I was on Dinner Date – the conversations were scripted, the food was freezing cold and I took desperate measures to cope
ITV's Dinner Date is still going strong after 11 seasons and the comfort dating show has gotten us all through some pretty brutal hangovers.
As a university student I was absolutely obsessed with the show – as were my housemates – and I was dared to apply for it.
I couldn't cook to save my life (turkey dinosaurs and onion rings were my specialty) but I knew it'd be a laugh, and I was incredibly single – it couldn't hurt!
I applied for the show in April 2016, as a first year student, and was called back almost immediately, had multiple phone calls with casting agents and producers before they sent someone to my Cardiff University halls to film a short screen test.
After radio silence for a month, I had a call telling me they loved me and I was on the shortlist, but it was all dependent on other contributors (or daters as they're known on the show!) and their availability.
Another month went by and I'd moved back home from Cardiff to north Wales for the summer holidays, when a producer called me and asked if I was free to film an episode the following week.
I told them I wasn't, and they said they'd keep me in mind for the next series.
The same thing happened again in 2017, but I wasn't free to film on the dates they needed me.
It wasn't until June 2018 I was actually placed in an episode, thankfully as the 'picker', which meant no cooking for me.
I'd moved from Cardiff to London and was working for The Sun Online when I got the call, with a mere DAY of warning.
The call went something like this: "Hiya Mared, it's the Dinner Date team here, you live in London now right? And you're still single? Great, we have an episode for you, we start filming tomorrow".
So tomorrow it was.
They sent a cab to take me to a fancy restaurant near my house in east London, where I filmed the menu picking part of the show.
It was so much fun, but they definitely swayed whose menu I would pick.
My original choices weren't the one I ended up settling on, but they convinced me to pick different, persisting that "that guy is boring, pick the first one, he'll be much better!"
And then came the dates. I really wish I'd known what I was letting myself in for at this point, because the filming schedule was BRUTAL.
I was working full-time, 8am until 4pm, and I had to film every single day of the week, after work.
I arrived home from the office at 4:45pm, and the Dinner Date cab was waiting for me at 5pm.
I only had time to change my outfit and quickly sort my hair, taking a massive bag filled with makeup with me for the cab journey.
Although I was told my dates were all London based, they weren't.
One was in Windsor, another in Hertfordshire, and the other in Surrey.
It took me between two and three hours to get to each date because of rush hour traffic, so at least my makeup was slayed, but I was tired, hungry, and in desperate need of using the loo.
When I arrived at the dates' houses, I was sitting in the producers' car for at least an hour before the date even started. Still holding my wee.
None of the dates started before 8:30pm, and it shouldn't come as a shock that the dates didn't last just 15 minutes as they seem to on TV.
Having worked in TV since I was a teenager, I was no stranger to re-takes, setting up shots, getting different angles of the food and some suggested conversation themes, but this show was ridiculous.
After introducing myself to my date about 20 times for the camera, things were already awkward, but things would only get worse.
Every time conversation would flow somewhat naturally, we'd be told to stop talking, and to ask each other scripted questions.
We also weren't allowed to eat our food at the same time, for continuity, so the food was freezing cold by the time either of us got to take a bite.
Whilst I wasn't getting paid for my time, each of the dates had an £80 allowance to spend on their three-course meal, which was of course, a gross over-estimate, so they all spent the remaining £50 or so on wine.
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This made for a very interesting evening, as my theory was: "If I can't eat, I might as well drink!"
Safe to say, I left every single date filled to the brim with pinot grigio, and told whichever Addison Lee driver I had assigned to me that evening my entire life story.
Whilst all the dates were pleasant enough, I didn't like them enough to spend six hours at their houses on a first date.
It was around 4am by the time I'd be getting home, and I'd have to wake up three hours later for a full shift at work feeling worse for wear.
Was it worth it? Probably not in hindsight, but knowing that episode of my 21-year-old drunken self is still being repeated on ITV four years later is definitely a story I'll tell the grandkids.
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