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First Dates star India Willoughby reveals why Strictly is 'terrified' to cast trans person as she teases 'completely opposite' side to herself – exclusive

The LBC presenter will be appearing on a Valentine's Day special of First Dates


India Willoughby in a tartan outfit© Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock
Matthew Moore
Online News Writer & Diversity and Inclusion Lead
February 13, 2024
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We're well and truly into the new series of First Dates and for its Valentine's special, the popular Channel 4 dating show welcomed news presenter India Willoughby into its famous restaurant.

Over the past few years, India has had a journey of self-discovery after coming out as trans in 2017 and initially dismissing the wider LGBTQ+ community, something she now "regrets". Following a stint on GB News, the broadcaster has since joined LBC and is often seen on X defending trans rights, something that has seen her become the most "trolled person in Britain".

WATCH: India Willoughby stars in First Dates Valentine's special

Speaking to HELLO! about why she decided to take on the show, India joked: "I was running out [of time], I'm not getting any younger." She continued: "I'd never dated before, so I thought: 'If you're going to jump in, go in the deep end'. And what better than Britain's premiere dating show, I've always been a fan of First Dates and I couldn't have picked a better route to go in on my first date."

The 58-year-old heaped praise on First Dates for how the show represents diverse communities, sharing: "First Dates has a great reputation for supporting people from different walks of life, be they trans, gay, disabled, whatever and they've really kept up that tradition.

India Willoughby in an orange dress© David Fisher/Shutterstock
India praised First Dates for its diverse cast

"Everything about getting involved with First Dates has been positive, it's given me extra confidence in that area because you see a lot of rubbish written about trans people, and how we're spoken about is horrendous. It's very easy for people who maybe spend a lot of time on social media to think that's how the real world views trans people, but it's not."

India continued: "It's great that Channel 4 and shows like First Dates actually give us a chance at representation because we're locked out of the news world. If a trans person is involved in a news show or a newspaper it's invariably that they're on trial or being asked to defend themselves."

India Willoughby giving a speech© Chris J Ratcliffe
The star speaks passionately on trans issues

Despite having a great time on the show, India admitted that she prepared for a negative response to her appearance on the show, but thankfully she was already prepared to brush it off. "I don't care, they can say what they like, they can call me whatever names they want," she smiled.

"I'm really proud of who I am and there is nothing to be ashamed of being trans and I would encourage more trans people to come forward and get involved with the big shows because that's the route to breaking down all the myths and rubbish that's said about us. Once the world sees we're normal people, then all the lies fall away."

India Willoughby in a grey dress© S Meddle/ITV/Shutterstock
India is prepared for a negative response to her quest for love

She explained that appearing on shows like Strictly Come Dancing or The Traitors would be the "key to acceptance" but opined that Strictly might be too "terrified" to cast a trans contestant because of the possible backlash, something which happened with Layton Williams on last year's series when the Everybody's Talking About Jamie star danced in drag on several occasions.

"Strictly are terrified of having a trans person on because of the kickback and that's a real shame considering it's one of those shows that has a massive LGBT following," India explained. "They flirted with it with Layton but even having Layton on, wearing a dress, it was like World War III, because all of the knuckle draggers came out of the woodwork and started attacking Layton, just for wearing an item of clothing."

Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin danced to Vampire by Olivia Rodrigo© BBC
Layton would take to the Strictly stage in drag

When asked whether she could see herself strutting her stuff on the popular show, India joked: "Absolutely, I'm a brilliant dancer, as everyone who's seen me throw a shake will testify."

India's experience on the show was a 'first' for her, with the star admitting that she'd never gone on a date as a transwoman. Speaking about her nerves, she shared: "There's a lot of fear involved in dating for trans people, because you just don't know how it's going to go. You also have that added layer of insecurity about how your date will react when they find out [you're trans].

India Willoughby in a car© Instagram
Will India find love with a driving instructor?

"Now, thankfully, in the real world, most people are okay about that, but there is a chance that somebody might swing a punch at you. It's quite scary even figuring out when to tell your date that you're trans, do you tell them at the very start, do you tell them at the very end, because for regular people, when you go on a date, you don't say, 'Hi, my name is Susan and these boobs, just so we're clear, they cost me £5000, I've got a plastic hip', you just don't go into your medical history."

India added: "I think honesty is the best policy and there's nothing wrong with being trans. It's not something that anybody should be ashamed of."

The presenter also revealed that viewers, who have often seen her passionately defending trans rights, would get to see a whole new side to her, explaining: "The best thing about this whole experience is that for once I'm finally able to be myself. On TV, viewers have got the wrong idea about me, because normally, TV throws me into very confrontational situations and I have to stick my elbows out and fight my corner. People can think of me as a spiky person, whereas I'm the complete opposite."

India Willoughby in a kitchen holding a mug with a rainbow design© Instagram
The presenter is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community

It's not just ahead of Valentine's Day that India's episode of First Dates airs, but also during LGBT History Month, and the presenter used the opportunity to reflect on her history with the wider LGBTQ+ community and to seek amends for some of her past comments.

"My relationship with LGBT has always been really complicated," she explained. "Before I transitioned, I didn't know anyone from that world and I had no understanding of the background. I just wanted to look after myself and I lashed out a bit when I was publicly known as a trans newsreader.

"I had a lot of LGBT organisations getting in touch with me and asking me to fight their cause, saying: 'You shouldn't have said that you should have said this'. And I was thinking: 'Well, who are you to tell me? This is none of your business and I'm going to do it my way.' The things I said at that time were absolutely awful about LGBT people and I really regret it.

"If anyone epitomises what woke is, it's me because I've gone through that curve of actually: 'Oh, my god', and opening my eyes and ears and taking the time to learn about different communities. If you look at the sort of things that I was saying in 2017 and what I say now, it's a different universe. I was very new at the time and I was straight into the spotlight and I had a lot of stuff bottled up that just poured out frustration and maybe anger as well."

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