Online dating. Not really something I’d considered to be honest. After all, I was dashing, charming and good-looking. I had a career that people wanted to talk about in preference to their own at parties, I travelled a lot, met models etc. so why would I have considered it?
One Friday night, a month or so after the final end of a particularly long, draining and fucked up relationship, I found myself in bed with my laptop looking for something to fill the weekend void, and thought that a night at the cinema would be just the ticket. So I popped onto Time Out’s website to check out the listings and see if anything took my fancy. Something did take my fancy, but it was nothing at the Fulham Odeon or the Curzon Mayfair, it was an attractive woman at the bottom right of the screen inviting me to join her in the online dating site, ‘London Love’. So I took a deep breath, hovered ever so slightly, and clicked.
And there they all were. Lined up. Waiting. Wanting to be chosen. Offering themselves. Looking for something, just as I was. And they were going to let me browse without any commitment or cost or time-limit, from the comfort of my own lap. Page after page of smiling women greeted me. Women looking for friendships, relationships, companionships, women whose ships had sailed, women who had never been on a ship, women who… well, you get the idea. There were a lot of women.
It was on around the fifth or sixth page that my eye fell on a face that looked incredibly familiar. I knew that face. It took me a moment, but soon realised that the face was Sally Gray's! The children’s TV presenter! She of ‘50/50’, ‘Record Breakers’ and the like. Not only that, but this was the Sally Gray who lived just round the corner and who I’d already bumped into a few times in the local Starbucks! What the hell was she doing on here, smiling at me along with the rest? I couldn’t believe it. Two attractive people, in showbiz, with public personas, both lurking within the hundreds of other, less attractive, ordinary folk. It was destiny. It was a foregone conclusion. This was it. We were as two shiny televisual silk purses in a load of pigs’ ears. So I set the ball rolling and “winked” at her.
“Winking”, so close lexically to what most people on dating sites are actually doing while surfing, is the way you register interest, the opening gambit. Destiny aside, I also decided it would be downright foolhardy, not to say stupid, to put all my eggs in Sally’s basket. After all, Ms. Gray may not have shared my belief in the workings of fate and decide to pass. So I started to have a good old “wink”, liberally spraying my “winks” at ladies whose photos grabbed me. I stress “photos”, because, as I was soon to find out, the gulf between a photo and the living, breathing version can be wide and disconcerting.
If one’s “wink” (I promise I’ll stop with the commas soon) was returned with an answering “wink” from a “winkee” (I’m not sure I can stop, actually), then the system would allow you to begin emailing each other through the messaging service provided by the site. My opening “winks” were, thank God, returned by some of my faves – so the Games began!
And the Games were strangely addictive, and time-consuming. Hours could be lost swapping vaguely sexty-texty messages with potential dates, messages that were generally probing but harmless, and, if you were lucky, amusing and flirty, always with the photo of the person within view, just to maintain a sense of reality.
Ah, Reality. That old chestnut. Yes, it didn’t matter how many messages had been swapped, how witty the banter, even how sparkling the conversation had been on the phone (if it got that far), as soon as Reality walked into the bar and made a bee-line for you, it was never not a shock. But after some re-adjustment (and three pints of cider), the few evenings I had with each of my dates were always fun, always ended with a little kiss - and were always a one-off.
But Sally Gray was different. I’d seen her before. I’d been close enough to her physically to know what she was about, how she dressed, how she looked when she spoke, all the things you can never ever get from photos and a text. So, when Sally eventually ‘winked’ at me back, I was thrilled.
The banter began almost immediately, mainly based on the fact that we were two relatively well-known people with successful TV careers. I made loads of jokes about how we must both have television crews surgically attached to us following us around when we went to Sainsbury’s just because we were in showbiz. She laughed lots. We lived half a mile from each other. We had lots in common. This was great!
So, after a week or two of chattiness, we arranged to meet that Saturday afternoon around 4.30pm, early enough not to entail dinner, but late enough to entail dinner if things went well. At around 3.30pm, my mobile rang. It was her. I immediately assumed the worse and answered with the voice of a condemned man desperately trying to maintain a jolly outlook.
'Hi! Adam! It’s Sally!'
'I’m seeing you in an hour, aren’t I?', I offered in a cheerful, devil-may-care manner.
'Yes, indeedy! But I wondered if we could possibly change the venue.'
'Sure. No problem.' (Phew)
'Could we go to the Salt House instead? It’s just a little further down the road?'
'Er, yes, of course! It doesn’t really matter to me where we meet, but why the change? What’s wrong with Pizza Express?'
Sally didn’t skip a beat.
'They won’t let us film there.'
All jocularity ceased. My jaw hit the floor.
'What do you mean?'
'I thought I told you that I was going to film the date!'
'Last week! You said that you were going to bring your own film crew and I said that I’d be bringing mine!'
'I WAS JOKING!'
But Sally, it appeared, hadn’t been. All through our texting and emailing, whenever I used my hilarious running gag of us having a TV crew with each other constantly in our daily lives, simply because of our jobs, she laughed and had joined in on the joke. But suddenly it became horribly clear that she hadn’t been joking at all. She actually thought I had guessed the truth. I was absolutely dumb-founded.
I wandered into the pub at 4.30pm and met up with her feeling distinctly queezy. I also met Brian, a very nice man with a huge camera attached to his shoulder, and Virginia, Sally’s producer, who immediately gave me a contractual release form to sign before I’d even ordered a drink.
If there’s one thing that working as an actor on television gives you, it’s a complete disinterest in being on the thing. It’s not glamourous, it’s no big deal. In fact, most of the time, it’s a boring pain in the arse. So the possiblity of being filmed held no joy for me and I told Brian and Virginia of this fact.
Sally and I decided to have dinner anyway, and Brian and Virginia, suddenly with the night off, also had a cosy dinner for two at a nearby table while we got pissed on a bottle of red and whispered and giggled at them as they tried to ignore us. It was utterly bonkers.
All things considered, the date was pretty successful and we had a further three after that. I relented and these three were filmed. Brian became an integral part of proceedings and I spent just as much time trying to make him laugh as I did taking the mickey out of Sally. I had very quickly decided that a woman who was prepared to make aTV show about her genuine search for love (and then sell that show all over the world for cash) wasn’t really my type of girl so, by the end of the second date, I was just going because I missed Brian.