Back to Reality: Below Deck’s Courtney Veale talks hangxiety after getting drunk on TV and fans asking for locks of her hair
For the next few weeks, Metro.co.uk will be speaking to reality TV fan favourites about what time on their show was like – and how things have changed now they’re Back to Reality. Up next, it’s… Courtney Veale from Below Deck
‘This is going to ruin your career – it’s just a stupid, fake show’.
That’s what all my friends in the yachting industry said to me when I told them I’d auditioned for Below Deck Mediterranean season six in 2020.
Still, I decided to take the plunge. I’d worked in every job you can imagine – Disneyland princess, panto actress, nanny, car dealership receptionist, promo girl – before finding yachting, which I genuinely love.
So when a producer slid into my DMs, this felt like the obvious next step for me. I went to a performing arts college, had experience in the entertainment world, and was honestly just looking for a good time.
Plus, I was really angry with my then-boyfriend, so I thought ‘why not’?
The audition process felt incredibly quick but also slow. On the one hand, I had about 12 different Zoom calls with producers in April 2020 and then I didn’t really hear anything.
Then at the start of September I found out I was down to the final choices. By the end of the month, they were asking me if I could fly out to Croatia in three days’ time!
Once there, I was in quarantine for two weeks in a hotel room, just pondering my decision and freaking out.
But I actually loved being in isolation. I only had sun on my balcony until 1pm, so every morning I’d get up super early and get out there to soak up the rays. I was brought delicious meals; I had loads of time to read, do yoga and drink wine.
Never having seen the show before, I decided to watch an old series of Below Deck but minutes into the first episode, I got nervous. I wasn’t necessarily worried about how I’d act, or the cameras, but I was scared that I’d do a bad job as a stewardess.
As much as it’s a TV show, I was going on there to do a job for six weeks – and I didn’t want being bad at it to actually ruin my career.
My mum, on the other hand, was worried how I’d come across on TV. That’s when she gave me a bit of parting advice: ‘Please don’t get s**tfaced.’
What did I do the first night out when we started filming? Get absolutely smashed. To be honest, drinking was a big part of that first season, but it was all a part of the fun.
Stepping onto the boat for the first time, I was the most nervous I’d ever been. I have this thing that in anxiety-inducing situations I always need a wee. Seeing the yacht for the first time, surrounded by cameras, I thought I was going to wet myself.
But I had a task to complete: Walk up to the boat with my bags and find the captain. As soon as I started moving, my nerves settled – but they peaked again as soon as I saw Captain Sandy. I just wanted to impress her; not because she was famous – I had no idea not having watched the show – but because she was my boss.
I think it was a benefit going into the season unaware of who anyone was because it meant I got to make my own mind up about people. Katie and I clicked straight away and I’m so grateful we had each other to lean on as we found our footing.
The friendships are what made that season – we were a little family, laughing constantly. We were all just being ourselves in a way that I haven’t seen on Below Deck since; now that the profile of the show has grown, more people are going on it to become famous.
The cast of six all genuinely loved each other, and after we wrapped filming we rented a big Airbnb in Split where we partied and got so drunk.
And then it was over. Every hour, someone else left the accommodation to get their flight home. Katie and I, just the two of us left, checked into a hotel where we planned to have a pamper day, but she ended up getting a job somewhere and had to leave suddenly.
Once she’d gone, I just ran a bath and sat in it for four hours crying. It was all a bit overwhelming, and now I had to worry about the edit, how I would come across; everything I said, every argument, what I did when I was drunk…
That was the hardest part. I didn’t remember most of what I did. I had hangxiety – but for the seven months between filming and airing.
To try and take my mind off it, I went to Palma. I knew I wanted to get deckhand experience, and I found a powerboat level 2 course. It was classic me, thinking: ‘Now I’ve mastered being a stew, I want to completely change the direction of my career’. So I headed to Spain before going home to the UK.
I wasn’t back for long until I headed to the Maldives for some temp work before getting a job in the Bahamas, where I stayed for around seven months.
Being a deckhand was different. All the boys just think you’re going to be a bit s**t; they think girls want deckhand jobs because they’re cooler, but aren’t able to do the work.
And obviously I’ve got blonde hair, fake boobs… I’m like the classic ‘ditzy blonde’. On top of that, everyone knew I had been on the show because even though it hadn’t aired, my chief officer told my colleagues after I explained the six week gap on my CV.
He’d personally been a bit skeptical when hiring me because I’d been on Below Deck, but it worked out in the end, even if it meant I ended up the butt of the joke for a while. I’d get a lot of, ‘this isn’t reality TV – this is real work’, but it was all fun and games.
Still, I really wanted to prove myself – and I realised I was quite good!
I was still on board when the series came out. I didn’t watch it – my wifi was pretty patchy and when I tried I was either too tired, or cringed too much. I pressed the fast forward button when I saw my drunk face on screen and I gave up on the whole series pretty quickly.
My friends didn’t though! I would get texts saying, ‘Oh my god, I watched last night and you were so smashed!’. On social media, Americans were calling me an alcoholic (I don’t have a problem, I’m just British).
It didn’t put me off season seven though. It wasn’t long after six dropped and I was just back from a holiday with my family when I got the call about coming back as a deckhand. It felt like too good an opportunity to turn down.
I knew I was going to do it differently this time. I decided not to be so involved in the drama and took a step back. That had been my least favourite part of filming – when producers would ask you to reshoot an argument you’d just had. I’d think, ‘Oh great, I have to be shouted at again!’.
This time, it was quite enjoyable watching it all unfold.
While six will always have a special place in my heart, I loved seven too and was so happy to work with Mzi.
The vibes we had were genuine when we got drunk and kissed, but he’s my best friend. We still chat all the time and although there were loads of reports about our ‘relationship’ being staged and fake, it wasn’t – we’ve always been just friends who had a bit of drunk romance.
After filming for season seven wrapped, I came back home again.
When I applied, I had no idea it was going to change my life in the way it has.
I remember thinking that I’d probably gain around 20,000 followers, but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to make a living off influencing or anything. I certainly didn’t think I’d have die-hard fans.
But I do now. Mum and I went to BravoCon in New York and I remember my her turning to me and saying, ‘what the f**k Courts – you’re actually famous.’ And to be honest, I’m not, but for the two days the convention was on, I definitely felt it.
I couldn’t walk out of the hotel without people screaming my name. People waited three hours just to get a photo with us and would be too shy to speak. One woman actually cried with joy when she met me. Both me and my mum were flabbergasted.
Online, I have some loyal fans too – although some are quite weird. Men often tell me they like my photos – one of them told me how many times he’d ‘enjoyed’ it. Another asked me to send him a chunk of my hair.
I do feel sorry for my followers though – I feel like the worst influencer. I have no idea what to post when I’m not on board a boat, and on TikTok I’m terrible at editing. I don’t think I’m very cool – so I’m not sure people would want to see my badly cut together fashion hauls.
The one thing I can always rely on for engagement though is bikini pics. I either get people giving me s**t for it in the comments, telling me to just set up an OnlyFans, or fans sending me heart eye emojis.
I did a sexy Santa Baby reel in some red lace underwear and woke up to 500 comments on Christmas Day – half good, half bad. Unfortunately, my brother also saw it when he checked Instagram that morning, which ruined his Christmas.
The best thing I’ve been able to do with my new platform though, is raise awareness of Alzheimer’s. My dad was diagnosed around four years ago now, and within three years he was in a care home.
He’d already had it for around seven years by the time we found out – but we didn’t know the symptoms we were noticing were even linked to dementia. Doctors told us it was depression, PTSD, or severe dyslexia. He was only 58.
When I spoke about it on Below Deck, I got so many messages from other people who also have a parent with early onset and it was so nice to know I wasn’t alone.
I want to make sure I carry on using my platform to raise awareness of both the disease, and the families who are suffering from it.
First appear at Back to Reality: Below Deck’s Courtney Veale talks hangxiety after getting drunk on TV and fans asking for locks of her hair