Why we put our mums on middle-aged Love Island!

  • Presented by Davina McCall, My Mum, Your Dad starts tonight on ITV1 and ITVX
  • READ MORE: Davina McCall insists people can still find love after 40 as she gears up to host new dating show for middle-aged singletons 

Tuning in to watch twentysomethings in the early stages of orchestrated romantic relationships has become something of a national sport, thanks to the runaway success of ITV’s Love Island.

On to a winning formula, the channel is now bringing us a new dating series My Mum, Your Dad — the first episode of which airs tonight. 

And this time the cameras are turning on single parents in their 40s and 50s who, while not quite as gym-honed and orange-hued as their Love Island counterparts, seem equally keen on finding love.

The programme is the brainchild of TV star Davina McCall — a mother of three whose own 17-year marriage ended six years ago, and who also presents the show. 

It airs over ten nights, in hour-long episodes during which participants get therapy sessions and take part in workshops to improve their chances of developing good future relationships. And, of course, compete to find their perfect match. 

Looking for love: The contestants in new dating show My Mum, Your Dad with their sons and daughters

There’s no cash prize — the only thing the contestants can hope to walk away with is a new love.

The clever twist that has created such a buzz around the show is that, unknown to the parents, their young adult offspring observe every encounter, watching together from a ‘control room’. 

Cast in the role of ‘relationship experts’, they also get to decide what their mums and dads do each day and, crucially, with whom. 

Having seen a sneak preview of the first episode, I can confirm that there are some tear-jerking moments as the children get emotional seeing their parents upset and appearing awkward on dates, although the kids are quick to comfort one another.

While it has been dubbed the ‘middle-aged Love Island’, the setting — a genteel mansion in West Sussex, rather than a Spanish villa with hot tubs and pools — won’t be the only significant difference between the two shows. 

There will be no near-nakedness. While the MMYD contestants are an attractive bunch, middle-aged bodies don’t have quite the same draw as those of the model-like Love Island casts — nor will there be cameras in the bedrooms.

The participants, who range in age from 44 to 58, must have been reassured to hear this, though it’s a fair assumption that their children will have been even more relieved.

Here, so you can get a headstart on the most hyped show of the year, Inspire exclusively meets six of its breakout stars . . .


Sharon and Tia

Great to see you date: Tia, left, helped her mum Sharon look for romance. Despite a painful relationship history, Sharon hasn¿t given up hope of one day getting married

Like a modern-day Miss Havisham, hanging in Sharon Benson’s wardrobe is the ornate wedding gown she bought shortly before her engagement to her daughter’s father was called off in 2005.

Aged 53, and still enviably trim, Sharon, despite a painful relationship history, hasn’t given up hope of one day getting the chance to wear it.

Her elder daughter Tia Zanetti, 24, a professional influencer with 91,000 YouTube subscribers, who lives in Manchester, put her name forward for the show.

‘I’ve never quite made it down the aisle, but nor have I given up hope,’ says Sharon, a safeguarding and welfare officer from Sunderland, who is warm and outgoing but who cries easily.

‘I tell Mum that, at this rate, I’ll be helping her down the aisle, in that white dress, on a Zimmer frame,’ adds Tia, and the two women, sitting side by side on Sharon’s sofa, collapse into one another, laughing.

Tia, who has a younger sister, Mimi, 13, has supported her mum through the ups and downs of her love life — seeing her at low ebbs Sharon would rather have spared her children from — which have included episodes of domestic violence and infidelity.

Sharon was 35 when she split from Tia’s dad after ten years, because they ‘weren’t a great match’, although he continued to play a big part in his daughter’s life.

A year later she fell for a man who then went to work in the U.S., where he promptly met and married another woman. 

Aged 36, Sharon met Mimi’s dad and spent three years in ‘an unhealthy, on-off’ relationship before discovering, after they broke up, that she was 14 weeks’ pregnant. He has not played an active role in his daughter’s life.

Sharon was 35 when she split from Tia¿s dad after ten years, because they ¿weren¿t a great match¿, although he continued to play a big part in his daughter¿s life

Sharon’s last relationship began when she was 43. ‘We spoke about marriage and I thought it was my happy ever after,’ says Sharon. 

‘But we didn’t live together and, unknown to me, he was seeing another woman throughout the last year of our relationship. Finding out was a massive shock to my system and really affected my ability to trust men.’

Sharon admits that, although she has chosen to be single for the past six years to protect herself and her daughters from further heartache, she often feels lonely, especially in the evenings when Mimi is in bed and Sharon worries about how life will be once she leaves home, too.

‘I can see why Tia thought, “Let’s get the professionals in. They can vet the men and hopefully get someone decent for Mum,” ’ says Sharon, smiling self-deprecatingly. ‘I’ve got a pretty poor track record.’

Still, when Sharon bursts into tears at the end of the first episode, Tia questions if her mum is ready to date again, especially with cameras trained on her from every angle.

‘I wanted to do the show because it sounded like just what I needed, but I was also incredibly nervous and so far out of my comfort zone,’ says Sharon, admitting that none of the male contestants were her usual type — ‘tall, dark, handsome, loud and confident’.

‘Narcissists,’ adds Tia, without skipping a beat, and her mother nods along, resignedly.

Witnessing her mother’s romantic tribulations has also impacted Tia’s attitude to relationships. ‘I’m wary because I don’t want to go through what my mum has, wasting my time on men who don’t deserve it, so I’m enjoying single life,’ she says.

However, her mum’s lack of a good partner is curbing some of that enjoyment for Tia, who would like to live in Australia for a while but worries about leaving Sharon and Mimi on their own. Understandably, Sharon feels guilty about clipping her daughter’s wings.

‘I try to reassure Tia I’ll be fine,’ she says. ‘I’ve got friends and if I meet somebody, great, but, if Mr Right never comes along, I’m not going to sit alone rocking in a corner of the living room.’

So what is Sharon looking for in a man, I wonder? ‘Someone who brings happiness and laughter into my life but, most of all, makes me feel safe,’ she says. 

‘It would be great if he cooked me dinner, poured me a drink and ran me a bath occasionally too.’


Natalie and Kaliel

Natalie's  elder son Kaliel decided to take charge of his mother¿s romantic life by nominating her for the show, in the hope that she might finally find the love and stability she has always craved

Growing up without a dad had a ‘huge impact’ on Natalie Russell’s life, contributing to her going spectacularly off the rails in her younger years.

One of her biggest hopes was to create a stable, two-parent family life for her own children — an ambition, having had two sons by different fathers, neither of whom played much of a part in their upbringing — she has been unable to achieve.

A drug addict in her youth, Natalie spent time in prison, as well as stints in rehab facilities, and was once admitted to a psychiatric hospital. 

Historically, her low self-worth meant she attracted the wrong sort of men who didn’t want to commit and would leave her heartbroken.

Having been clean since her 20s, Natalie has completely turned her life around and, aged 44, now works as a self-esteem and relationship recovery coach in Bournemouth.

Hearing Natalie’s backstory sheds light on why her elder son Kaliel, 20, a gas and plumbing apprentice, decided to take charge of his mother’s romantic life by nominating her for the show, in the hope that she might finally find the love and stability she has always craved.

‘As I got older, it wasn’t nice seeing my mum upset after being hurt in relationships,’ says Kaliel. ‘I’m protective of her and want to see her with someone who treats her well.’

So when he said his girlfriend had spotted an online post about the MMYD series, and he had given the producers his mum’s details, she was, she says, ‘a bit nervous but really pleased’ as she finally feels ready for a ‘healthy relationship’.

‘I wouldn’t have done it if it had been anything like Love Island but Davina McCall is, like me, big on personal development so I knew it’d be great,’ says Natalie, whose younger son, Ilai, is 15.

Kaliel admits that there were moments, while filming, that he found ¿embarrassing¿ and is bracing himself for the ribbing he will get from friends and colleagues seeing his mum get up close and personal on national TV

How, I wonder, did Kaliel feel when he discovered he would have a bird’s-eye view of any romantic liaisons his mother had in the house? Surely that’s a son’s worst nightmare?

‘When they said we were going to be able to see everything, I did think, “Everything? No thanks!” ’ he says, shaking his head.

Kaliel has been in a relationship for three years — ‘he’s a lot more successful in love than I’ve ever been,’ acknowledges Natalie, smiling sheepishly — so felt he had expertise to draw on when it came to helping his mum find a healthy partnership.

‘The reason I’ve been single for a long time is I needed to figure out why I had such unhealthy relationships and didn’t want to ever bring anyone who wasn’t right into my children’s lives again.

‘Hopefully, it’s not too late for me to bring a good role model into our lives.’

Natalie is less focused on looks and instead wants a man who is ‘kind, compassionate, funny, playful and loyal’ and also ‘a go-getter and a good communicator who can express his emotions’. She’s not allowed to reveal whether she found him in the house.

Kaliel admits that there were moments, while filming, that he found ‘embarrassing’ (while refusing to give any spoilers) and is bracing himself for the ribbing he will get from friends and colleagues seeing his mum get up close and personal on national TV.

‘I can live with that, though,’ says Kaliel maturely. ‘The main motivator for me was seeing my mum happy with someone after being by herself for a long time. She deserves that.’


Janey and Will

Janey, who earns her living singing at events and in clubs and pubs, had Will, 20, just a year before separating from his father, who now lives in Edinburgh with his second family

Attractive, blonde, outgoing and single for most of her life, Janey Smith, 47, says she is no stranger to other women’s fears that she might be after their men.

‘I go to parties on my own and women will glare at me and I want to say, “Trust me, I’m not here to steal your husband.” ’

So the emotions were all too familiar when Janey, from Billingshurst, West Sussex, was thrown in as a surprise additional ninth contestant, at the end of the first episode of MMYD, meaning that, in true Love Island style, there were suddenly five women competing for just four men.

‘I found it very hard going in and creating an odd number,’ she says. 

‘I don’t know what they thought of me because my arrival was a bit of a bombshell — and I was the only blonde as well. But I looked around and thought, “We’ve got some confident characters here. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes but I’m here to put myself first, for a change.” ’

Janey, who earns her living singing at events and in clubs and pubs, had Will, 20, just a year before separating from his father, who now lives in Edinburgh with his second family. 

Although she has had relationships — and been on ‘dozens of dates’ with men she met online — she has never married or lived with anyone since Will’s dad.

‘I’ve always dreamt of getting married,’ she says. ‘That was the plan with William’s dad but it didn’t work out. 

‘It wasn’t anything he did, we just weren’t right for each other. I’ve had three relationships since then — the last one, which ended in 2021, lasted six years.’

‘But they weren’t proper relationships, were they?’ interjects Will.

‘Well they were, but you might not have thought of them like that,’ replies Janey, a little defensively.

Will, who is studying law at Cardiff University and wants to be a barrister, is ¿very protective¿ of his mum

She does, however, concede that she tends to attract ‘players’, unwilling to commit and always scanning the horizon for a better prospect.

‘They like me because I sing and am bubbly,’ she says. ‘I’m seen as fun to be around but not commit to. 

‘Typically, they are recently divorced, after being married for a long time, lovely but just not ready for another relationship. I feel like a stepping stone to get them back in the market and inevitably end up getting hurt.’

Will, who is studying law at Cardiff University and wants to be a barrister, is ‘very protective’ of his mum but also hoping to ‘hand over the baton’ to a worthy suitor, hence his decision to nominate her for the show.

‘I feel very responsible for her, which I think is common among only children of single mothers,’ he says. ‘It’s quite a special relationship, more like a friend dynamic.

‘Since I’ve moved away, I’ve felt it would be nice to have someone I can trust to look after her, though I do realise it should be the other way around — Mum should be taking a step back from feeling responsible for me.’

In fact, Janey cried every day for a year after her son left home for university. 

Will doesn’t beat about the bush when it comes to summing up the plight of the midlife singleton. 

‘When you get to Mum’s age all the good eggs are already in other people’s baskets,’ he says, making his mother laugh uproariously. ‘So you’ve got to weed through a lot of wrong’uns.’

Will is delighted to play a part in deciding who his mother dates, as well as helping her gain an insight into where she might have been going wrong all these years.

The contestants' children, Mazey, Kaliel, Tia, Kaiya, Zachary, Karli, Jessica and Christian are pictured with Davina McCall

‘Watching her on the screen I could see how she handles conversations, which are meant to be quite heartfelt and sort things out,’ he says.

‘Instead of engaging with them, she’ll chuck in a Catherine Tate joke. She’s very good at deflecting and I think that has got in the way of her meeting the right person.’

As a result of witnessing his mum’s struggles, he tends to want relationships to move on to a more serious footing before girls his age are ready for such commitment.

His friends have teased him for years about how attractive his mother is, sending him photographs she shares on Instagram with messages saying, “Oh Will, your mum looks fit in that.” So he’s gearing up for their reactions to the TV show.

Although Janey can’t reveal whether she finally meets ‘the one’ on the show, I wonder if any of the male contestants caught her eye from the get-go?

‘It sounds awful but I thought all of the men were good-looking!’ she says, giggling.

‘But humour is the No 1 quality for me. I need someone to laugh with. Kindness, loyalty and commitment too, not playing games.

‘Someone once said to me, “No one will ever get between Janey and William” and I thought, “Why should they want to come between us? They should just be with us.” But I could never settle for someone William didn’t like. I need his blessing.’

  • My Mum, Your Dad starts tonight on ITV1 and ITVX at 9pm, and continues on consecutive weekdays for two weeks.


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