After 2 months of prep, telling my life story to strangers, vigorous research into the show and a whole day in the studio my music started (Jackson 5’s ‘Can You Feel It?’ – my 17th favourite song) and the lift jutted. One more deep breath and the 12 second ride to the ground felt like at least 23 seconds. The moment the girls came into view I felt completely relaxed – like the producers with their encouragement throughout the day they were cheering and smiling and all seemed genuinely happy to see me. Of course, I could have been anyone but it’s a beautiful sight to welcome any guy down and help us get into the zone.
People ask what we know about the girls before we come down. The answer is literally nothing – they’re completely separate from us, we don’t hear anything from previous episodes, have no clue who is down there. The only insight was in dress rehearsals when we saw their names printed on the empty podiums. Actually, the first thing I remember thinking was that the girl with interesting name of Terezita had been replaced and I made a little bet to myself that Paul had taken her because he’d been intrigued by the name earlier. I won that one comfortably.
After the day of preparing I felt really confident and couldn’t have been readier for the experience. I loved what I was wearing, thought my hair was perfect (great work from their stylists) and I knew that with a background appearing on TV quizzes and in live entertainment and thinking fast on my feet with hypnosis shows, stand-up and gameshow presentation I was going to come out with some interesting lines.
The section of the show was 10 minutes of airtime, and we were probably recording for about 25 minutes so only a bit more than half the material got cut. There were only a couple of cringe bits but some really nice interactions which didn’t make the cut. Here are my Top 5 moments that didn’t make the small screen:
5. Rach “You’re like something out of Tim Burton’s back pocket”
4. Paddy “So you like Jessica Rabbit, eh?”
Ben “What man doesn’t, Paddy?”
3. Charlotte “What’s that jacket made of?”
Ben “It’s 33% polyester and 67% viscose”
Charlotte “Oh I’ve just got to have a stroke” (and she did)
2.Sophie “I can see you’re a bit of a nutter. I’m a nutter too!”
Ben “Oh I love nutters. Unless you’re threatening to do a Zidane on me”
1. Paddy “Why did you switch Shelley’s light off?”
Ben “They’re all lovely, Shelley is perhaps a bit tall for me”
Shelley “I am wearing my heels”
Ben “Yes, but I’m not wearing mine
…and my Top 5 Moments that did make the cut (chronologically)
There wasn’t too much I was beating myself up over after. And it was only a scrap not a full battering. Mainly the response to Lotte saying David Mitchell was her ideal man and I responded with a camp hand gesture and high-pitched “Mine too” – ouch. Regretted that one in an instant. Wish I’d said “Well maybe you could be my Robert Webb. Oh hang on, that’s not right. Well maybe you could be my Victoria Coren”. Can’t win ’em all. Also the performance piece with the magic lights fell pretty flat – the blue lights didn’t show up at all and they had a blue lighting scheme during it. In dress rehearsals they should have realised that and amended it, or told me not to change from red lights to blue. Or I should have done some market research and invested in brighter lights. Nevermind. If only I could have performed a 30 second version of Strictly Come Trancing.
It was a tough decision whether to select Lotte or Rach, they’d both made such a wonderful impression on me in the 3 sentences we’d each exchanged. Everything up there happens so quickly it’s difficult to remember who said what and who you were even drawn to. But when Paddy specified that Lotte also writes quizzes I took that as a dangling of the carrot to imply that she was the one I was meant to choose. The producers get to know all the contestants so well that they must have a good idea who each of us are suited to, and we gauge so little about each girl that even after meeting them I still valued the research team’s perspective as the best way to judge. They’d both said such beautiful things to me and while Rach’s praise touched me more deeply I think I’d made my decision to pick Lotte there and then regardless.
Most guys who go on the show have a range of lights to switch off at the end. Behind each podium is a face and a body, with very little else for them to consider. I would hate to be one of those guys that are only in a position to pick based on looks. I was never going to have a lot to choose from and was happy to have 3 left at the end because I shared who I am as much as I could, and I like to think that many of the girls up there would have liked to get to know me, I just wasn’t the type to go to Fernandos with. But those who left the light on for me is more of a statement than leaving a light on for someone like Paul at the start of the episode. Rach and Lotte both showed the best of themselves and there was no wrong decision.
So I picked Lotte, and after this personal highlight of mine we were off to Fernandos