Paul O’Grady is to host the revived Blind Date for Channel 5.

Paul O’Grady on the set of Channel 5’s Blind Date

Chat show host, and former drag star, Paul O’Grady has spoken about the knack of hosting dating show Blind Date. The 61-year-old, from Birkenhead in Wirral, told the Radio Times how the production requires a “definite skill… because you’re not interviewing celebrities, like I used to”. The BBC Radio 2 host added that as the participants are everyday people  he can’t be as ruthless with them as he could with famous  faces noting ‘they’re not as confident. You have to be easy on them.’

Reflecting on his style of presenting on the Channel 5 rebooted show, he said he feels he’s a bit of a ‘brothel madam’ type.

“I don’t send them up because they’re sitting there on the stool, and the last thing they need is for me to devour them, so I’m very avuncular with them, I’m very kind. I’m like a brothel madam, really.”

O’Grady also spoke of taking over the reigns of the legendary series from late pal Cilla Black – who hosted the show for London Weekend Television from 1985 to 2003 – and how when hearing the theme tune he felt ‘shocked’ on set.

A ‘lorra lorra fun’ Cilla Black hosted Blind Date from LWT for ITV for eighteen years.

“I thought ‘This isn’t right, it’s so synonymous with Cilla, she should be here, not me… I felt like I shouldn’t be doing it. It was her show. But then I spoke to her sons and lots of people who knew her and they said ‘You have to do it, because she’d want you to do it for everyone.” – Paul O’Grady speaking to the Radio Times

Cilla Black hosted Blind Date for eighteen years on ITV, before quitting the series during a live edition. Black, the best selling UK female music artist of the sixties with hits including Anyone Who Had A Heart and You’re My World, also hosted a number of series for the broadcaster over the years including Surprise Surprise, which was recently revived by ITV with Holly Willoughby as host. Cilla returned as guest on Surprise Surprise before her death giving it her blessing, however Paul had to turn to her family for advice as to whether he should front the revived show, which is to air on Channel 5 rather than ITV this time around.

O’Grady said both her family and friends reassured him she would have wanted him to host Blind Date for its come back. Cilla died in August 2015 aged 72. Paul said the pair had formed a strong friendship thanks to their backgrounds, Cilla born in Liverpool, both knowing tough working-class upbringing and humour. He added the Alfie singer was ‘very down to earth, and very, very funny’. Paul in recent times has become a name as himself, however was best known in the 1990s and 2000s as Lily Savage, the acid tongued prostitute. Lily hosted shows such as Viva Cabaret for Channel 4 and Blankety Blank for the BBC and later ITV.

“It was a shock at first when I heard the music, and they said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your host, Paul O’Grady’.”

Blind Date Facts

  • The series had been aborted before Cilla Black was cast in the host with the most role, due to the television regulator finding it ‘too sexy’ for ITV. The dropped pilot was fronted by Duncan Norvelle.
  • The first edition aired on the 30th of November 1985. The series was produced (at the soon to close) Southbank Studios of LWT, Kent House, latterly known as The London Studios.
  • The first couple to marry was that of Sue Middleton & Alex Tatham who met on the show in 1988 and married in 1991. They marked 25 years together in 2013.
  • In 1997 the show hit the headlines when Cilla Black turned detective and ‘outed’ a ‘fake contestant’ on the programme. Nicola Gill who worked for a magazine was attempting to go undercover and see how the show really worked pretending to be a secretary in order to get on the series.
  • Cilla stunned her ITV bosses in 2003 when she quit live on air. The fall out saw an already recorded edition of Surprise Surprise kept in the vaults un-transmitted. It wasn’t until after Cilla’s death in 2015 when it was finally broadcast as one of several tributes to the singer and presenter.
  • For Comic Relief in 1993 Cilla hosted a special edition of Blind Date on BBC One which featured Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean looking for love.
  • Cilla hosted a mini-episode of the dating game in 2013 as part of her One and Only anniversary special which celebrated her music and broadcasting career as it reached its fifth decade. The ITV show was hosted by pal Paul O’Grady.
  • The famous ‘sliding panel’, which stopped the dates from seeing each other, was manually operated by a stage hand and pulled out of view by a wire crank.

Blind Date airs on Saturday June 17th at 7pm on Channel 5.

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