She’s a bubbly, outspoken blonde on ITV2’s The Only Way Is Essex who oozes confidence and appears the least likely member of the cast to hide her problems.
But while she’s been on the cult reality show, Gemma Collins, 32, has managed to keep secret her anguish at suffering a miscarriage, which added to the grief she already felt about a previous abortion.
Off screen, this down-to-earth girl still has to brush away the tears as she talks about those and other traumatic events in her life, which she’s revealed in her autobiography, Basically... My Life As A Real Essex Girl.
“Everyone regards me as the mother hen on the show, because I’m older than the rest of them.
“I put on my mental armour, a front, really, no matter what I’m feeling, because I like to look strong and support other people.”
She’s needed all of that strength to cope not only with those personal upheavals but also a barrage of wounding public criticism about her weight – she’s a size 20.
“Deep down, although I love being famous, I’m just a girl who wants to be loved and have kids, so the termination and miscarriage were heartbreaking for me,” says Collins.
There was no hint of her future high-profile life in 2010 when she discovered she was pregnant just as a five-year relationship with a City banker started faltering.
Doctors advised her that the foetus could have been harmed because she’d continued to take the contraceptive pill and had medication for what she assumed was simply an upset stomach.
Heartbroken, she visited a clinic twice before being able to finally face having the termination and then went through a year of depression, and even once self-harmed.
“I cut myself just once and I’ve never done it again.
“To comfort myself, I ate – food was an emotional crutch for me and I was sometimes bingeing on food during that time,” says Collins, who when she was younger was a svelte size 10.
A friendship with Amy Childs, who was one of the cast on TOWIE, led to Collins, then selling cars for a BMW dealership, being asked to join the series in 2011.
“I owe so much to TOWIE for giving me so many opportunities.
“At the end of the day, this book’s been like therapy for me. I feel I’ve got everything out there, got rid of my demons, and there’s no longer any secrets.”
* Basically... My Life As A Real Essex Girl by Gemma Collins is published by Ebury Press, £12.99.