As the blurb of this debut memoir points out, Camilla Thurlow came second on Love Island in 2017, but that’s not the most interesting part of her life story so far. Thurlow’s memoir covers pretty much the entirety of her 20s and the learning curve that those years represent, beginning with a car accident at the age of 18 that gave the reality star and activist her first realisation that life doesn’t always go the way you planned. It was the moment that Thurlow decided that her life wasn’t going to have a straightforward path, and encouraged her to embrace new challenges and go out in search of a role in which she felt she could be making a difference.
So sparked her decision to apply for a job with the HALO Trust, and Thurlow was ultimately accepted for a role that saw her trained in explosive ordinance disposal, where she would find and clear landmines in some of the world’s most dangerous and inhospitable places, at the age of 23. Her time with the HALO Trust took Thurlow everywhere from Cambodia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique, where she was often fighting to prove herself as a woman in a very male-dominated world. From there, she travelled on to Afghanistan before she returned home to the UK and was invited to take part in Love Island 2017, where she shot to fame as a contestant on one of the UK’s most-watched reality TV shows.
But if you’re picking up Not The Type hoping for a detailed breakdown of scandalous backstage Love Islandgossip and secrets, then you’re bound to be disappointed – this is just not that kind of book. Instead, Thurlow has written an honest and intelligent memoir that carefully details her own life experiences and the feelings and emotions driving her throughout. In its most relatable moments, however, the book also offers an unfiltered and unflinching interrogation of her own anxieties and learning to face them in a world that can often leave you feeling like you’re not good enough. As Thurlow sets out to find meaning and her place in the world in this book, she also offers an open discussion about the shared struggles of contemporary life, which is all too often dominated by the warped perceptions of celebrity culture and social media.
“In truth, no one teaches you how to live life. Instead, you have to forge your own difficult path, often making the same mistakes others did. True, there is value in learning through pain. But there is also value in our collectively trying to pass on wisdom. To offer hope in moments of difficulty. To know that finding our own path is not all about blindly feeling around in the dark, willing ourselves forward while feeling alone.”
By her own admission, Thurlow sought to create a life in which she was “constantly slightly out of [her] depth” and that’s very apparent throughout Not The Type, which follows Thurlow through gruelling training regimes and plenty of dangerous situations in her work in former war zones, as well as the life-or-death stakes that accompany them. Even her Love Island stint, covered in just one chapter here and with very little focus on life in the villa itself, was an opportunity for Thurlow to challenge herself in a situation that was very much beyond her comfort zone.
There’s no doubt that all of these experiences make for an extraordinary life – and fascinating reading – but one of the book’s strengths is that, at each point, Thurlow brings everything back to a level that those of us who haven’t lived through such circumstances can relate to, and that’s by continually pulling it back to how it shaped her as a person and what she learned as a result. There’s a real sense while reading this that writing Not The Type was incredibly cathartic for Thurlow, offering a chance to chart her life from then to now, take stock of all the lessons learned along the way and consolidate those thoughts into something that has the potential to really help others. In reflecting on her experiences within the broader gender, political, social contexts, Thurlow also offers up a lot of brief overviews and introductions to several important discussions, including humanitarian aid, the refugee crisis and the links between mental health and social media for starters, that will undoubtedly spark its readers’ interest and inspire further research and action beyond the pages of the book too.
Just as Camilla Thurlow didn’t appear to be the typical Love Island contestant when she starred in the show, so too does Not The Type quickly prove that it’s not your typical Love Island contestant memoir either. For a book that is ostensibly about its writer carving out her own path in life, that’s certainly not a bad thing. In looking back at her life so far, including all the successes and failures, and making no move to hide all of the second-guessing, overthinking and anxious moments that so many of us also go through on a daily basis, Thurlow ensures that Not My Type remains both relatable and reassuring through every page.
As Thurlow guides readers through her life from landmines to Love Island and beyond, there is a lot to take away from these 272 pages, but the overriding impression of this memoir is that it’s a testament to embracing opportunities and living life to the full – and confronting your own anxieties as you do so. Not The Type is a book that needs to be put in the hands of everyone who has ever felt lost, overwhelmed or alone and it serves as a much-needed reminder that, more often than not, everyone else has at one point felt the exact same way. It’s a quick, immersive and inspiring read – and it’s one that’s sure to resonate with many.
Not The Type was published by Metro Publishing on 20 August 2020