Finally, a gay Blind Date. What took so long?


Blind Date has been revamped for its Channel 5 revival, earning itself a new set which resembles a cross between a fidget spinner and the inside of an engine. Paul O’Grady has stepped into the hosting shoes of his good friend Cilla Black, and he has an affable way with the contestants, chatting to them about their lack of romantic success with the wonder and bewilderment of a meddling old auntie who cannot fathom dating apps.

From the sliding door to the catchphrases, it’s all soothingly familiar. Each week, one person gets to choose and three people hope to be chosen, through a process of navigating terrible puns in answer to cheesy questions. All who take part share a pleasing optimism that the one with the nice voice will turn out to be a dreamboat, too. But this is modern Blind Date, for the 21st century, which means this weekend will see the show’s first ever LGBT matchmaking. Celine Dion superfan Alice from Leeds gets her pick of three women, but only after she’s asked them what meal they’d cook her first.

Dating shows now feature people looking for love across the spectrum, and it’s refreshingly commonplace, and these days, it largely goes unnoticed. ITV’s Dinner Date often has same-sex couples, as does Channel 4’s First Dates. Without including people who identify as gay and straight and the areas in between, First Dates would, of course, still work, and the voyeuristic enjoyment of eavesdropping on any couple’s first evening together would still be there. But many of the most recent series’ best moments have been on the gayer side of romance, from the man who explained the perils of gay-dating apps – intimate pictures popping up when you’re on the tube – to the rudeness of John, who told his twinkly-eyed date Greig that he shouldn’t even stay for the main course, because he didn’t find him attractive. Naturally, Greig was invited back, and, happily, found love with someone nice.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Channel 4 is particularly good at making sure there is a decent balance of something for everyone. A less likely haven of progress isNaked Attraction, a show that takes the rude bits of Eurotrash that you stayed up late to catch when you were at school, and stretches them out into an hour. Now into its second series, Anna Richardson sets people up by allowing the contestants to pick their dates based on a slow reveal of their potential partner’s naked body, from the lower half up.

There’s something absurd and oddly democratic about the idea that the face comes last. Its salacious premise has garnered plenty of tabloid inches, but it’s actually a more sensitive show than the initial shock of naked bodies would suggest. A recent episode featured a woman who defined as poly, choosing from a selection that included cis men and women, and trans men and women. It was lightly informative and far from opportunistic, and it felt like a moment of genuine progress, buried away in a programme whose biggest point of controversy is where everyone’s pubic hair has gone.

There are, too, dating shows in which the nature of the format requires boy-girl pairings. It would be hard to work out how to do Love Island and Take Me Out, in particular, which need that clarity of definition, though clearly both would suit LGBT versions brilliantly, and would gain the added frisson of never knowing whether those in a position to couple up would pick from the other side, or their own. Neither has yet been attempted, but I’m still hopeful.

If anything, it seems peculiar now that it’s taken this long for Blind Date to catch up, and that the original show, which ran from 1985 to 2003, never thought to, or maybe dared to, go there. You can look at shows such as First Dates and Dinner Date, with their casual approach to sexuality, as a sign of just how much social attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted in the last two or three decades.

In the aftermath of the general election, while the Tories were still grappling with working out a DUP deal, an anonymous Conservative MP told Buzzfeed News that such a partnership might jeopardise their traditional safe seats, in part because of LGBT rights. “I will knock on a door in a leafy village and they will say ‘my nephew’s gay – you’ve just joined with a party who hates gays’,” they said, calling the association “toxic”. Whether television is reflecting that, or influencing it, is a matter of debate, though I suspect that it’s a bit of both.

Gay Globe Media