What’s it like to marry a complete stranger? They say their wedding was a fairy tale, but believe it or not, the first time David and Shareen laid eyes on each other was on their big day – surrounded by their astonished families
Resplendent in white satin, her hair perfectly pinned and her make-up pristine, a blushing bride grips her brother’s arm as she takes a deep breath to calm her nerves.
On the other side of the solid oak door her handsome groom stares straight ahead, his palms sweating, his mind racing.
A ripple of excitement sweeps through the 40 guests as they eagerly wait for the ceremony to begin.
But this is no ordinary wedding. When the bride walks down the aisle and locks eyes with her husband-to-be, there isn’t the usual comforting look of love shared by a couple who have spent months planning their big day together.
Just six weeks earlier, Shareen and David were told they were each other’s perfect match and they agreed to get married, meeting for the first time on their big day. But these aren’t the usual young reality TV wannabes — David is a 56-year-old sales director and his bride is 47 and an events manager
That’s because this is the first time Shareen and her groom David have ever clapped eyes on each other.
They’re the latest desperate duo to put their hearts in the hands of a team of matchmaking experts for Channel 4’s hit show Married At First Sight.
Just six weeks earlier, Shareen and David were told they were each other’s perfect match and they agreed to get married, meeting for the first time on their big day.
But these aren’t the usual young reality TV wannabes — David is a 56-year-old sales director and his bride is 47 and an events manager. So was there instant chemistry when the pair met?
‘I looked at him and I felt that instant sigh of relief. I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a good-looking man. That’s a relief, wow, OK, I’m happy!’ ‘ laughs Shareen.
The feeling was mutual, it seems. ‘I fancied her the minute I saw her,’ admits David.
‘We were saying our vows and I got pretty emotional. We did end up having a bit of a fumble when it came to our first kiss. I went for the lips and she went for the cheek! But it was funny, it helped break the ice.’
For the first time ever the show, which first aired on Channel 4 in 2015 and is now on its fifth series, has opened up the process to people who are over 40, have children from previous relationships or have been married before.
Bosses claim this is in order to keep up with the times, as nowadays more people are finding their intended after they’ve reached 40.
But finding love in the 21st century is harder than ever before. Fast-paced lives and swiping left or right on superficial dating apps has left many singletons fearing a long, lonely life. So it’s no wonder that at the start of this year more than 7,000 Brits applied to be on the show.
David and Shareen are making show history as the oldest couple to be matched and married. They have five children between them, and while David was married for a decade, Shareen’s longest relationship of 15 years never saw her walk down the aisle.
When the bride walks down the aisle and locks eyes with her husband-to-be, there isn’t the usual comforting look of love shared by a couple who have spent months planning their big day together. That’s because this is the first time Shareen and her groom David have ever clapped eyes on each other
So why did this pair, who have both travelled the world and gained so much life experience, decide to pass control of their love lives to a team of expert matchmakers?
Shareen, who was born and raised in South Africa before moving to Wales, believes now is the time to put herself first after years dedicated to raising her three daughters, aged 24, 22 and 20, as a single mother.
‘My girls have been my driving force, they’ve been my reason why, but now I feel the next stage of my life is for me.
‘Single life is lonely — the thought of living the next 20, 30, 40 years and not sharing them with someone actually terrifies me.
‘Marriage is the one thing I haven’t been able to attain.’
Meanwhile, David, who lives in Herefordshire and has a son, 19, and daughter, 16, from his first marriage, admits he’s been a disastrous dater since his divorce in 2007.
‘I’m actually treating this more seriously, if anything, than my first marriage,’ he confesses.
‘I’m a little bit more grown up. I’ve had a dozen years to reflect on why the marriage didn’t work, and areas where I probably didn’t help that in the sense of communication. I think I’m a lot more relaxed now — I don’t sweat the small stuff any more.’
That’s probably a good thing when you’ve agreed to marry a complete stranger in front of your family and friends, not to mention millions of strangers who will be judging your decision from the comfort of their sofas.
Yet while the show is a firm favourite with viewers, of the 12 couples who have been on it, none of them is still married.
However, David and Shareen thought they would have better luck than past couples in finding the partner of their dreams, thanks to a new team of relationship experts.
For this series, Channel 4 bosses put together the self-titled ‘Avengers of Dating’, who claim that if they can’t match the right people to create a long-term marriage, then no one can.
Heading up the team is ‘Love Doctor’ Paul C. Brunson, who Oprah Winfrey describes as ‘much more than a matchmaker’ after working with him on her U.S. shows.
The smooth-talking American, who has been married for 20 years, is considered one of the most successful matchmakers in the world — a title he doesn’t plan to lose.
He’s joined by leading UK matchmaker Genevieve Gresset, and between them the pair have successfully brought together more than 100,000 people. Completing the new line-up is psychologist Dr Angela Smith, billed as the ‘walking lie detector’.
As in previous series, the singletons are put through rigorous interviews — but gone are the scientific tests and DNA profiling used in the past. Computers have been banned, and this time it’s all about the personal touch.
The matchmakers grill the singletons for hours. ‘It was very intensive,’ says David.
‘There were lots of trips to London to meet the matchmakers; they want to know everything about your backstory, all your life, your hobbies, your friends, your family. It was exhausting.
‘But it was quite enlightening because you’ve got to be able to vocalise what you’re looking for in a partner, what your core values are, what your morals are, so it does make you take quite a long, hard look at yourself.
‘It was quite surreal when they actually said ‘We’ve matched you’, especially as I knew how many thousands of people had applied. I’ve never won anything in my life. I’m never going to win the Lottery, so when they called I thought: ‘Wow, that doesn’t happen to me very often!’ ‘
Agreeing to marry a complete stranger is a brave decision for anyone, but throw a handful of children into the mix and it becomes even more complicated.
Thankfully, Shareen’s daughters were supportive. ‘They know the one thing that I’ve always wanted is to find a man to travel with,’ she says.
‘All they wanted was Mum to be happy, and if I can share the rest of my life with a man, they’re awfully supportive of that.’
Sadly the same can’t be said for David’s children, who were far from impressed by his choice to approach the show and bring a stepmother neither of them had met before into their lives.
‘They didn’t react well, if I’m honest,’ he admits.
‘I thought the youngsters would take on new ideas and actually roll with it — because I remember when online dating started and my generation was saying ‘Don’t tell people we met online’ — but they were very cynical.
‘Part of that is just being protective of me. They were asking me not to do it throughout the process, and it actually forced me to really think about my decision.
‘At the end of the day, when I had done all that self-reflection, it made me feel even more sure that Shareen and I would be a good match. Eventually, they came round to the idea, thankfully.’
As there were only six weeks between being matched and getting married, the couple had very limited input into their big day.
The venue — Eastwell Manor in Ashford, Kent — was chosen for them, as were the flowers, food, cake and decorations.
Relinquishing control was tough for Shareen, who makes a living planning events. But she did get to pick her own dress and the bridesmaids’ outfits her daughters wore on the day, as well as the music for the key moments.
Rather aptly, she chose to walk down the aisle to Bruno Mars’s hit Marry You, and when the newlyweds took to the dance floor for the first time as man and wife, it was to Could You Be The One? by Welsh rock band Stereophonics.
‘I think maybe because I’m not so young, it wasn’t all about the wedding for me,’ she says.
‘It was about actually meeting David.
‘I didn’t have a comedown during the whole day. It was like I was walking on air. I mean, everything was perfect — the venue, the flowers, the cake, the guests, the speeches, just perfect.
‘I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was everything I dreamed of and more.’
David agrees. ‘A lot of my friends described it as a fairy-tale wedding,’ he says.
‘It was a wonderful venue. Everything was perfect, including my bride. It was like we’d known each other a long time. Even our friends said that — it didn’t feel contrived, it didn’t feel forced. It was magical.’
The show follows David and Shareen from being matched to getting married, going on honeymoon and beginning their lives as newlyweds just as lockdown hit, putting extra pressure on their fledgling romance.
The conditions of the show give them ten weeks to make life as husband and wife work before they decide whether to part ways or remain in wedded bliss — and the clock starts ticking the moment they say ‘I do’.
The reason the programme has been so popular is that it throws up so many questions viewers are desperate to have answered.
Will the match work? Do their families like each other? Will they move in together? And if the sparks do fly, how quickly will they consummate the marriage?
‘Intimacy is vital; I have no inhibitions there,’ says Shareen with a wink, while refusing to reveal any more.
David adds: ‘My journey is 50 years with somebody, not two months. So if the chemistry happens on day one, wonderful. If it happens on day six, or month six, it doesn’t really bother me. I’ve been single for a year so it’s no rush for me in that department.
‘Coming on this show was about the next chapter of my life, and you’ll have to wait and see whether that’s going to be with Shareen or not.’
Married At First Sight airs on Tuesday at 9.30pm on Channel 4.
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