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Matilda Rice opens up about dealing with Heartbreak Island backlash and how Art's love helped her through

'It's so comforting to know that I have a man who completely has my back. Art, as always, has been my number-one campaigner.'

Matilda RIce Heartbreak Island

When Matilda Rice fell head over heels for her Bachelor hunk Art Green, you could say the bubbly blonde got more than she bargained for.

Not only did the reality TV star meet her one true love and future fiancé, but Matilda's lovable nature and overwhelming popularity on the matchmaking show also propelled her into a career that the 27-year-old never thought possible.

Business owner, blogger and author extraordinaire, in just three short years, multi-talented Matilda has built her personal brand and carved out a social media empire that's become a full-time gig.

"I went on to The Bachelor all those years ago with a completely open mind and open heart. I still feel so lucky to have met Art, but I was completely blind to all the other opportunities the show would open for me," says Matilda, who now adds TV presenter to her already impressive resumé as the host of TVNZ 2's Heartbreak Island.

"It wasn't like I ever set out to gain a bunch of followers – it just kind of happened that way. One minute, I was regular old Matilda and the next, I was on TV and dating Art, and people were so invested in our relationship.

Matilda relaxes at the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay
Matilda relaxes at the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay

"When I left the show, I felt like I got thrown in the deep end – like I was on a crash course on how to market myself. These days, my brand is definitely important, and I am mindful of that when I'm making decisions about what I represent, the jobs I take and the products I endorse.

"But they're never tough decisions because you can call it a brand, but at the end of the day, it's who I am. I've never tried to portray something I'm not. The weird, goofy person you get online is the same me Art gets every day."

Known and loved as the relatable girl next door, Matilda – whose Instagram following has amassed over 143,000 fans – is the first to admit accepting a hosting gig alongside Mark Dye on Heartbreak Island might have seemed a little out of the ordinary to her fans.

Of the scandalous new series that puts 16 young, single Kiwis on an island where they have to compete in challenges and try to form relationships, Matilda says, "Some people might think the show's a bit sexual or a little too risqué, but at the same time, taking the gig was such an amazing opportunity. To dip my toes into a presenting role was something I had always dreamed of, but I'd decided it was too scary and not for me. To be approached for the job felt like a dream come true."

Matilda was overwhelmed when Art chose her on *The Bachelor.*
Matilda was overwhelmed when Art chose her on The Bachelor.

But Matilda wasn't feeling quite so optimistic about her debut TV gig when the hotly anticipated show went to air. Its premiere episode – in which contestants were ranked based on their popularity – met with harsh criticism and Matilda's Instagram was inundated with nasty commentators attacking her for her involvement on the show.

"It was awful," recalls Matilda, who suffered anxiety and sleepless nights over the barrage of negativity.

"I did expect the show to cause a little controversy – after all, it's a first for New Zealand – but I hadn't thought so much hatred would be directed at me.

"I was so disheartened and deflated by all the negativity. I'd invited a bunch of my close friends over for a viewing party and my phone was blowing up. I was trying to laugh it off, but it felt like the whole country had something horrible to say. I felt like what was meant to be such an exciting moment was taken away from me. It took me a few days to come right."

While Matilda admits filming the opening scene was "a really tough moment", she says it highlights the realities of 21st-century dating. "Selecting a date based on a picture is exactly how Tinder operates – it just feels more confronting when it's face to face.

"But by the second episode, the contestants quickly realised judging a person by a picture doesn't work and they were starting to form relationships based on people they were actually compatible with."

Despite the public outcry, a steadfast Matilda didn't once second-guess herself, but she confesses she couldn't have done it without the support of Art, 30, who took to Instagram to defend his bride-to-be.

"Lovely Art – he's an absolute legend," smiles Matilda.

"It's so comforting to know that I have a man who completely has my back. Art, as always, has been my number-one campaigner. Being his super-supportive amazing self, it was him who really built me up and reminded me that the opinions of people who don't know me aren't the ones that matter. When much of your job exists online, negativity sometimes comes with the territory, but every time it happens, I get a little bit stronger."

Indeed, the social media favourite – who's also the face of Colgate Optic White and Jockey Underwear, author of The Lazy Girl's Guide to Living a Beautiful Life and co-founder of the couple's ready-made Paleo meals venture Plate Up – says she often encounters people who don't take her chosen career path seriously.

Matilda and Heartbreak Island co-host Mark Dye
Matilda and Heartbreak Island co-host Mark Dye

"There have been several times where people just roll their eyes or ask me, 'Yeah, but what's your real job?' They take the p* out of it all the time, but mainly because they don't understand the work that goes into it. The thing is, there aren't many people in New Zealand who do what I do for a living, so I don't expect them to understand.

"Personally, I define success as being genuinely happy and having the freedom to make decisions that could change your life – my career gives me both those things."

While the nature of her role means Matilda rarely gets downtime and isn't always guaranteed a steady income, she admits she has so much to be grateful for.

"Most couples who work traditional nine-to-five jobs might barely see each other during the week, but Art and I are together practically every day and we love it. We truly are best mates who click in every way.

"Being both self-employed can add extra pressures into our relationship, and often we are forced to take risks and step outside our comfort zone, but I'm never afraid of failing with Art at my side."
In fact, the only thing the couple are flunking right now is completing the guest list for their impending summer nuptials.

"Deciding on invites has just been one of those things we keep lumping into the too-hard basket," laughs Matilda, who's staying hush-hush on the specifics of her and Art's special day.

"Art isn't really a details man, so I have a lot of planning to do – but at the rate we're going, there'll be no-one at the wedding!"

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