Journalist Amelia Murray, 26, appeared on Channel 4's First Dates in November 2015. Here, she discusses what she gained from the experience and what it's really like to go on a blind date and have it filmed in all its glory for national TV...
It’s as hard to ignore the whispers on the dance floor and the cartoonish double takes as much as it is the direct question of “Excuse me, were you on First Dates?” as you’re waiting at the traffic lights or popping out in pyjamas to get some loo roll on a Sunday morning.
But, really, what did I expect?
Truthfully, I’m not sure.
I applied after a particularly heavy bank holiday weekend, suffering the kind of self-destructive hangover that roots you firmly in the present: no idea what happened yesterday and no sense of future repercussions – not least those of signing up to a matchmaking reality TV show.
So that’s what I did: applied to join the swathes of hopeful singles sent to a camera-rigged restaurant to await a first date with their ‘perfect match’. From the moment they totter through the glass doors, we’re there with them – through every course, every stuttered compliment and every joke that falls flat.
Applying was easy. I wrote a few flippant sentences about being from the seaside, uploaded a video of my band, plus a photo of me and a bulldog called Biggie I met at a party, and that was that.
I didn’t apply to be famous and I wasn’t so naive as to believe I’d meet the man of my dreams. Rather, I think the reason I decided to bare all on TV was to jolt myself out of misery – kind of like a dating defibrillator.
I’d split from a boyfriend of five years six months earlier. When we agreed to finish things I tried so hard not to be sad that I ended up talking myself out of feeling anything. My crushed-Coke-can chest hurt and I wasn’t ready to succumb to my inner Havisham. Instead, I’d boot around town wearing Dr Martens and a scowl, challenging any man who dared pay me a compliment.
By the time I applied for the show I was sick of being a battleaxe. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to date, but I thought I could fake it until I made it. Plus, I’d get to meet someone potentially interesting. And I'd get to eat.
In the filmed interview beforehand, questions about past relationships were a given, although I was surprised to be asked about my parents, my appearance and my views on immigration. It was a hot room and I can’t remember too much (although my dad was furious that I “bad-mouthed him to the nation” and made it look like I was from a “broken home” – it was all he could bang on about at Christmas).
Then paranoia sets in. You ask yourself firstly if you want to go on a blind date and secondly, if you want to do it on TV, probably accessible forever to every Tom, Dick, Harry, employer/boyfriend/future child’s headmaster. The anxiety was real but I didn’t think it would kill me. So on I went.
Everyone always asks me what Fred Sirieix, the maître d’, was like, but quite simply I hardly remember. I was so flustered and worried about falling over in my housemate’s shoes when I arrived that I walked through the wrong door – by the time I got it right, I had little but the bar in sight.
Merlin, the barman, tries to put you at ease, but it’s a bit like making small talk with the doctor during a colonoscopy: it’s hard to engage when you’re that uncomfortable. But to the date: he was OK. Easy-going and friendly, but totally opposite to what I’d suggested I liked.
For one, I was sure I mentioned I liked slightly older, confident men. My date, Josh, was a student. And 21. Obviously, age is just a number but when you’re dishing out careers advice to someone who’s never heard of Donna Summer, it’s hard to shake off the older sister vibe. Ain’t nothing romantic about that.
Later, I worked it out: we had been styled as the “hipster” couple. While my date was a self-confessed hipster, I’d never considered myself as such and none of my interviews had touched upon it. However, I’d clearly been labelled without knowledge, slapped on the back with a “kick me” sticker.
I was turned down for a post-date drink. Several times. I wrongly assumed he’d also want a quick debrief following a good few hours under surveillance, but he didn’t. Friends, relatives, drunk strangers and a couple sat next to me at the National Theatre one evening all tell me with pity in their eyes that I shouldn’t worry about it, that I’m sure to find someone soon.
Twitter was also kind enough to chip in.
Going on First Dates was more about getting back out there and claiming a bit more of myself back than finding love, so I wasn’t too disappointed that it didn’t work out.
However, it did reignite my desire for spontaneity and surprise, which I feel doesn’t exist much in the modern dating world.
Let me be clear, online dating can be an amazing way for potential soulmates to cross paths: I’m all for planting the seeds of love in every field, party or web page and I haven’t ruled it out forever. But it’s far too easy to Google someone we’ve just met and scope out their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram profile. Heck, we can even stalk them professionally on LinkedIn. We can browse at our leisure, be it on the bus or in the company of our friends, and pick out those we fancy, like an especially juicy apple.
True, waiting to meet someone I’d never seen and knew nothing about had the worst effect on my bladder and blood pressure, but I'm all for anything that makes the heart beat a little faster.
Main image: Stephen Wells Photography / Channel 4