If anyone’s qualified to speak about finding love after being matched on a blind date, it’s Married At First Sight’s relationship expert Mel Schilling.
While she may not have married a stranger in front of TV cameras like the contestants, Mel, 50, fell for her husband, Gareth Brisbane, after turning to dating site eHarmony.
“We were nearly 40 when we met,” Mel tells us. “I was single for my whole thirties, not interested at all in dating. In fact, my friends used to say I had ‘F off’ written across my forehead whenever boys came near me.
“But I was 39, getting older and I thought I would really like to have someone to spend my life with and have that companionship with. So I went on to eHarmony and there he was. He was from Northern Ireland but was in Australia at the time.”
She continues: “What really clinched the deal is that he lived in a different state to me so we couldn’t physically meet for six weeks. We were texting for six weeks and we got to connect emotionally and intellectually.”
Mel and Gareth’s blossoming romance quickly turned serious and they went on to tie the knot in 2020. The pair also have daughter Madison, now seven.
However, that’s not to say the couple’s journey to parenthood hasn’t been without some bumps in the road.
Mel explains: “We were older parents – 42 – when we had her. I had her through IVF and that was a challenge for us to go through, but so worth it.
“I got pregnant when I was 40 and had a miscarriage and that really changed things. That was a real eye-opener and just made me realise how much I wanted a child. Both of us did.
“We tried for 12 months until I was 41 and had no joy. Then we thought, ‘OK, we don’t have time on our side now,’ so we did one cycle of IVF and were so lucky, as there she was.”
And Mel – who jokes Gareth is the perfect combination of “ridiculously brainy Mensa member and naughty Irishman” – says the fact they met later in life makes their romance even more meaningful.
She smiles: “It’s not perfect but it’s right. If I’d have settled with someone I’d met earlier in life, it wouldn’t have been right as I had more growing to do.”
Mel continues: “Being parents has changed us because it’s made us more of a team. When you’re a couple without a child, you can still be quite selfish and bring a lot of your single life into your relationship, but once you have a child, there’s no opportunity for that.
“Your child’s needs become paramount and even your own relationship becomes secondary. But that’s what’s made it even better in some ways – when you’ve got a child you actually have to book in a date night and make an effort to have a conversation.”
The close-knit family-of-three now live in London, and Mel flies back to her home country whenever she needs to film the Australian version of the series that has propelled her to fame on both sides of the world.
Mel says: “I absolutely love it, this is home. I’m a Londoner. I’m also now a mad tea drinker.”
And it’s clear Mel wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, particularly as she’s just finished filming another series of Married At First Sight UK.
The reality show – which sees her and fellow experts Paul C Brunson and Charlene Douglas guide couples through the experiment – has captured the attention of the nation since arriving on our screens in 2015.
Whether fans are talking about the dramatic dinner parties and commitment ceremonies, or if a love triangle has developed, it’s a guaranteed conversation starter.
And this year’s instalment promises to spark even more water cooler conversations, with some exciting new changes taken straight from Down Under.
“It is bigger than ever,” Mel teases. “What I love about this season is that we’ve taken all of the elements from the Aussie version of the show that the Brits love and brought them over.”
She adds: “So things like bringing in new couples halfway through the experiment, which just throws everyone into a spin. They get into that comfort zone and think they’re cruising and then boom – two new couples come in and it’s confronting.
“We send them away on a couples’ retreat as well. They leave the bubble of the experiment, and what we find when they’re away from their usual environment is that they relax, let their guard down and often things that have been bubbling under the surface for a while tend to come up.
“You see quite a few issues that are building all season come to a head on that weekend.”
However, it remains to be seen whether this new series will create any lasting love matches. Adam Aveling and Tayah Victoria from last year’s series are having their first baby – a girl – while Matt Jameson and Dan McKee also beat the odds and now live together in Northern Ireland.
Mel, who’s also written a new women’s confidence handbook called The C Word (Confidence), says: “There was no surprise with Adam and Tayah. It was pretty much an instant spark they consistently built week on week.”
Mel recalls: “It was so funny as at one of the dinner parties – and it caused a bit of a fight between them – she said, ‘In 12 months, I’m going to be pregnant.’ And then it actually happened.
"I saw them and Matt and Dan at an event recently. They’re terribly happy. It’s so wonderful.”
So now the show has proved some critics wrong and shown that some couples have found genuine connections, could there be room for a celebrity special?
Mel giggles: “If I had to dream, the person would be Brad Pitt. He recently rocked up to an event wearing a skirt, so I think he’s experimenting with different things and getting more in touch with his feminine side. We could try and get him [on the show].
“However, I’m not a fan of the concept of a celebrity version because part of the magic of the show is that two people meet at the altar and know nothing about each other. With a celebrity, you’re going to have preconceived ideas about them and know their reputation. So it’s not a level playing field.”
For now, Mel’s happy to enjoy the success of Married At First Sight, while trying not to take her work as a psychologist and relationship expert home with her.
She says: “I have the tools and it’s helpful [for a relationship]. But the tools only work if the two people want to use them, so Gareth will sometimes come out with, ‘I’m not your client.’ So I’ve got to be careful because he said I can become a bit condescending when I get into that mode – and he’s probably right. I can’t go into professional mode because then we’re not equal.”
Proof once again that if anyone’s qualified to speak about finding – and more importantly sustaining – true love, it’s Mel.
Watch Married At First Sight UK, weekdays on E4, and catch up on episodes on All 4.
Mel’s book The C Word is available from Thursday (Murdoch Books, £14.99)
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