What happened when I was accepted onto a celebrity dating app

Despite appearances, I’m not a regular at “ladies’ luncheons”. Most days I barely have time to eat lunch, never mind get on the Tube and head to a restaurant for two hours. Ladies who lunch clearly have way more time on their well-manicured hands and, although I’m not suggesting popping out for a long lunch is a bad thing, I’m just jealous – as in, seething jealous. There’s nothing I’d love more than to pull up a pew at Scott’s for the afternoon and watch the world go by, because champers and langoustines is an awfully good diet for a woman my age.

Signalling you’re either retired or senior enough to not have to scoff two oatcakes and half a tub of hummus at your desk on a daily basis, a leisurely mid-week lunch is the ultimate money-can’t-buy luxury. I mean, who needs a Hermès Birkin bag or a Chanel bouclé jacket when you can quaff lobster at 2pm on a Tuesday?

I’ve said “no thanks” to so many lunches, I’m now no longer invited. Not being invited is almost as bad as having to get up at 5am to ensure I can meet my deadlines in order to go to the damned lunch in the first place. Fomo (fear of missing out) is why I replied “Yes” when a good friend invited me to attend what I knew would be a fabulous lunch at Isabel Mayfair.

Isabel serves up exquisite food and old-school elegance in equal measure. Gathered to celebrate the launch of sustainable swimwear brand Medina, the 20-seat table of ladies (plus one gay man) was abuzz with gossip. To my right was the tablescaper extraordinaire Fiona Leahy, to my left fashion influencer Betty Batchz.

As with any event I’m invited to, the conversation soon turned to dating and, more specifically, the invitation-only dating app, Raya, which I joined last year. Raya vets and vetoes wannabe members based on a) if you’re famous and b) if you’re “connected”.

It’s a nail-biting experience: imagine The Hunger Games and you’re Katniss. A friend who recently asked me to “vouch” for her, was sent to Siberia – aka the Raya waiting list. She had yet to be granted access to the hallowed selection of men that include famous photographers, authors, actors, musicians, footballers and business leaders (interesting ones doing cool stuff, as opposed to David Brent types), she emailed me nervously to check if I’d said nice things about her (of course I had!).

My verified status on Instagram may have given me a shoe in the door. Or maybe it’s the fact I’m followed by editors. But I was granted access to an assortment of crème de la crème men within a couple of days. I know, get me!

The first person to pop up on my Raya feed was a well-known TV celebrity who I’d snogged in the early 2000s. Screaming loudly, I hit the block button. Next up was an A-list actor from LA who I’ve always fancied, but come on, I mean, really? I hit the X which means “No, thanks”. Next up an ex-boyfriend with whom things ended very badly. Deciding Raya’s algorithms were conspiring against me, I quickly closed the app and went for a long lie down.

In the months that followed, I persevered, but garnered zero interest from anyone at all. As in, not one single person, which made me wonder if I was doing it right and also whether I’m just too old. After moaning to a married friend, she asked one of her single male friends in his late 40s whether he was having any luck on Raya. “Chris is having the time of his life with model-type-looking women in their 20s and 30s!” she WhatsApped. “Ask him what it’s like dating our age,” I replied. She said, “Oh, I already have, and he did that thing where you extend your right forefinger pretending it’s a knife which you proceed to slice open your own throat.” Ah, I see, I’m dead to men my age on Raya. Gotcha. Time to leave, methinks.

A fabulous French woman I know named Garance Doré told me recently via Instagram message that she met her Scottish boyfriend on Raya (Garance is my age, my level of attractive, as in not model looks but not a munter either). I decided to give the app another go. I hit the “open” button in the app store, fully expecting it to reload, but non, the Raya judges still had to see if I was eligible enough to re-join the throngs of women in thongs. Somehow me and my big-girl pants were allowed back in, and with the celebrity snog and the ex both blocked, I confidently opened up the app, which is when I realised I didn’t really understand how it worked. I began hitting the heart button willy-nilly and was soon “connected” with eligible men located all over the globe. In order to “connect”, they apparently have to like you too, which in the digital world, stands for not much.

After several hits of the heart button, the folks at Raya told me that in order to protect “the community”, I could no longer access the app (totally slut shamed), unless I paid a one-off fee, which, fuelled by lady petrol, I did. Except no one wrote back. Not one person. Total tumbleweed.

Fuelled by more lady petrol, I mentioned my Raya fail at the ladies’ lunch and the women seated before me revealed they had experienced the same thing. Lots of “connecting” but zero messaging. As for dating action – forget about it. Maybe I was simply too old for the app and perhaps Garance’s experience was a one-off?

The reason I couldn’t believe my ears (or eyes) is because Betty, a good 15 years my junior, is drop-dead gorgeous, and so if she can’t pull on Raya, I might as well head to Saga magazine to see if there’s a singles section. “Pass your phone,” laughed Betty. “Let me see who you’re connected to.” I passed my phone and the entire table took control. “Do you like him?” asked another beautiful woman wearing a green goddess dress on a Thursday lunchtime. “Sure,” I replied. “Him?” “No.” “Him?” “Erm, he’s too good looking; there’s no way he’ll like me.” Oh, stop it, she cried, hitting the heart button, as moments later CONNECTED (actually written in caps) flashed across the screen. We all screamed! A Raya-induced clap filled the restaurant with a sort of audible Mexican wave. “OMG!” I yelped, grabbing my phone and immediately typing “hello” in the conversation box.

As I placed my phone on the table, I noticed the clapping and chatter faded away to deathly silence. I looked up to find four beautifully manicured hands covering even more perfect mouths. “Did you just type ‘hello’ the minute you connected?” asked Betty, from behind her hand. Yes, I always do that. “Oh my God,” went the table in unison. “Oh my god, she needs help… Raya help…”

Unbeknown to me, there’s a 10-day period on Raya to get in touch with who you’ve connected with, and women (I am reliably told) never, ever make the first move. Never.

I had no idea this is how the rich, clever and devastatingly beautiful Raya people operated. No one shared the rules, so no wonder no man ever wrote back to me, a woman who’d messaged within 10 seconds of connecting. I won’t make the same mistake again, no way, but I might start lying about my age.

I turned 48 last week. Pass the Saga mag… and the garibaldis.

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