her eyes that can only mean one thing: we’ve got one hell of a smitten kitten on our hands today.
After coming out of a relationship so destructive it made her question her own sanity, the 21-year-old TOWIE star had been looking forward to some peace and quiet while she embraced singledom.
Only Essex doesn’t really work like that, does it?
So instead, Lydia has fallen hook, line and sinker for co-star Tom Kilbey, and while she tries to play it down (“I don’t want him to read this and get embarrassed!”) when you’re in that first flush, it’s virtually impossible to hide.
“It feels like the beginning of something amazing,” she says, opening up about her feelings for the first time.
“I just want to spend every second with him and I get butterflies just thinking about seeing him. Tom is the sweetest person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s adorable. He’s so ambitious, down to earth and such a different person to what I’m used to. He’s travelled, he wants to do amazing things and he’s so worldly and open-minded.
“Essex boys are generally just happy to go to Marbella every summer, they can be narrow-minded and not interested in seeing the world,” she says.
“But Tom is different. If you gave most Essex boys five grand they’d probably buy a flash watch. Tom would rather get a rucksack and go travelling. I love that.”
It’s still very early days – it’s little more than a month since Lydia and former footballer Tom, also 21, shared their first kiss in Fabric, the London nightclub he part-owns – but it’s clear from the tenderness between them on screen that this one could be a keeper.
“We haven’t said we love each other yet,” she says. “But I can feel myself falling for him. He’s a really lovely, genuine guy. I don’t think he would ever hurt me.”
And Lydia has had her fair share of hurt. Viewers of TOWIE will have watched her January break-up with childhood sweetheart James “Arg” Argent, 23, descend into a very public mess as he wallowed in bitterness and resorted to calling her some thoroughly unpleasant names.
Yet in the aftermath of all this, he also finally admitted to sleeping with other girls while they were together, something Lydia had always suspected but he had continually denied.
Keeping up? It’s all very exhausting living in Essex…
Lydia says: “I put up with so much for so long because I wanted everyone to think we had the perfect relationship.
“I’d hear things about his cheating and it turned me crazy for a whole year. I thought I was going mad at one point because he was having to constantly reassure me it wasn’t happening. I wanted to believe him because I loved him.
“He made me think I was turning into one of those paranoid, psycho girlfriends. I never wanted to be that person. So when he finally admitted it, it answered a lot of questions. I wasn’t angry with him any more.
“As for the things he said about me, no one in their right mind should make comments like that. Putting me down, calling me a ‘whore’, talking about me so horribly – that just showed up his own insecurities.
“I never hit back because I was determined to move on and responding to it was never going to resolve anything. I needed to get beyond caring about what he thought.”
Lydia says the split really came about because, after four years together, they’d simply grown up and apart. Arg especially had changed on the back of becoming famous and TOWIE’s success.
Lydia remembers a Fabulous shoot earlier this year when he stormed off in a fit of pique, apparently because he wasn’t going to be on the cover. “Yeah, some of his behaviour around that time… but our relationship was terrible and had been going sour for a while,” she says.
“When I met James I was 17. But as we got older, we changed. I clung to the hope that it would go back to the way it was when we were younger, but we’d both changed so much. A dramatic change in James, actually. We weren’t the same people and were no longer compatible.
“We were going through a very bad time over Christmas and I wanted to see the new year as a fresh start, away from each other,” she says. “We don’t really talk now. I feel so independent. He hasn’t got that control over me any more.”
And his replacement Tom has already been welcomed into the Bright family madhouse. Apart from Lydia, parents Debbie, 50, a full-time foster carer (and TOWIE lynchpin), and Dave, 53, a tiler (who has no interest in appearing on the show whatsoever) have another two daughters and a son plus three foster children – the couple have fostered more than 250 in their 30-plus years together.
“The house is always full of noise and chaos,” says Lydia. “That’s why I like it. It’s why I don’t think I’m ready to live on my own just yet.”
Since appearing briefly in series one of the ITV2 show as the bit-part girlfriend of Arg, Lydia has established herself as a favourite with the viewers. On screen she’s warm and fun-loving. Off it she’s exactly the same. Fabulous has shot Lydia a few times now and she’s always a poppet to work with.
There’s no faffing around, no diva flouncing, no hint of an ego. She’s gracious, turns up on time, gets on with everyone and offers no-holds-barred honesty in her interviews.
Unfortunately not all of her co-stars have managed to remain so untouched by their celebrity.
“Some people let it go to their heads and have changed,” says Lydia. “It’s sad when that happens. A lot of them have become hungry to succeed and I think that’s natural. There’s a competitive streak. But I’d rather everyone was just happy for each other rather than turning it into a competition.
“If I changed my family would lock me in my room! I know what’s real and that’s because of my amazing family. If I go to a red-carpet event, I come home, put my dressing gown on and the first thing they’ll say is: ‘You’ll never guess what happened on EastEnders!’”
Reality war zone
Lydia tried to steer clear of the ugly confrontations that characterised the last series, but as cast members jostle for status it’s made life on set very difficult.
The air is often swilling with tension which spills over on to camera and, while it makes entertaining viewing for people at home, being there in the thick of it isn’t so enjoyable.
Lydia says: “It’s a bit like a war zone at the moment. There’s a lot of tension and it’s all become quite difficult. Everyone’s hating on each other and there isn’t any need for it, it’s so silly.
“There’s jealousy and I hate it. It’s got a little bit messy recently and I think everyone needs to take a step back and question what they’re actually rowing about.
“But then again, everyone likes a drama, that’s what makes the show. You can’t have people going about their weekly shop.”
With her silicone-free chest and, well, human-coloured skin, Lydia bears little resemblance to the beachball-boobed, fake-tanned girls Essex is famous for.
“It’s not that I don’t want to be ‘Essex’, it’s just that I don’t always like the stereotype. There are parts of my body I’m not keen on, but surgery isn’t an option because I was always brought up to take pride in what God gave you. There are 100 other things I should be more worried about,” she says.
“Having said that, if someone is deeply unhappy and they think by getting surgery it’ll make them feel better, then fair enough. But while there are a few things I’d prefer less of and a few things I’d prefer more of, there’s nothing that makes me unhappy.”
Hardly surprising. There’s not an inch of cellulite on Lydia’s legs, her skin is pretty much flawless and her 5ft 5in figure is beautifully, healthily petite.
“I’ve always had slim legs from dancing when I was younger. My stomach is the area I have to work on. I do the plank every night before I go to bed, which definitely helps tone up my belly. And I eat healthily – I love Japanese food. I fluctuate between 8st and 9st, but I’ve never been heavier than that.”
Lydia is one of the band of TOWIE girls who have opened shops in and around Essex. Her boutique, Bella Sorella, is co-owned with older sister Georgia and was launched using money she’s made since starting on the show.
Very aware of the power of both TOWIE and her own profile, she cannily wears clothes from the shop during her scenes and then tweets while each episode is airing to tell her 700,000 followers the outfits are available to buy in store and online. Ker-ching!
“I’m so pleased with the way the shop is going,” says Lydia. “When we were setting up, we bought a book called Starting A Business For Dummies, but only got as far as the fourth page. We were totally clueless.
“And yes we’ve made mistakes along the way – we’ve over-bought stock and forgotten to do our VAT returns. But we’ve made it work and it’s something I’m really proud of.
“I was brought up around fashion. My mum was a fashion buyer and always encouraged us to be individual and not follow trends. She’d come and pick me up from school wearing a sari or something really colourful. At the time I was embarrassed, but that’s where I get my love of fashion.”
The business is something to fall back on – Lydia is aware that although there are a further two series commissioned for this year, TOWIE can’t last forever.
“If it all ended tomorrow I’d be upset, but it wouldn’t be the end of my world. TOWIE is only one part of my life.
“I still really enjoy it though, so I wouldn’t walk away from it. I did hit a breaking point where I thought I couldn’t go through any more crap on camera. But I decided to ride the storm and I’m so glad I did. I’m enjoying being in it again.
“I feel like I’ve put everything out there. You can’t really hold anything back with a reality show. It’s all or nothing.”
Speaking of not holding back, was Lydia surprised to see Arg and co-star Gemma Collins, 31, bring the curtain down on the last series with their declaration of lust and a shock snog?
“It’s a little bit crazy,” she says. “When it first happened I was a bit: ‘Is that for real?’ I don’t 100 per cent believe it, I don’t really buy into it. Maybe it was just for a storyline.
“I find it weird because she’s in her early 30s and talks about wanting to find her Prince Charming, settle down and have kids. James is 24 and so far removed from that. He just wants to party and get with loads of girls. They just seem an odd couple. But if they’re happy, then good luck to them.”
Lydia made a point of speaking to Gemma off-camera while the cast were in Marbella filming the holiday special last week, and made it clear there were no hard feelings.
She says: “I knew Gemma felt uncomfortable around me, but she has no need to. She’s not a close friend and doesn’t owe me any loyalty.
“When we were in Marbella, I spoke to her away from the cameras and said that I didn’t know if the relationship was real, but I didn’t have a problem with it. She said she was really glad we’d chatted because she’d been worried. I’ve moved on and I just want James to be happy.”
Just as happy as she is, hopefully. Lydia smiles as she recounts some of the romantic dates Tom – who works as a City trader and lives in Shoreditch, east London – has taken her on recently. She hadn’t wanted to dive head first into a new relationship, but admits you can’t plan ahead.
“We didn’t think anything would ever work because of our exes and living in stupid Essex,” she says. “In the end we couldn’t help it. We tried to keep it just between us, but that didn’t last long. I was so convinced I was going to be single for a long time after James and when Tom came along I was a bit nervous about getting hurt again. But you can’t live your life with ‘what ifs’. I’m so much happier now.”
So no more tears? “No more tears! I haven’t cried in ages, and there was a time I was crying every night. I’m just really excited about my life again.”
A bright spark
What was your best kiss ever?
The first one with Tom. It was in a sweaty nightclub rather than an idyllic beach in Barbados, but it was amazing.
What would your superpower be?
Flying. I could just fly everywhere and not have to sit in traffic.
Dream dinner party guests?
Sarah Jessica Parker, Alan Carr cos he’s hilarious and Coco – Ice-T’s wife from Ice Loves Coco. She could shake her booty for me!
Heights. I would rather eat my own arm, bring it back up and then eat it again than jump out of an aeroplane.
My business [Lydia owns Essex boutique Bella Sorella]. I’m so proud of that.
Which living person do you most admire?
Beyoncé because she’s such a good role model.
Who should you say sorry to?
Peter who was my first kiss when I was 15. Sorry for being a rubbish kisser!
● The next series of TOWIE starts in July on ITV2. Read about Lydia’s shop, Bella Sorella, at Bellasorella.co.uk.