NEVER in my wildest dreams did I think that taking part in TV’s Celebs Go Dating would teach me anything. But then you learn something new every day.
I had heard about the show but never seen an episode when I was approached to take part. So my bias, instincts and prejudices knew no bounds.
Olivia West – The SunUlrika never thought she’d be taking part on a dating show[/caption] EROTEME.CO.UKUlrika greets her date on Celebs Go Dating[/caption]
I presumed the programme would have about as much integrity and sincerity as a BoJo statement about Downing Street parties.
Nothing much initially appealed about the show. Contemplating the endurance of going on dates while being filmed made my stomach turn — could there be anything more cringe?
But deep down, I felt that while the show only appeared to embrace young celebs, at 54 and as a mum of four, I deserved a seat at this table.
It’s about representation and a bit of diversity, isn’t it? I’ve been loud and proud about not wishing to go into old age quietly, while also beating the drum for older women.
Besides, the kids need to eat and I need to be kept in anti-ageing cream and bulldogs.
All of the above were my motivations. I had no meaningful hope of meeting anyone of any significance.
So, it all took me somewhat by surprise. Once you’ve signed up, you become part of the “process” rather than a programme. It was intense.
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My good friend and CGD alumni, Kerry Katona, had told me I must do the show because “I’d have a right laugh”. Those words soon began to sound hollow.
The ten-week schedule was full-on and relentless. As someone who is also trying to juggle children and a dog, the long, uncertain hours were stressful at times.
With the exception of Abz Love from Nineties band Five, I had no idea who the others were.
You could deem it a “celebration” of reality stars, with me old enough to be their mother . . . and then some.
So, there I was, on the threshold of a televisual dating process that was controlled by other people, without any direction from me. It felt odd — and absolute madness.
I spent much of past year in the cesspit of dating apps and dating. Something I’ve documented in The Sun from time to time. It was a steep learning curve of fake profiles, ghosting and people bailing on me.
Much of my dating was utterly soul-destroying, but I enjoyed some pretty wild, spontaneous, impetuous, vibrant, electrifying times.
There was passion and “filth” and I even managed to nearly have my heart broken, but dodged the bullet at just the right time.
All those months of dating experiences — my little “sexpedition” — may not have led me to the next Mr Right but they taught me that three-and-a-half years post-divorce, I really would like to have someone in my life. But finding someone on a TV show seemed unlikely.
For a start, I wouldn’t exactly be given a choice about who I dated. I would be sent on dates with guys hand-picked and hand-delivered.
There was some comfort in that, at least — knowing that these buggers would actually turn up, unlike the many times last year when guys just bailed on me, sometimes at the last minute. It felt shameful.
As seen in the very first episode on Monday night, we — the ’slebs — were sent on a blind date. I found myself sitting opposite a lanky 58-year-old whose love of himself was endless and who knew more about me than Wikipedia.
I found him dull, verbose and a bit creepy, and got quite agitated by the end of the date. If I’d wanted to date someone who answered their own questions I’d have dated my mum.
“Tal” giving me a six out of ten and saying I’d have to work for a seven only proved to me he was as delusional as he was boring and self-righteous.
I faced other obstacles: People who are intrigued by my waning celebrity status. Sometimes it’s hard being “that bird off the telly”.
My dates were very mixed — both in age and in flavour. Dating on telly is harder than doing so in real life but even the worst experiences taught me something.
Some of them were fun. Some serious. Many were handsome. Some less so. At one point there may have been some disappointment but you learn more from that than a clear run of brilliant dates. And it was a comfort to share these experiences (and the moaning) with the other ’slebs. While I did not know them to begin with, I certainly do now.
I became close to Towie’s Chloe Brockett — an unexpected surprise. I have more love for Abz Love than words can say.
I so enjoyed long conversations with former Apprentice contestant Ryan-Mark Parsons and Married At First Sight’s Nikita Jasmine.
My one true love turned out to be the astounding Tom Read Wilson, the client coordinator who punctuated our visits to the Celebrity Dating Agency with inspirational and cultural conversations, gestures of kindness and a lot of sexual innuendo.
This series is full of honesty, awkwardness and some bits of pure cringe. The biggest surprise was the very real experience you have with the agents Anna Williamson and Paul Brunson. As professional counsellors and life coaches, their input is crucial and adds a genuine dimension.
It was enlightening to have two independent, neutral individuals who have no previous knowledge of you and no agenda other than to make you a better version of yourself. They observe you, assess dating techniques, question your thinking and, at times, your behaviour. It’s probably something everyone could benefit from. Especially some of the dates I’ve had.
Anna and Paul helped me along the road to understanding myself better and, above all, to improve my relationship with myself. They were my champions and I learnt a lot during my time with them. It was like free counselling.
You get feedback from every date — from the person you’ve dated — which is then dissected by Anna and Paul. It’s painful and sometimes hilarious. I shocked myself sometimes. Belching and being the owner of a potty mouth aren’t, apparently, seen as assets in the dating world. I also discovered quite what a people-pleaser I can be, and that is going to take some unlearning.
The agents quickly picked up on some deep-seated, personal weaknesses, as well as a few strengths — knowledge I will carry forward. This experience makes me stand by what I have always maintained: I don’t “need” a man.
I’m comfortable in my own company. But it sure would be nice to share some fun experiences with someone. I won’t give away any spoilers. Suffice to say, there were a lot of laughs and maybe even some tears.
While my head doesn’t want you to watch the show, my heart thinks you probably should. Besides, what else are you going to do four nights a week for the next five weeks?
PAUlrika Jonsson, Abz Love, Chloe Brockett, Miles Nazaire, Nikita Jasmine and Ryan-Mark Parsons star on Celebs Go Dating[/caption] Rex featuresMy one true love turned out to be the astounding Tom Read Wilson, writes Ulrika[/caption]