(First published in 2003)
I've learnt always to exercise caution when I am urged to try out the latest US-inspired fad. For every Myla Pearl thong, there are a dozen boob tubes and Day-Glo leg warmers cluttering up the dark corners of my wardrobe. With this in mind it was with no little trepidation that I agreed to accompany two friends to a Hampstead restaurant last week to attend an evening of Speed Dating, the latest slice of urban Americana apparently set to sweep across the capital.
My only previous brush with the hitherto taboo world of organised dating had seen me twined with a solicitor called Martin. While we had a perfectly pleasant evening together and he was hardly repulsive (although to be honest he was more LA Law than Jude Law), clearly he was the kind of man who goes to Dating Agencies; that is to say, devoid of charisma, world-weary and perhaps a teensy bit desperate. The prospect of making polite chitchat with twenty Martin-alikes in a two hour period was not one which had me convulsing with anticipation.
Still, egged on by my rather eager chums and with my father's sage advice to try anything once (the old sod broke both of his legs paragliding on his 40th birthday!), I resolve to give it my best shot. After much deliberation I decide on an outfit for the evening, this is definitely a tricky one- the perennial question; how to say: "I'm available, but not soooo available?". Opt for a lowish cut cream number, more than a hint of cleavage (three minutes is so little time to make an impression!). On arrival, to my immense relief, I note that this is very much the norm, the room is absolutely heaving with bosom. And so, let the games commence!
The format is briefly explained to us by the compare. Simple stuff- Girls stay stationary, boys rotate on signal, girls and boys tick boxes, "Do you want to meet suitor again? Yes/no?" Matches are sent after the event, email addresses are exchanged, boys and girls meet, fall in love, marry…blah blah blah, you get the point.
Suitor number one introduces himself. His name is Tomas (without the "H"), he works for a marketing agency in Richmond, enjoys skiing and snowboarding and all manner of outdoor pursuits. He is good looking in a Jonathan Ross sort of way, all long hair and sharp suit and we have a perfectly fine three minutes. I tick the "Yes" box (and learn later that he has also). Numbers two and three are similar stories, handsome, thoroughly charming men, two more "Yes" ticks. This all seems far too easy. Sure enough, after such a bright start I hit a lull, the next four are definite "No's" (a coincidence that my glass has run dry?) and then a couple of maybes which I opt to decline and we are at the halfway interval.
I reconvene with my friends and we gas for a while about our experiences. I try not to look daggers at Maria as she dribbles over my Jonathan Ross and implore the frankly rather tipsy Jessica to stop slurring her words, and we return for the second half. As the drinks continue to flow things really pick up and I realise that I am having an absolute blast.
At one point, after a particularly flirty session with a Norwegian DJ called Sam I am positively glowing and resolve to make him my number one priority. By the finale, I am thoroughly drunk and have ticked eight yes boxes. Two days later I receive the results from the organisers- a bit like waiting for exam results, and I have achieved five matches including my Norwegian DJ. This is a welcome relief although not entirely a surprise- I slipped him my number as we left the venue- a girl can't be too careful! All in all, a welcome surprise and quite different from other singles events that pervade the capital. Would I do it again? Most definitely, although we'll have to see how things progress with my Norwegian DJ friend. Swoon…