Channel 4’s most widely-anticipated and immensely-adored dating show is back for a brand new series.
Alongside a fresh batch of unlucky-in-love-rs, who have taken to Manchester’s dating hotspot in the hope of being matched with ‘the one’, real-life Cupid maître d’ Fred Sirieix is also returning to our screens alongside bustling barman, Merlin Griffiths.
As well as being known for creating bountiful beverages and putting the nervous newbies at ease before their dates, the 46-year-old mixologist has lived a rather interesting life off-camera.
Early life and bartending career
Cheltenham-born Merlin started life behind bars in 1995… no, not in that way. He began shaking and stirring cocktails in London’s Soho at infamous dive bar, the Doghouse.
Having mastered his trade to a level of perfection over the next several years, largely in areas around the West End and Soho, specifically at Little Havana, Voodoo Rooms and iconic nightclub The Velvet Room, he moved into management in the Portobello Road region of the city.
Here, he worked under the watchful eye of Million Pound Menu’s Charlie McVeigh as well as numerous high-profile individuals of the hospitality industry, learning the importance of good service and celebrity status cocktails.
From there, the beverage guru landed a role with 5* Indian hotel chain, Taj Hotels, moving to live in Bangalore for two years as their Specialist Bartender. Whilst here, Bacardi Global Brands then headhunted him to be their Global Ambassador, as did Bombay Sapphire Gin and Oxley Gin.
During this time, Merlin achieved several accolades in various prestigious cocktail competitions including Bacardi Capital Cocktail 2004, Drinks International Cocktail Challenge 2005 and Angostura Global Cocktail Competition 2006.
Partner of 10 years, London pub and TV career
It was during one of his impressive cocktail competition wins that Merlin met his partner Lucile, over a decade ago.
Since they met, the two have welcomed one child, a now seven-year-old daughter, Alix, and also jointly took over a London pub, The Priory Tavern, in Kilburn back in 2010, with reportedly takes influences from both classic British pub food and their time working together in Canada and America. The establishment later won the 2015’s Regional Cellar Keeper of the Year.
Three years after he became the landlord of his own pub, Merlin received a message from a crew member of an upcoming Channel 4 dating series called First Dates.
Speaking to Now! last year about how he ended up on the show, he explained, “It was all very random! One of the crew, called Molly, sent me a message asking me to come to a casting, saying, ‘I’ve heard you’re a bartender and not so bad behind the bar, so would you like to come for a casting?’, and I thought, ‘I’ve done some interesting bartending jobs in my time, so why not?'” Ever since, he’s welcomed the guests and puts them at ease over a delicious cocktail or two in the restaurant of love.
In August last year, Griffiths was diagnosed with bowel cancer, with the doctors telling him he has a 75% chance of living beyond five years.
He admitted to initially believing the stomach pain that ad developed in months prior had been caused by scar tissue in his stomach from a car accident when in his 20s, however medics at Northampton General Hospital soon located a 4.5cm Stage 3 tumour in his bowels.
“I think it’s just important to raise awareness,” he opened up to The Mirror last year. “Especially with certain cancers which can sometimes feel slightly more embarrassing than others.
“If your instincts are telling you you’ve got a problem or you think there’s a problem that needs checking, don’t hesitate. One in two of us will possibly get cancer within our lifetime.
“It’s strange what goes through your head the first time you see your very own tumour – it’s definitely something a little bit 2001 Space Odyssey, ‘wow, oh my goodness, look at that monolithic thing inside of me’.
“Humour kicks in then as well. I started telling myself, ‘you know what, if this was an alien abduction at least they’d have the good manners to wipe my memory’ – sadly, in this case, not, and so from there you start learning how to deal with it.”
The best-loved barman described telling his wife and daughter, “I said, ‘Dad’s got cancer’. She said, ‘Is that bad, Dad?’
“I said, ‘Yes, it’s very serious but I think it should be okay. Modern medicine’s great and if anything changes I’ll let you know’.
“Lucile was working the day I got my diagnosis. I called her in the car on the way home from the hospital. I said, ‘Listen sweetie, we’ve found out what it is. It’s a malignant tumour and I need chemo. Of course she was incredibly upset.”
Griffiths also revealed that his First Dates co-stars have been more than supportive since he disclosed the details of his illness.
“Fred [Sirieix] was lovely and encouraging. He asked me how it has changed my life. I told him, ‘You either let it or you don’t. If you let it, it can take you down some pretty dark places’.
“CiCi [Coleman] and Grant [Urquhart] were both shocked. Grant said, ‘Christ, man, this sort of thing always seems to happen to the best of people’. That was very sweet.”
His oncologist reportedly hopes to remove the tumour within the next number of weeks, with further treatment to follow.
He has been appearing well on the latest series of First Dates which started last week.
First Dates continues on Thursday, January 27 at 9pm on Channel 4.
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