Beforehand, my mother said to me: “Do you have time to get a fake tan? It’ll make you look way thinner.”
Needless to say, I did not. But this stands out as one of the more publishable pieces of advice I received before I went naked speed dating.
The latest in London’s saucy scenes, Date in a Dash have begun hosting nude events for ages 23 to 35, to shake up the dating scene, cut through the bulls*** and to reveal right off the bat who’s really attracted to who, and who’s sporting, say, an unfortunate butt tattoo.
The format is simple: regular speed dating, with four-minute meetings, a mingle and a yes, no or friends column to tick. The only thing missing, in fact, is your apparel.
Just 20 quid will buy you a look at 30 odd sets of genitalia – although not, apparently, a bottle of wine at the pricey Balham venue, The Exhibit pub (no pun intended).
“You must be out of your mind,” my friends told me. “I wouldn’t do it in a million years.” Red rag to a bull, I’m afraid.
Full disclosure: I am a 5”4, size 14 woman on the latter side of 25 with all the trimmings – cellulite, scars, bruises, chipped nail varnish and a rack that gave up the fight against gravity years ago.
So this isn’t one of those #bodypositivity Instagram larks done by a part-time teenage model with an airbrush filter. In fact, trying to make a good impression on a total stranger while sweating from your inner thighs is about as #nofilter as it gets.
But I screwed my courage to the sticky place and decided to brave it alone, without a friend along for moral support. I am strong, I am woman, etc etc.
(Also, they all refused to come.)
So there I was, alone outside a pub in Balham, having broken the habit of a lifetime and arrived early, puffing frantically on a fag and trying to psyche myself up to go inside. I’ve never been less excited to see a roomful of naked men before...
In the end, the only thing that got me through the door was the need to prove a totally meaningless point – and the prospect of a large vodka inside.
Upstairs I went, fighting mild pukiness, to meet Rob the organiser.
This is an unexpected and surprisingly delightful USP of Date in a Dash events: the organisers really get involved, going out of their way to talk to everyone and put them at ease. Rob was no exception.
Leading me into the changing room, he tells me that before he got into the speed dating business, he was a police officer “with long hours and no job satisfaction” – but had always been entrepreneurial.
“I started the business in 2011, when I went with a friend to a rival event and thought it was a good laugh and way to meet people, but not very well put together. I saw an opportunity to do things better and make the events more quirky and fun.
“Fast forward seven years, and here we are.”
Here he is, indeed. Date in a Dash now hosts more events in London than its competitors, has over 30,000 members and is working with top brands in quality venues all over the city.
And it is the first, in fact, to host an event of this kind.
“There is a real trend for quirky events; it seems that people are more willing to do something completely bats*** crazy than a regular event, so there is a real focus towards nights like ‘drunk jenga dating’ and a new one we launched on Wednesday – ‘dirty Pictionary’”, Rob explains.
“In terms of ‘Naked Dating’, it was just an idea I’d been thinking of for a while since I saw the show, ‘Naked Attraction’.”
Like the show, the event was billed around the idea of a limited “reveal’: you all emerge in two rows, boys opposite girls (currently the event is only set up for heterosexual daters, but I hope to see them expand in the future), wearing nothing but your event-provided robe and your best smile.
The robes come off, you check each other out for a sphincter-crushingly awkward ten minutes, then you get dressed and proceed to speed date as normal. At least, that’s what the tickets said...
After an awkward mingle in the bar, which rather like a school disco involved palling up with the nearest member of the same sex and huddling in the corner, the girls were taken into a sweet and quirky cinema room to change.
The atmosphere fizzed like prosecco: we giggled, hugged, compared choice of hairstyle (top and bottom), admired each other’s underwear... (a few girls chose to keep their bra and pants on, but others decided to try the full monty with me). In general, the atmosphere was full of mutual support and sleepover-esque solidarity.
(A word to the wise, though, for whoever compiled the playlist: if you want to put women at their ease, lay off the James Blunt. The only thing that “Goodbye, My Lover” was psyching me up for was a funeral.)
I heard later the boys all undressed in the bar in total silence, avoiding eye contact. Go figure.
In we shuffled, in our matching Matalan robes, to a reassuringly dark bar filled with small tables. Boys on one side of the room, girls on the other, with barely repressed giggles and fear sweat in the air – the temperature was turned up to the max, presumably to make sure the women had something to look at when the men stood up.
It was then that Rob informed us that, as predicted by my friends and family but strenuously denied by myself, the clothes would not be coming back on anytime soon. While we were free to hold onto our robes and our underwear, the dates would take place as we were. Ticket description notwithstanding.
While we were surprised, nobody backed out. After all, in for a penny, in for a few extra Christmas pounds.
At the halfway mark, I quizzed Rob on this big reveal. “It’s going better than I expected,” he grinned with barely concealed jubilation.
“I just thought the lining up wasn’t going to work, I thought it was going to kill the atmosphere, with getting changed. So I just decided to completely change it last minute. Everyone pretty much took their kit off straight away.”
I ask him whether, if people had known the naked truth – as it were – there would have been fewer ticket sales.
“100 per cent. Bit cheeky, but the way I advertised it was to get people here, and I knew deep down that people would go for it – which is what they did.”
He was right. The whistle blew, the ladies chose a table, up stood the men and off came the robes. The first few seconds were a blur: heart pounding, breath catching, trying not to giggle or be caught ogling anyone too blatantly. Then down sat my first date, and away we went.
Despite dire warnings about everything from “old perverts” sneaking in to “fatties on parade”, everyone was in their mid twenties to early thirties, and a pretty pleasant-looking bunch they were, too.
There were a fair few journalists in the house – including two who simply took photographs and didn’t participate, which I have to say did put people a little on edge. It felt voyeuristic and superior, and I would definitely recommend that they have to disrobe, too.
There were also, as I found out, a few naked bike-ride aficionados – with seemingly intact ballsacks – and one or two girls who genuinely could have been models, but by and large it was a normal group of young people: up for a laugh and willing to try something new, but all friendly and respectful.
I was quite flustered when a genuine knockout sat down in front of me. Maybe this would be the future Mr Marsden?
“Nice tattoo,” I grinned, trying to be cute.
“Nice tits,” he came back with.
The optional clothes policy was certainly alluded to; a few girls kept their bra and pants on, while many boys arranged the robes judiciously in their laps when they sat down.
But in general, as the night went on and the names stacked up on scorecards, people began to lose layers – and inhibitions.
Rob explains: “All these events act as great ice breakers, and I imagine it’ll be fairly successful given it brings together a bunch of people with core shared values. Everyone is confident, outgoing and comfortable with their bodies, and physical attraction is the foundation of any relationship.”
He was right – what an ice breaker. It’s hard to stress over small talk when you’ve seen someone’s labia.
Despite managing to knock my pint over with an errant tit, it all became rather normalised. Dare I say it, comfortable?
Halfway through, I catch up with Gemma, 27, and her friend Sam, 26. Gemma tells me that she’s having the best time. Sam explains that it’s “not at all what she expected”.
“It’s been a lot more, shall I say, classy? I was so nervous before we did this, but it’s actually been really great – I felt so comfortable the whole time.
“No one’s forcing us to do anything. I think once you realise everyone’s in the same boat, and just going with it and enjoying it, it’s just really fun.”
But apart from the odd exception, and a not-unexpected Italian wandering around with an enormous erection, it was by and large a wholly respectable evening. Far more so than your average bar night, anyway.
I mean, there’s really no point in trying to ogle your partner’s chest, when you’ve already seen their areolae up close. You might as well have a conversation instead.
In fact, the only noticeably awkward part of the evening came after the speed dates when we all dressed and repaired downstairs to the pub. I found it difficult to remember who was who with their clothes on, and came over all shy – as if I hadn’t just balanced my breasts on the table upstairs.
As for speed dating, well – I’m a complete convert. Infinitely superior to Tinder or Bumble dates, this is 15 guys for the price of one night out, a reassuring time limit to cut any awkwardness or, let’s face it, boredom, and a refreshing clarity afterwards.
The pressure’s also off when it comes to clicking with someone. If you and your date both tick “yes”, the company puts you in touch on their website and you’re free to message one another.
If either ticks no, then no further contact. No mess, no fuss, no disappointment or one-sided pursuit. No ghosting, no awkward WhatsApping – just some good old fashioned flirting.
(You can even “friend match” with someone, although realistically it seems unlikely that you’d bother meeting up again.)
And as for naked speed dating? I felt increasingly comfortable, amused and yes – liberated. There’s something inherently de-stressing about taking off your all clothes in such a safe space.
Cocky lads can’t front when there’s nothing but an £8 cotton robe covering their shrunken modesty. All your weight worries, your inhibitions, that dimple on your left arse cheek that kind of looks like a bullet hole... in the kitsch flashing lights of a roomful of nudes, it all somehow just didn’t matter.
Gemma explains: “The fact that it’s our choice to take off as much as we want to, has made me want to take more off.
“I feel really confident, probably more confident than I have been on normal dates.”
Would I do it again? In a flash (geddit?) – although I might well spring for a wax and a pedicure next time. That said, at the time of writing I haven’t checked my matches yet, so look again in a few days to see if I’ve updated it with the fury of a scorned woman, the likes of which hell hath no.
“Of course,” Rob points out with rueful understatement, “it won’t appeal to everyone.”
But strip away the novelty (and the clothes) and it’s not unlike any other form of dating. Be brave, be kind, be yourself – warts and all. Although perhaps not genital ones.
Date in a Dash will be hosting the next naked speed dating events on 19 April and 3 May – book tickets here
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