Now that all the fuss and excitement has died down I figured I should write a few words about the whole First Dates experience.
When I agreed to do it little did I know the impact it would have. Of all the one-off television appearances I’ve done over the years, there’s no doubt it was the one that blew up the most. I’m still a tad blown away by it.
And I’m not just talking about the reaction on social media which was pretty crazy, though as a few people have since pointed out to me, I did milk it just a little over on Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn.
Yup, guilty, yer honour, it’s a freelancing thing. And I swear this’ll be the last I ever talk of it. For now anyway.
But also a few days later doing a routine Google Analytics run here on patomahony.ie I was genuinely flabbergasted when I saw the relatively huge number of people who’d accessed the website around the First Dates period.
I’m guessing that major traffic spike yesterday is the #FirstDatesIRL effect. 😲
Didn’t expect that much interest in the website and @OffMessage1 – https://t.co/c5g5aUYF7M
Didn’t really expect any, to be honest. 😆
cc @COCOtv pic.twitter.com/RfMOZuA3kg
— Pat O’Mahony (@patomahony1) March 14, 2018
But I’m also talking about in the real world where the reaction was pretty staggering as well. Though even if it had gone completely under the radar I’d still be happy I did it.
For starters, I really like the format. Most reality TV shows work on the premise of putting totally different people together in a confined space and seeing how they rub each other up the wrong way until an almighty row – or at the very least, some quality bitching – kicks off.
First Dates works on the exact opposite principle, where the makers genuinely try to match individuals up and we watch in the real hope that they will in the end hit it off.
It’s that rare thing, television with heart.
The other thing is I know the producers of the Irish version, having worked with them a few times since I came back from London in 2009, most notably on the three-end-of-year news review shows in ’09, ’10 and ’11 based on our online news searches over the previous 12 months, so I knew I’d be in safe hands.
In the past I’ve asked numerous people to appear on recorded TV and radio programmes I was involved in which would later be cut down for time and creative reasons, aware each time they said yes that they were trusting me not to make them look or sound like gobshites in the edit. I’ve often said I’m not sure I’d do half the things I’d requested these good people to do. Now, for the first time, it was my turn to do the trusting.
Over the following weeks I filled out a couple of forms for them and had a chat or two with one of the production team about me, my previous love life – or indeed, the lack of it – and my ideal partner.
I mustn’t have frightened them off because in early August I was invited to down to Dublin’s Gibson Hotel just beside the 3 Arena – or The Point as old farts like me still call it – for a pre-date filming session where they interview you about that background detail on camera.
A month later I was back in all my finery for the real thing.
And when you get there it’s a bit like what it must feel like to be the President or some other such FIP – fierce important person, obviously – as all the crew appear to be wearing walkie-talkies and you’re assigned one to shepherd you where they want you to go, first to get some arrival shots outside and coming up in the lift, then to do your more immediate pre-date interview in a side room and then to hang out in the waiting room on an upper floor until they’re ready for you to come back down and make your grand entrance, all the while ensuring you and your date’s paths don’t cross so that the first time you see each other is actually in the restaurant on camera.
Which is what nearly happened the first time they brought me down from the holding room; strolling across the lobby from the lifts, we were about halfway to the restaurant when suddenly minor walkie-talkie bedlam and panic broke out and I was hurriedly ushered back to the lift and upstairs out of sight again.
We had, it seems, been that close to a mid-air collision with my date-to-be, the, as it turned out, ab fab Gemma.
By now of course you know that Gemma and I got on like a house on fire but that love just wasn’t in the air.
But hey, we’ve both got ourselves a new gig buddy and have already been to a couple of concerts – and are planning a few more – so happy days.
But apart from questions about why Gemma and I didn’t hit it off romantically, the one I’ve been asked most since is undoubtedly, “Are you always aware during the date that you’re being filmed?”
Obviously when they’re shooting the set-up of you arriving and then doing the pre- and post-dinner interviews with you there are camera crews in your face so it’s kinda difficult not to spot them.
But once you’re sitting down all the cameras, though not exactly hidden, are scattered discretely. First Dates is what’s called a ‘fixed-rig’ production – think the like of Channel 4’s 24 Hours In A&E and One Born Every Minute – where the location, in this case the restaurant in the hotel, is rigged out prior to filming with a bunch of small CCTV-like mini-cameras all connected to a gallery nearby where the production team monitor them all and decide as they go which ones to record for the later edit.
So as a participant, you know there are cameras present, even if you don’t know where they all are. You know you’re wearing a radio mic. You know you’re being filmed. But, without the presence of a crew hovering around you, you tend to act more naturally.
That’s the theory anyway. Of course, I work in TV and am perhaps more aware of the production process so – and I can only talk for myself here – personally the answer was yes, I was always aware I was being filmed for a television show. What you saw was a performance; a reasonably natural performance I hope, but as with any TV appearance, a performance nonetheless.
But it was great fun to do. I had a blast with Gemma and the hour and a half we spent over the meal flew. And like I said I have a new gig buddy because of it so I’m delighted I did it.
What I really didn’t expect was the public reaction six months later when it went out on RTÉ Two.
Having successfully kept it pretty much under wraps in between – I told some family members and a couple of trusted mates – the first hint I got that it might blow up more than just a little was a few weeks before its transmission on Tuesday March 13th when RTÉ and Coco released a short promo on social media. The cat was out of the bag.
Think you’ve seen it all…? You ain’t seen nothing yet! ❤️
— COCO Television (@COCOtv) February 22, 2018
Over the next couple of weeks some more teasers did the rounds and each time more and more people got in touch to either ask was that really me, or more commonly, just to take the piss.
It wasn’t until the RTÉ press office made contact though with a long-ish list of media requests that I realised this was going to be a lot bigger than I had originally thought.
Over the next few days I did live or pre-recorded radio interviews with RTÉ Radio 1, Today FM, FM104, 98FM and Q102 and had newspaper chats with the Sunday World, the Irish Mail on Sunday, the Irish Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Independent.
— Pat O’Mahony (@patomahony1) March 11, 2018
No idea if everyone who appeared did that much media around the show as standard but it felt like a lot to me.
And it didn’t stop there. The week after Claire Byrne Live had me on standby to partake in an item about first dates’ etiquette, particularly about who should pay for the meal, as Gemma and I went Dutch much to some people’s chagrin.
The item never happened in the end – or at least if it did they got sense and cancelled me – but I found it pretty staggering even to be invited onto one of RTÉ Television’s main current affairs programmes off the back of a wee First Dates appearance.
A few weeks later I jumped a train to Cork to be a guest on The Today Show alongside fellow First Dater, Killian McDaragh, to talk love, romance and dating with presenters Dáithí Ó Sé and Maura Derrane – or as they so subtly captioned it, ‘The Secret Life of Irish Bachelors.’ The cheek of them.
WE HAD PAT O' MAHONY & KILLIAN MCDARAGH WHO WERE CONTESTANTS ON FIRST DATES IRELAND ON THE COUCH.TAKE A LOOK.
Posted by RTÉ Today on Thursday, April 12, 2018
And I’m still even now getting First Dates comments when I’m out and about from friends and strangers alike.
I have little doubt that most of this interest in yours truly’s First Dates spot was, not only because it’s a hugely popular format, but because of that little TV show I co-presented back when I was starting out in my broadcasting career 29 years ago…which, when you think about it, is kinda bizarre.
I did Head 2 Toe for only five years, from 1989-1994, so I left it 24 years ago. Yet people still remember me from it. Even people who should be too young to remember the show still occasionally ask me where the ponytail is gone. Which is spooky – I mean, I knew it was a big programme at the time but I didn’t think it that big.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to recognised for something that in its day was a good format but I haven’t been on the telly regularly since I did Head 2 Toe except for a season as a reporter on the BBC‘s Watchdog from 1998-1999 – which no one remembers, and I can’t say I blame them – but if I had any doubts about how big a show Head 2 Toe was back then, doing First Dates really brought it home.
It made me even more grateful to have been given the chance all those years ago to be a part of it.
I watched our First Dates with a few friends round my place. Mind, there was so much laughing, shouting, screaming and general piss-taking I had to watch the repeat the following Sunday to see it properly.
In the immediate build up to the show I got two comments in particular from mates.
The first was that after it went out women would be queuing around the corner wanting to go out with me. I can assure them this hasn’t happened. At all.
The other was that I’d get loads of presenting work offers from it – though I’m still not sure how that might necessarily follow. But, if only. Nope, that hasn’t happened either. Though of course I am open to all half-decent offers.
I did do a one-off show for the digital music radio station, RTÉ Gold, the none-too-subtlety-Stone-Roses-inspired Fools Gold – “the alternative side of RTÉ Gold” – on the May bank holiday Monday, but this was in the planning since way before Christmas.
Better @RTERadioPlayer link for Mon’s one-off #FoolsGold – “the alternative side of @RTEGold” – if you missed it or want to listen back. Seems yesterday’s link didn’t work on phones so if you could let me know if this one does for you that’d be great. Ta. https://t.co/6tqIhvRtzn pic.twitter.com/XHJ0tOhcV2
— Pat O’Mahony (@patomahony1) May 9, 2018
Though something someone said to me the night First Dates went out that got the old brain cells ticking over and I’ve come up with a new TV format off the back of it that might get my mug back on screen. You know I can’t tell you what it is but I’ve since pitched it to a production company and we’re currently trying to figure out if it might actually have legs.
Watch this space. Maybe.
Oh, and as of now, I’m still single.
You might also be interested in this earlier post on auditioning for Head 2 Toe back in 1989; how that even came to happen at all is itself a bit of a tale: https://www.patomahony.ie/2014/07/25-years/
Or this one on auditioning in general; I’ve only ever done ten and I got three of those, a pretty decent batting average so unsurprisingly I’ve never minded them: https://www.patomahony.ie/2014/09/auditions/