Around two million people watched Shaftesbury hairdresser Suzy Allum on Channel Four’s ‘First Dates’ on Christmas night. Suzy gave Alfred behind-the-scenes insight into the popular dating programme.
Suzy Allum has been the centre of attention since Christmas Day, when many of her current and former hair clients saw her TV appearance on ‘First Dates’. Plymouth-born Suzy first worked locally at her sister’s business, Hidden Depths, on Park Walk. Suzy now has her own salon attached to her Breach Lane home.
During her on-screen conversation, Suzy spoke openly about being cheated on. The 67-year-old has been married three times and has decided that she deserves fun and happiness. But it wasn’t her idea to apply for First Dates – her daughter-in-law, Kelly Murphy, put her name forward.
“She said something about it and then I had a phone call and I thought it was a prank, so I put the phone down,” Suzy recalled. “They phoned her back and said, ‘Could you ring your mother-in-law and tell her it is legit?’” Suzy then had to go through a series of interviews that started with a FaceTime chat. “So they could see what my personality was like,” she explained.
As Suzy was auditioning for the First Dates Christmas Special, the TV production team made a bizarre request. “It was weird really because I had to put on a Christmassy dress. That was quite strange. I had a red satin dress on.”
Suzy was invited up to London on an all-expenses-paid trip. She recorded an interview in a TV studio. That emotional footage of Suzy sitting in front of a red heart backdrop, talking about her love life, was included in the programme.
“I had a little bit of a cry because the guy who was interviewing me was like a counsellor and he dragged out information, which was sometimes a little bit upsetting. It wasn’t his fault, but it brings back memories of different things,” Suzy said.
She doesn’t think the production company was being manipulative by asking questions that made her tearful on television. “I didn’t look at it like that,” she said. “It was a little bit like not paying for a counsellor.”
The conversation with the off-camera interviewer was long, although TV viewers only saw a few seconds of Suzy sharing her thoughts and feelings. “They cut a lot of it out. It looked as if I said, ‘I get a lot of male attention’ but they took out the bit when I said, ‘But I never believe male attention because I have got very low self-esteem’. I’m a bit like, ‘the tears of a clown’. I put on a face,” Suzy said.
She feels that the programme was edited in a way which means viewers didn’t see the real her. “They should have left those bits in, because saying that I get male attention made me look like I was a bit of a big head. I’m far from a big head.”
Some of Suzy’s raunchier remarks didn’t make the final edit either. “I did put in some rude things, but they got cut out. I’m not going tell you on here now,” she laughed. She says that one of her comments, ‘a tingle in the mingle’, has become ‘a bit of a catchphrase’ and she jokingly suggests that it could become a ringtone.
Suzy is philosophical about how she was portrayed on the show. “That’s life. I know who I am and my friends and family know who I am. That’s the main thing,” she said.
There have been high-profile cases of people who have struggled with the pressure that has followed a reality show appearance. Suzy says the programme’s production company was keen to offer support and advice. “They give you an email address and you have got numbers you can call if you do feel the need to talk to somebody and get advice. They tell you to come off social media if it gets bad. I usually skip through the comments that are a bit negative, anyway. I don’t read them.” But there was one critical comment that Suzy did read and which she agreed with. “I shouldn’t have gone with the silver eyeliner on my eyes. It was awful,” she laughed.
Many more people have made kind and supportive comments online. “A lot of women could relate to my situation. It was nice that I was still looking for love at my age.”
The Channel 4 TV series has been filmed since 2013 in the Paternoster Chop House restaurant, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. But for the Christmas Day special, Suzy was taken to a Hampshire pub where her dinner date was filmed. The festive decoration seemed strange, because the show was recorded in the autumn. “We went to the Wellington Arms near Basingstoke. The pub was all done out. It was two or three months before Christmas and it looked a bit weird, but it was very cosy in there,” said Suzy.
At the end of the Christmas Day episode, the show’s maître d’hôtel, Fred Sirieix, announced that there would be ‘a lock-in’ at the pub. Two of the waiters played Christmas tunes on guitars for the diners to dance to. Suzy said the dancing stopped as soon as the director had the footage he needed and shouted ‘cut’.
That same pub and some of Suzy’s fellow diners will be featured on the seasonal edition of First Dates for Christmas 2020. The production crew filmed two episodes in one go. “They were doing it ‘back to back’. It will be there again with another load of people that I met.”
Suzy says that her First Dates experience mirrored the show from a viewer’s perspective. She didn’t meet her date until the cameras were rolling. She didn’t offer her verdict on the encounter before her words were captured on tape, either.
Sadly, there was no chemistry between the pair. “He was a nice guy, but he wasn’t for me. I don’t even know whether he fancied me not,” said Suzy. When it became clear that the conversation wasn’t flowing well, the production crew stepped in to give her date a pep talk. “They pulled him out a couple of times. They said he needed to adjust his microphone and it was to try to get him to talk a bit. I think he was interested in the food more than the date, really,” she said.
Suzy had told her date that she was quite keen on him but as the meal progressed, she realised that they were ‘worlds apart’, which she says is a shame because he’s fairly local and lives in Sherborne.
On the TV programme, the diners have to pay the bill, which can either lead to awkwardness or assertiveness. Suzy says that is authentic, money does change hands, but the meal is part subsidised. “They do give you £30 towards it. I did pay my bill myself.”
The production team was very kind to Suzy and the filming was a relaxed experience. “They give you a lot of prosecco, which is why I was not right,” she laughed. The free booze and the hidden cameras meant that Suzy quickly forgot that she was being recorded for TV. “You have round, white cameras, which look like ornaments on the tables. You don’t notice them, hence my outrageousness, but I’m like that anyway, to be fair. There were no cameramen. It’s done very cleverly,” she said.
Suzy described the star of the show Fred as a ‘sexy hunk’ whom she could ‘make very happy’ during her TV interview. “Fred is a lovely guy. He looks as handsome on the set as he does off the set. He’s a nice person.” She also describes the barman, Merlin, as ‘sweet’.
The excitement didn’t end when Suzy left the filming location. The taxi driver drove Suzy back to her hotel where she discovered that the property was closed. An hour after making a frantic call to an apologetic member of the production crew, the hotelier was raised and the doors were unlocked.
Since appearing on the show, Suzy says she has received some attention from potential suitors on social media. “Some younger men, which was very nice, but not for me. One wanted to spend a lot of money on me. I just want to find a nice, middle-of-the-road, funny guy who just wants to take me out for meals and things,” smiled Suzy.
Viewers may see more of Suzy on TV soon. The First Dates producers might invite her to Italy to take part in the spin-off series, First Dates Hotel. “They said they would put me forward for that because they know what my personality is like. They said I would probably be on that one as well.”
Suzy is also considering applying for ‘Come Dine With Me’ and has already decided to serve a double-baked soufflé as the starter. “Watch this space,” she smiled.
Suzy encourages any single woman around her age to apply for the show if they are seeking romance. “You’ve got to enjoy it when you can. Who knows when you are kicking the bucket?” Suzy laughed, adding, “It might be naughty, but it’s fun. I’m going to grow old disgracefully. I’ve proved that.”
You can see Suzy’s appearance here.