Friday 19 January 2018

What happened when a model and a DJ went on a blind date (and let us tag along)

As we prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day and all things love-related, a model and a radio star exclusively let us snoop on their blind date. Emily Hourican meets them before and after the event to get all the gory details. Did romance blossom? Did the stars align? Read on to find out.

Rachel Wallace and Fergal D'Arcy. Photo: Kip Carroll
Rachel Wallace and Fergal D'Arcy. Photo: Kip Carroll
Nurse-manager and model, Rachel Wallace. Photo: Kip Carroll
Today FM broadcaster Fergal D'Arcy

Emily Hourican

For more and more of us, the answer to the old question: “So,where did you guys meet?” is going to be “online” or “through a dating agency.”

For a million reasons, we no longer meet our significant others through the usual routes; instead, we do it via some kind of professional third party. And yes, the horror stories are legion. But not always.

In a spirit of enduring romance, we decided to track one couple, who are open about looking for love, through their first blind date. What did they hope for? What did they expect? More importantly, what did they find?

Fergal D’Arcy is a Today FM broadcaster and DJ. Rachel Wallace is a model, formerly Miss Cavan and Miss South Dublin. Clearly, neither of them is lacking in the qualities that attract attention — so what has brought them to Intro, a dating agency? And what happens when they get there?

Separately, the two have made their way to Intro. They have temporarily suspended control over their dating destinies and put the search for romantic success (complete with the inevitable vulnerability that brings) into someone else’s hands. Set up by Rena Maycock and Feargal Harrington, who met on their very own blind date, the idea at Intro is good old-fashioned matchmaking. Privacy and security are big deals, but so too is the old-school idea of meeting people, talking to them in depth, thinking about them and what they want, and then, finally, setting up a suitable date.

It’s a low-yield way of doing things — it has taken several months for Rachel and Fergal to get this far — but in this era of swipe left, swipe right, that suddenly seems like it might be a good thing.

And now, the moment has arrived. The date is set — dinner — and, thanks to a kind of news blackout, neither of them knows a thing about the other, except a name. So no online sleuthing, and no preconceptions; back to basics, essentially. We find out what happened next.

She said

MG Rachel Wallace.jpg
Nurse-manager and model, Rachel Wallace. Photo: Kip Carroll
 

“I went in and the first thing he said was, ‘Well, this isn’t awkward’, and that broke the ice a bit, thank goodness. I found doing the pictures really awkward, even though I’m a model, but he seemed full of confidence, which helped me. Then we had dinner, and that was lovely. Conversation flowed really easily. I was so pleasantly surprised! After dinner, we even went to the bar next door, for one more drink.”

What did they talk about?

“We talked about why we tried this; how excited we were. We both said we were pleasantly surprised by each other. We talked about his job, my job, and we touched on exes. Nothing deep and meaningful, all

light-hearted.”

What was the best bit?

“I knew he didn’t know anything about me, because you don’t get any information about each other beforehand, except a name. So I felt there was no pressure — I didn’t go in thinking, ‘He knows I’m a model; he’ll have preconceptions about me’. It was like going in fresh. And we were both in an equally vulnerable position — on a traditional date, the one who does the asking feels most self-conscious.

The pressure is on them. This way, it’s equal.”

What did she like about Fergal?

“He was so funny. That was one of the first things I said in my Intro interview — that I want to meet somebody funny. And he was. He was confident, and so open to the idea of what he was doing. I liked that. His attitude was great.

“He was very honest about why he was there and what he was hoping for. He’s just a really nice person. We were laughing away, talking, and it felt totally normal, like I had known him ages. We like the same music, we go to the same places on holiday, and I’d say my friends would love him. I don’t see how anybody couldn’t — he was just so lovely.”

And so, the million-dollar question, will she see him again?

“Yes, definitely! We said last night that we’d like to hang out because we got along so well. At worst, this could be a new friend . . .” And at best? “I would like to find somebody, but I’m in no rush to do it,” she says.

“I told myself I wouldn’t dive into the first one. If it does turn out to be something more, I’d be delighted, but I’m not going to build it up too much in my head. I want to be casual about it. I don’t want to put too much pressure on it. I want it to be easy and breezy, like it was last night, because that’s what made it so much fun.

“But yes, I think there is the possibility of more. He’s a lovely guy, really good-looking; the two of us got along, so I don’t see why not.”

He said

MG Fergal D'Arcy.jpg
Today FM broadcaster Fergal D'Arcy
 

Post-date, Fergal’s surprise is almost palpable. “It was totally not what I expected,” he says. “Honest to God, I

never thought I’d say this — but holy shit, did they get this right! The shock and surprise I have at this moment in time are total.”

OK, back-track a bit. First impressions? “As soon as Rachel walked in, I thought, ‘I’m batting way out of my league here.’ She’s stunning, absolutely stunning. And an absolutely lovely person. One hundred per cent. She is the whole package — a beautiful person, a wonderful person to be around, a very kind person, very good-natured.

“You know by her that she’s so down-to-earth, so real. We don’t know where things are going to go, but I know this — even if something doesn’t come out of this for us, the guy who gets her will be the luckiest guy in the world.”

Best thing about the date? “The ability to be honest with each other from the start. Once we got to know each other a bit, we both opened up. Rachel is very upfront and honest, and I think that’s the kind of person anyone wants to meet, and end up with — a person you know you can trust; a mature person who can be honest.

“Working in radio, working in media, working as a model, those are tough jobs; it can be difficult to meet people when you’re in the public eye. You can meet strange people. We had so many similar experiences like that — and that can frighten you off. But when you meet someone who has been through the same things, you know that person isn’t going to mess you about.”

And plenty to talk about? “Loads. We had an awful lot in common. I have a Walt Disney tattoo on my arm: ‘All your dreams come true when you have the courage to pursue them’. I love Disney films. We were chatting about them and I showed the tattoo to her. She liked it straightaway; she got it. It’s those little things. I think the two of us just got each other. It doesn’t happen that often, that you get that chemistry. It’s rare. It’s too early to talk about romance, but I get a vibe from her.

I said I like to know people before I get involved with them, and she was exactly the same. We didn’t just go on a date, we hung out afterwards and had a drink. And we’re going on date number two! We

ended up chatting about ballet — I said, ‘Do you want to go?’, and she said ‘Yes’, so that’s it!”

And the million-dollar question? “It’s very rare to meet someone as lovely as Rachel. We really hit it off. It could go anywhere . . . we’ll find out. But I know for a fact, if nothing comes of this, we’ll be very good friends. “But, as someone said, ‘I didn’t come this far to come this far’. I’m definitely going to keep motoring on.”

Before the date

She said

Rachel Wallace

27, nurse-manager and model

MG Rachel Wallace.jpg
Nurse-manager and model, Rachel Wallace. Photo: Kip Carroll
 

“I’m so nervous I could actually die,” says Rachel, disarmingly. The 27-year-old is a nurse-manager at a nursing home, and also a model.

What’s making her so nervous?

“I’ve never been on a blind date. This is the first time ever. I’m confident enough that it won’t be awkward, because I can chat away fine. I think it’s more that I’d be upset if he didn’t like me. It’s a fear of rejection or something.”

Surely as a model, she’s used to going to castings, where you either get chosen, or you don’t?

“Yes, but that’s just a job. If they don’t pick you, it’s because you’re not the right height or whatever. But here, if he doesn’t like me, it’s me he doesn’t like. It’s so much more personal. I haven’t even been thinking about whether I’ll like him, because I’ve been so nervous about whether he’ll like me.”

Presumably a girl like Rachel has no trouble getting dates — so what brought her to an agency?

“I seem to attract the wrong guys,” she admits. “I don’t know if it’s the way I look, or if it’s the people I’m giving the opportunity to talk to me, but I seem to attract the wrong ones. Some of the guys I meet, I feel they’re just after one thing, and that’s not what I want. They want a one-night stand, I want a boyfriend. But you can’t say that — if you say you’re looking for something serious, they scatter. They run a mile. You have to pretend that you’re not serious; that you don’t care. All these stupid games.”

So how does she think joining a dating agency might help?

“Well, first, it costs money, so it would be a very expensive one-night stand! It’s not just a way to meet people for a casual hook-up. It’s more serious. And it’s private, and safe. There are so many horror

stories about internet dates gone wrong.

It can be dangerous, especially for girls. At Intro, you have to verify who you are, they check you out properly, and then they match you with someone they really think you will get on with. They take so long and there are so many stages you have to go through to get to this point. They wouldn’t put us together if they weren’t sure we’d get along.”

Does the fact that she models bring certain unhelpful preconceptions with it? “It must do,” she laughs, “because I get told all the time, ‘You’re so lovely, we thought you were going to be a big snob’. People have this idea of what I’m going to be like, and then they tell me, ‘I can’t believe how nice you are, I thought you were going to be a bitch’. I’m not on the cover of Vogue; I’ve done a few photo shoots in Ireland. If I did have a big head, people should definitely be concerned!”

Recently single after a series of long relationships — “the last one was three years; before that was four years; before that was six years” — Rachel says she doesn’t need a boyfriend to be happy. “I’m totally content on my own, but I feel I’m at the age where everybody’s getting engaged, married, pregnant, and it does make you think.”

Rachel joined Intro after a chance meeting with Rena Maycock, one of the agency founders. “She told me all about it, and the next week, I went in.” This is the first date the agency has set up for Rachel, and it has taken three months, which means there is plenty riding on it.

What is she hoping for?

“I don’t have huge expectations. A nice, flowing conversation and a nice guy is all I can ask for. It’s my first time, and I’m so nervous, so that would be fine. If it turns into something, or if it doesn’t, as long as it goes smoothly, I’ll be happy. A pleasant evening and decent conversation.”

He said

Fergal D’arcy

34, Today FM broadcaster and DJ

MG Fergal D'Arcy.jpg
Today FM broadcaster Fergal D'Arcy
 

“When you join something like this, it’s for a variety of reasons,” says Fergal. “I’m a busy person; I tend to work long hours and weekends. So as far as going out

and meeting people goes, if they aren’t already in my social circle, it can be

hard. I think that’s the mature way to look at it. I’m 34, and for a long time I’ve been dating around; I feel I’m done with that. I’m done with this ‘Let’s go out and hopefully meet someone’. I don’t really have time for that.”

And, as he points out, it’s not just a question of meeting people, it’s meeting the right person, at the right time.

“If I had a euro for every time I’ve been on a night out and I’ve met someone who I really hit it off with, and I’ve said, ‘I really enjoyed this evening, I’d like to bring you out on a date sometime’, and that person has said, ‘I’m actually seeing someone’, or else

‘I’m just out of something and I’m not ready . . . ’”

So Fergal has decided to move beyond the throw of the dice, to something more weighted.

“Something like this just makes it a hell of a lot easier, because a lot of the work has been done for you. You know these people have joined for a reason; they actually want to meet someone.”

This isn’t his first run at internet dating, “I’ve tried other online dating sites,” he says, “and it hasn’t really worked out for me. Yes, it can be good for the ego — you’ll get the matches, the compliments — but if you ever meet up with them, it’s very much ‘meet, great, go again . . .’ It’s very juvenile. It’s superficial, based on how someone looks.” And even that, he points out, can be dubious. “People who take

a good picture can look different in real life.”

However, there is still, he believes, plenty of stigma attached to internet dating in Ireland. “We have a huge fear of it in Ireland. I’ve done radio shows talking about online dating, and you hear all the horror stories, but there are good stories too. We live our whole lives on social media — why not give this a chance? If you were sick, you’d go to the doctor. If you’re finding it hard in the dating world to find someone you relate to, someone you might form a relationship with, you should go to someone to get that fixed. It’s the logical evolution of dating.”

Back to him, and his hopes and fears. “I wouldn’t say I’m a good-looking chap,” he says modestly. “I would say I’m a guy who has a bit of personality, and I’d like to think of myself as a nice person. But when you put yourself out there, it can be very hard to meet good people.”

Is he a romantic?

“I am a bit of a hopeless romantic,” he admits. “Before this, I was involved in a lot of long-term relationships, and I’m still friends with many of my exes. They just weren’t the right person for me, and I wasn’t right for them. But yes, I am a romantic.”

And so, how does he feel about tonight? “I feel a bit nervous,” he confesses. “I am a people person, I like meeting people, so I wouldn’t normally be phased by that, but you do get a bit edgy.”

What is he hoping for?

“I’m thinking she’s going to be a female version of me? Someone quirky, happy, happy-go-lucky, full of fun and mischief. I’m looking to go out, have fun, have a good night, make a friend, and see where it goes from there.” And then he adds: “For the first time in a long time, I’ve got butterflies in my stomach.”

* In my role as Cupid’s go-between, it’s pretty clear to me that both Rachel and Fergal are now treading on eggshells. Which is just what we all do when Big Things are at stake. Knowing this made me all the more careful not to influence the outcome — I was truly terrified I might: what if I let slip something that changed the way either of them felt about the person they were going to meet; the evening they were going to have?

It felt like a Back To The Future moment, in which I, potentially, had the power to change the destiny of two people. And so I stayed carefully bland and neutral.

But actually, I think I may have overstated my influence on any of this. Because when I catch up with Rachel and Fergal again after a few weeks, it’s pretty clear that Something Is Happening.

“Things are going great,” says Rachel. “We have been talking loads and he actually met me with his friend on Saturday. I was at my friend’s 30th and they joined the group! We had so much fun and are planning to go for dinner this week.”

And Fergal? “We may have met for a drink the weekend just past, and I may be taking her for dinner this week, but I’m a gentleman, and a gentleman doesn’t tell. . . .”

You know what?

I’m not sure I could have stopped this if I’d tried.   

See intro.ie

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Photography by Kip Carroll

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