Heartbreak Island’s Ashleigh ‘Open relationships are hard to maintain’

From stripper to reality star, Ashleigh Williams is shaking things up on the reality show

Sometimes when you put something out into the universe, you find out the universe is listening. This is exactly what happened to Ashleigh Williams after a comment made in jest led to her jetting off to Heartbreak Island.

“I was watching the previous season of Love Island with my flatmate and commented, ‘I should be on a fricken show like this!'” the 25-year-old laughs.

“I just felt I would be interesting on a reality TV show and would have so much fun. I’d be giving some real advice and being a little bit crazy. Honestly, it was just a passing comment. Then a friend of mine was like, ‘Oh, there’s this New Zealand one coming out. You should apply for it.'”

Enjoying Island life with Texan Shamar.

So she did. While most of us would baulk at having cameras on us 24/7, the former stripper held no such reservations. As a model for the likes of luxury handbags brand Yu Mei and a graduate of the Wellington drama school Toi Whakaari, Ash revels in the spotlight. Even when it’s not bubbly fun like Heartbreak Island.

Last year, Ash and her fellow students made national headlines when they outed Toi Whakaari for toxic behaviour, lack of support and racist attitudes.

At the time, she said, “I felt super-alone, isolated and ugly in this space where all these white women got to look completely different to me. I didn’t learn anything other than that the industry is still f**king racist.”

She spent 18 months in therapy dealing with and processing the trauma. This is a big part of the reason she moved to Auckland. Following her time on Heartbreak Island, she has starred in Silo Theatre’s production of The Writer. In a case of life imitating art, her character stood up to misogyny in the stage world.

Ash channelled her student rage (right) into The Writer.

As our discussion returns to Heartbreak, Ash describes it as a unique experience.

“Everything on the island is so heightened because you don’t have any influence from the outside world,” she reveals. “All you can do is be present in the moment and feel the thing that you’re feeling because nothing else is affecting what you’re feeling in that moment. So you’re 10 times angrier, 10 times sadder or 10 times hornier!”

With fellow Aucklander Milly on Heartbreak Island.

Ash describes herself as someone who isn’t afraid to express herself, her sexuality or her sexual freedom.

“That can be a bit much for people,” she concedes. “People aren’t really used to seeing it. But to me, it feels like I’m just being sure of myself and not being affected by other people’s views on how I’m acting. Unless I’m doing something to hurt someone, then I’m going to act the way I’m going to act. I’m going to be myself 100%. I really like playing against the normalities in life.”

Ash’s unconventional attitude also flows into her love life. A believer in open relationships, the star says she identifies as pansexual, like Miley Cyrus.

“That means I don’t really care about gender or what genitals you have,” she tells. “I’m attracted to people and their energy, personality and the type of vibes they give off, rather than being attracted to a specific gender.”

As for her relationship preference, she admits that “open relationships are hard to maintain”.

“The hardest thing about an open relationship is a lot of miscommunication can happen, so there has to be a lot of communication between all parties. Both people, or whoever is included, need to be really, really secure within the relationship and also in wanting it to be open because I don’t think it’s ever going to work out if one person is not into it.”

Talking with Ash, it’s apparent she is completely comfortable in her own skin and secure in herself. She says she wasn’t brought up this way, but her journey from a teenager into a young adult has played into how she thinks about sex, sexuality and relationships.

“I’ve had a lot of experiences as a person that tie into how I see things,” she explains. “I used to be a stripper, which really tied into me growing as a person sexually. That brought out a lot in me. Being in my first open relationship broadened my view on monogamy. It’s so cool to be in love with someone but also not cut off your natural attraction to other people and be able to act on it.

“From there I was just like, ‘F**k, yeah, I’m definitely this type of person!’ Every aspect of my life growing up has played a part into the free spirit that I am.”

Heartbreak Island is now streaming on ThreeNow.

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