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It seems only fitting that presenter, performance and erstwhile drag queen Paul O’Grady should have been chosen to host Channel 5’s revamp of classic dating show Blind Date.

Best friends with the late Cilla Black, who hosted the original ITV show for an incredible 18 years, Paul talks to us about the new show, what we can expect and what he makes of today’s world of app-based dating.

Paul said when he was first approached to do the show he turned it down, partly because he’s very dedicated to his animal welfare shows and because he didn’t want to tarnish Cilla’s remarkable legacy.

“I turned it down flat. I don’t do studio stuff anymore, I’m always out in the muck with my animals or crawling around in dog kennels. I also thought it was so synonymous with Cilla and such an iconic show, that they should just leave it - why do we always have to keep on bringing things back?"

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“But then I spoke to a few people and they said do it. Cilla would love you to do it, you’re the only one she’d want to do it, so I thought ‘go on then’. It’s just been so long since I did a show in a studio,” he said.

He says the show’s format will be very similar to the original version and will feature genuine contestants earnestly looking for a relationship, rather than just another opportunity to boost their public profile.

“I wanted to keep it as it was. I didn’t want to go all high-tech or with half-naked contestants with all the tans and botox… they are fresh and new to TV, they’re not pros, they’re TV virgins and some of them are very nervous.”

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Indeed, the dating world has moved on a lot since Cilla announced her departure live on air in 2003, and apps such as Tinder and Bumble have permanently changed the dating landscape. Paul said he hopes Blind Date will help young people get out in the real world to meet possible partners, as opposed to just dating digitally.

“Tinder? It’s so clinical! It’s all about sex. It’s like ordering a curry isn’t it? I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it to save my life! I’d be just mortified,” he said.

“Maybe Blind Date will help people to go back to going out and trying to meet people in clubs and bars. They will see how dating used to be and might encourage them to get out and meet people the traditional way.”

One innovation is that the show will feature LGBT contestants. Paul said they’ve already filmed an episode featuring a lesbian looking for love.

“We had the girls in and they were fabulous. So I asked the contestant from New Zealand what’s the lesbian scene like in New Zealand and she said – it’s terrible! It’s two women in a shed and sheep. “And we got on with it, it wasn’t important, the audience loved it, it wasn’t important that they were gay. We’re going to have fellas in it next.”

Paul said the show will even be incorporating his love for animals and dogs in particular by having an episode where contestants bring their dogs onto the show with them, and that some of his own dogs may make an appearance or two.

“I think I will bring Olga on, she is the one that behaves herself in public. She’s got such a massive fan-base as well. If I come up to London and get off at King’s Cross with Olga everyone is like oh there’s Olga! And completely look past me! It’s as if I’ve got Madonna on a leash!"

As for what it was like stepping into Cilla’s shoes, Paul said that while it was “very odd” at first, he’s loving his new-found role and thinks Cilla would definitely approve.

“At first I expected Cilla to appear at any moment. She wouldn’t give me any advice, she would just say ‘Get on with it’. When I used to moan she would say ‘If you can’t do it you shouldn’t have written it should ya!’ And her other great expression was ‘Turn the page Paul! Turn the page!’

“She would have been very encouraging. She would have said you’ll be great at it, so just go out and do it. She’d appreciate a new person going in there and would want me to put my own stamp on.”

Blind Date will start weekly this Saturday at 7pm on Channel 5.

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