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When Katherine Ryan was announced as host of a new dating show earlier this year, viewers were riled.
But the choice of presenter wasn’t the catalyst for the barrage of negativity, or pending Ofcom complaints, rather it was the mischievous premise of ITV’s next “binge-ably entertaining watch” that set people off.
Ready To Mingle pledges to follow a single girl in the search for her perfect partner, as 12 male suitors compete for her affections and the chance to win a big money prize.
Taking up residence in a luxurious hideaway, she will get to know all the boys through activities, games and dates, eliminating each one by one until her “dream man” remains, the series synopsis reads.
Sounds simple enough… So what’s the problem? Well, in a playful twist, not all the boys are single, with a number of them being guided by their real-life partners in pursuit of the winnings.
“LOL yes register your displeasure EARLY over that which doesn’t exist,” Ryan, 38, wrote on Twitter in retaliation to the backlash. “SHE knows. THEY know. Consent – and eager enthusiasm to participate – obtained from all parties & partners. How else may I offend today please.”
A good five months on and today the sentiment sticks, with the Canadian comic willing sceptics – who expressed concern over the potential “humiliation” of the female lead – to watch it before commenting.
“They need to see the show, and then they’ll fully understand why I was so eager to be involved,” she rationalises when we speak ahead of its launch. “Viewers aren’t being fooled and [the single girl] is not being fooled – she knows that this is the challenge for her to work out – and even the partners are not being fooled, they are very much involved in all the gameplay.
“In many cases it was the partners who put their boys forward to do the show,” attests the panel show regular, who stands by ITV’s statement that suggests the woman is in a position of empowerment throughout.
“I think it’s important to give adults an opportunity to consent and play these games if they want to, and there’s also a wonderful social experiment which is very entertaining.”
Has she ever fallen for a guy, only to find out he wasn’t single?
“No, he was always in a relationship with me. But he was also single every time he left the house,” Ryan answers frankly.
“I was the girlfriend, as far as I know. I don’t think I was ever a sidepiece. But I’ve been lied to, I’ve been cheated on. And in my 20s, I didn’t really have the tools to decipher who was genuine and who wasn’t. I certainly didn’t have the confidence to dismiss them,” she muses.
“[So] this is also a wonderful experiment for the public to see and to say, ‘Look, here’s how you spot a liar. Watch the way his eyes move, watch the way he changes details in a story, watch his body language’. It’s a game, but it also will provide clues to people at home so that they don’t get lied to in real life.”
As for being held up against its rivals: “Unfortunately I’m seeing a few instances where contestants are potentially looking for a fashion contract or they have a partner at home or they’re not in it for the wholesome reasons that they once were,” Ryan teases.
“Whereas Ready To Mingle might seem like a whole lot of trickery, it’s actually a very honest, full disclosure show.
“It puts it all on the table, like, ‘This is the game. Do you want to play it?’ There are boys, some of whom are single, some of whom are not. Can you spot the liar? I love the honesty of putting that at the forefront.”
If you can rely on anyone for truth when it comes to dating it’s Ryan, who not so long ago swapped her much-loved singledom for marital bliss.
Having done a stellar job of bringing up her 12-year-old daughter Violet, from a previous relationship, the star reunited with childhood sweetheart Bobby Kootstra some three years ago, rekindling their flame while filming BBC hit Who Do You Think You Are? in their hometown of Ontario.
The key to finding her Mr Right? Trust your instinct, she says.
“I would also say that if you’re 20-something and dating, whatever you think is probably true. I never trusted my intuition enough but looking back I always knew when I could smell a rat, but I wasn’t confident enough to follow that intuition,” admits Ryan, who gave birth to son Freddie in June.
“The one piece of advice that always works is that if someone is treating you badly, you have to blank them,” she adds. “You cannot text them back, you disappear. Silence is a universal language and that really is the only thing that men understand in that situation.”
And, crucially, don’t be afraid to be single.
After all, the razor-sharp comedian – who once stated that her plan was to be “single for life” – has carved a career out of sassy one-liners based on her former status, albeit in whip-smart stand-up specials (Netflix’s In Trouble and Glitter Room) or via her celebration of single motherhood in her self-penned debut sitcom The Duchess.
“I mean, I think it’s wonderful to be single. I love being single,” she declares. “And you can only find someone wonderful when you’ve grown enough to put your most wonderful self forward… whatever you seek, you shall find.
“So if you think men are terrible, you’re going to find men who are terrible. And if you think men are liars, you’re going to find men who are liars,” she warns.
“But if you’re just going about your business, you have an interesting life, with friends, and you’ve got a career that you’re passionate about, the most wonderful person will walk into your life – that’s what happened with me and my husband.”
Next Ryan will return to the stage, as she embarks on her aptly named Missus tour.
Having previously denounced partnership to her fans, the major UK-wide tour – running from September this year to May 2022 – will see the seasoned stand-up share new perspectives on life and love as she navigates her new status.
But will it be as upfront and open as her previous shows?
“Full disclosure is the best way for me to connect with people because I give trust by getting trust!” she insists. “I love when people tell me secrets. I hate small talk; I want to meet a stranger for the first time, and I would love for them tell me everything about their life. And I would be non-judgmental, and I would share about my life.
“I think that’s very tribal and that’s how I connect with people.”
Ready To Mingle starts on ITV2 on Monday September 6.