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Blind Date, Take Me Out, First Dates, Love Island… TV commissioners clearly know the nation has a boundless appetite for watching single people try to become un-single, and Davina McCall’s new show, My Mum, Your Dad, brings a new twist to the format.
The 10-part series, which airs from September 11, has been dubbed “Love Island for mid-lifers”, but without the firepit dumpings, apology poems or personalised water bottles.
“I totally get the comparisons,” says Davina. “And I have inadvertently called it this myself – but it’s really not the same show. The music, the setting, the grown-up kids being involved in their parents’ love lives… it’s very different. It’s not cynical. There’s no prize money. The prize is love.”
In the show, six single men and six single women are dropped off at an idyllic retreat in the British countryside by their grown-up children. Ranging in age from 44 to 58, the group includes Roger, a recent widower, Caroline, a self-confessed “bad judge of character” and Sharon, who says she has low self-esteem from being serially cheated on.
The dating contestants on My Mum, Your Dad were nominated by their grown-up children
Davina, who split from her husband of 17 years in 2017, and has been with her boyfriend Michael Douglas (not that one) for five years, says: “It’s like a dream come true to walk into an entertainment TV programme, on primetime ITV, and see my people – a bunch of mid-lifers who all look really cool, really fun and are culturally at the same place in life. We all understand each other. We’re all second-time-rounders.”
Here’s Davina McCall on 7 things you need to know about the dating series everyone will be talking about this autumn.
“I willed there to be an amazing new dating programme for grown-ups, for people who have lived a life,” says Davina. Obsessed by the idea, she contacted ITV commissioning editor Amanda Stavri out of the blue: “We’d never met but I wrote an email and said, ‘Hi. It’s Davina here. I think we should do this’.” ITV was already considering bringing the format to the UK (My Mum, Your Dad previously aired in Australia and the US) so when it went ahead, it was a no-brainer for McCall to present it.
After dropping off their mums and dads at the retreat, the kids are taken to “The Bunker” – a surveillance room where they can watch the action, and even orchestrate dates for their parents to go on. While things get cringey for the kids, they’re spared anything too mortifying.
“There are no cameras in the bedrooms,” says Davina. “I’d rather watch a hint of love, a hint of something coming, a moment of tenderness… but jumping into bed and sh*gging – once you’ve seen it once, it doesn’t mean anything.”
You’ll need to make some space on the sofa because this is truly cross-generational viewing. Whatever your age, you’ll feel for the squirming teenage kids who are watching their parents flirt for the first time, and you’ll be rooting for the contestants as they try to get beyond awkward small talk and make meaningful connections.
Airing over 10 nights, the single parents come and go, depending on whether their match-seeking has run its course. “It’s the baggage that we bring at our age that makes it interesting. Does my baggage suit your baggage, or does my baggage clash with your baggage?” says Davina.
While there won’t be any Big Brother-style evictions, viewers can expect high emotion and dramatic twists, with Davina saying she had to intervene at one point when a contestant was suffering from “a proper crisis”.
“Mid-life love – it’s so important,” says the presenter. “There are so many people who are second-time-rounders, people who have lost someone, maybe people who’ve gone through life being unsuccessful, time and time again, and are so scarred… We can all relate to that.
“I thought one of the most moving things [that comes out of the series] is that, as a child, you can’t move on with your life until you feel your parent is happy – and how hard that is for a child… I think this is what sets it apart.”
Take Jess, the 28-year-old daughter of postman Roger, from Derbyshire, whose wife died from cancer 18 months ago, and who hasn’t been on a date in 37 years. Jess says: “It was about putting Dad first. It was our way of basically telling him that we were happy for him to start dating.”
“They [the contestants] deserve to find love and spend the rest of their lives with somebody,” says Davina, her voice breaking with emotion. “It’s about opening the door and coming home to someone. For someone like Roger… you think, ‘Oh God, I really want you to find this.’
Jess wants her dad, Roger, to know that it’s OK to move forward with his life
The show is an antidote to “swipe-right” Tinder culture – it’s about making space for genuine connections to grow and flourish, albeit with a cast of ridiculously good-looking single parents and cameras following their every turn.
“We’re of that generation where [dating] apps are weird,” says Davina. “‘What do you mean you’re still talking to 17 other people while we’re going out for our third date – I don’t understand how that works!’”
Two weeks may not sound like long enough for love to flourish but things move fast at the retreat.
“When you’re with someone 24/7, and you’re older and you’ve got life experience, you know when you know. You’ve gone through so many bad relationships, it becomes quite obvious when something’s working and when something’s not,” says Davina.
Does she think people become more cautious after having their hearts broken? “Yes, no one really wants to take risks, and I think people are very nervous about being rejected. But I also think there are other good sides to it – you are a lot more likely to not mind making a fool of yourself.”
With that in mind, how about My Gran, Your Grandad?
My Mum, Your Dad starts September 11 on ITV1 and ITVX
Written by Fiona Cowood
Fiona Cowood has 20 years’ experience working in senior editorial roles at leading national titles including Grazia, Stylist and Cosmopolitan. She has interviewed a diverse range of remarkable people – from victims of sex trafficking in Nepal through to former Foreign Secretaries and national treasures like Tom Jones.