I was in Maidstone to find love.
Take Me Out is recorded there. You know Take Me Out. A bloke goes down the "love lift" and has to impress 30 women in front of an audience, girls hit "no likey" if they don't like him, and Paddy McGuinness tries to relate two objects for no reason. You at home, feeling guilty that you are actually enjoying this show, proceed to drink an entire bottle of wine or longingly stare out of a window.
You've probably wondered what it might be like to be a contestant. Well, they need rehearsals to ensure the live show goes without a hitch. And as the girls and guys can't see each other before the real thing, they have a stand-in guy to be the bloke. Usually the guy is a member of the production team. That day, it was me.
There is a problem, though. I'm gay and I have a boyfriend. Telling him that I was going to be a contestant, but "don't worry, this is for a rehearsal, I am not sexually attracted to women and I still love you" was rather weird.
I also did not tell the Take Me Out production team that I was gay and had a boyfriend. This wasn't because I thought they would have a problem with this (they wouldn't), but because I wanted to pretend that I was a LAD for the day, into boobs and everything.
The music I chose to come down the love lift to? "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton. I was only told by email on the way to the studios that day that I needed to choose a song to impress the girls. I was looking through my Spotify playlist and I panicked. My second-choice song was Beyoncé's "Single Ladies".
I was told I would need a talent to perform for the ladies. This worried me, because I hadn't thought of one. I couldn't showcase my only actual skills, which are touch-typing and being able to make a nice chilli con carne.
So I told them my special talent was hula-hooping. I had just a few minutes to spare in Maidstone before arriving at the studio, so I went to a toy store, saw a hula hoop for sale for £3 and thought "Fuck it".
When I got to the studio, I was told I needed a second talent. After turning down a member of the production team's idea that I should maybe fill time by singing, I went with their other idea: skipping.
When the male contestants arrive at Take Me Out, they are initially kept separate from the women. They are kept together in a room near the studio scattered with lads mags and snacks, and with a Wi-Fi connection with a password that includes the words "no likey".
I had a chance to speak to the other contestants. The only thing I really wanted to know was why they wanted to be on this show. One of them told me: "Why not? It's a day, isn't it?"
Then a lovely guy from the production team gave a motivational speech to me and the real contestants. He told us we were the best guys that they could get this year so we should be proud. He also offered the wisdom that "smiles give you miles", before adding, by way of explanation, "We've had really great teeth this year."
I then was escorted to the love lift, which is high above the stage. It is bouncy. When you're up there you're next to three different people, including a lighting guy and someone whose job is simply to psych you up. One of the photos below makes it look as if I am about to have a wee. I apologise.
I was given some instructions at the top of the lift. When I got to the bottom I was to dance forward, then go to the right to show myself off to the ladies there, go to the left and do the same, and go back to the centre and walk back to greet Paddy. Then introduce myself. Like a LAD.
Then Paddy uttered the immortal words, "Single man, reveal yourself."
Dolly Parton started playing. "Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living." The girls started cheering.
The lift started to go down. I completely forgot all of the instructions I had just been told.
The girls saw me and screamed and I couldn't even look at them. Instead of dancing sexually to impress the ladies and strutting over to Paddy, I joyfully skipped and half-galloped in front of them, from side to side, like a 12-year-old child or a horse.
The music then stopped. The studio lapsed into an awkward silence, and I remembered I was supposed to introduce myself: "Hello, I'm Scott, and I'm a writer from London."
Paddy asked, "Are you girls turned on or turned off?"
A small sea of red lights, roughly a third, had been pressed by the girls. My reaction, not really wanting a relationship considering I already had one, was "Ah well".
Paddy then went round to all of the girls, starting with Kirsty, who had pressed her light red. "I'm a bit of a raver and thought that you just weren't that cool enough for me," she said.
Fair enough. But soon after Paddy went to Louise, who had left her light on. She asked me this.
Louise: "Are you religious?"
Louise: "Well, all my dreams have come true."
Bit weird as all I had done was skipped for a bit and said I wasn't religious. I also noticed at this point that I had a bit of my lunch down my trousers.
Two compliments from different women then followed. These were: "Scott, I love how you came down to a bit of Dolly. I feel me and Dolly have got some things in common" and "When you came out you made me feel like a warm chocolate brownie... I just melted on the inside."
It isn't always this easy to pull being straight, is it?
So now it was time for the hula-hooping. I took the hula hoop from near the stage, acting as if this was a really special talent and I knew what I was doing. But under the pressure of doing it in front of production and the girls, I became a bit too aggressive with my hips.
Instead of moving my hips in circles, my hips just went back and forth, back and forth. My method worked. Everyone was cheering. I lifted my arms behind my head. I was in the moment! Then I realised what I had been doing – what my hula-hooping had looked like to everyone else.
My hooping ended up looking like me doing a weird sex thing.
Paddy said, "That was almost so wrong that it was right." "You had a hula hoop in a spin and you had my head in a spin," added another girl. And 19 girls left their lights on. I thought, "This doesn't make any sense."
The only downside was that the girl who said I was her hot brownie that melted her chocolate or something had switched her light off.
So then it was time for the skipping. I'd been dreading it. And I'd been right to. I was shite. I barely managed to jump once without getting tripped up over the string. As a result I said "fuck" several times.
Then... "CONGRATULATIONS SCOTT, YOU'VE GOT YOURSELF A DATE."
Really? Oh god.
One woman said: "I love a bit of athletics, Scott. It was the speed, it was the pace, it was your core. Maybe we could be skipping off to Fernando's."
Another? "I think my heart just skipped a beat."
Seriously. I was just skipping.
Now "the power is in your hand" moment. I had to narrow the girls down to just two by running in front of the others pressing all of their buzzers. The girls would help by pointing away from themselves and shouting.
However, being gay, I had a problem. I'd been paying attention to my hula-hooping and my skipping ability. I had no idea on what grounds to choose these women. Because they were nice? Because they looked good? The least threatening? I had only heard most of them say a sentence or two each.
I stepped forward. It was hell. The women were screaming. I just tried not to look at them while pressing buttons purely at random.
Then it was down to just two girls. I had to ask them a question, so I asked them about the thing they would like to do most in life. One of them, Charlie, said she wanted to jump out of a plane, with me, in Fernando's.
I chose Charlie. "Why?" asked Paddy.
I said: "Just very gorgeous." Saying it felt weird. I also kissed Charlie on the cheeks in the same awkward manner you would kiss a great-aunt at a family occasion.
Then that music kicked in, the music pushing us off to Fernando's. The girls waved as we walked up the stairs. A member of the production team then informed me that I wasn't holding Charlie's hand.
I didn't know what to say to her. I had lied about my reasons for choosing her. I had lied about my sexuality. And she didn't say anything to me either. I couldn't work out whether she'd chosen me for a rehearsal or if it was because she liked me. It didn't seem like either of us knew whether what had just happened was real or not.
When we got the bottom of the stairs, two studio runners took us in two different directions. Neither of us said goodbye.
Maybe I should have followed the advice my taxi driver gave me on the way back to Maidstone station. I mentioned to him I'd just been on Take Me Out. He said that the handsome guys didn't pick the right girls, and this frustrated him. According to him, the man should choose the woman according to three conditions: "Nice shape, nice boobs, nice face."
Well, I'm sorry, Mr Taxi Driver, but I'm not sure that would have worked.