On Monday evening, George Dowell became an instant and unlikely heartthrob.
After an appearance on Channel 4 reality hit The Undateables, the 23-year old ex-footballer won the hearts of viewers nationwide, who took to social media to voice their support and admiration.
The Undateables, now in its fifth series, sees adults with disabilities or learning difficulties set up on dates and then followed in their romantic endeavours by a camera crew. Dowell, who was paralysed from the chest down in a car accident several years ago and is now confined to a wheelchair, signed up after feeling it was ready to get back in the game.
“This was actually the first time I’d dated in about five years – ever since the accident,” Dowell tells me, recalling the car crash that resulted in his paralysis.
When he was just 17 years old, Dowell and several of his friends were involved in an accident when the car they were travelling in lost control on a dual carriageway and rolled off the road into a field.
Dowell, who was playing for Sussex-based team Worthing FC at the time, broke his neck and sustained spinal cord injuries. “I was in Salisbury spinal unit for 10 months,” he says. “They were great in there and made me realise there is a life after such injuries.”
A life which, Dowell has now decided, should include dating. But after the twitterstorming response his appearance on The Undateables received, it would appear he needs no help with the ladies at all.
“I was really surprised by all the tweets and messages,” Dowell reveals. “I certainly wasn’t expecting the programme, and my appearance on it, to get the reaction it got. To be honest, I was just completely overwhelmed with all the positive messages and support. The amount of attention it has got is so unexpected – so many people are interested.”
But, far from wanting to talk about his own personal experiences – Dowell remains coy about his current relationship status – the ex-footballer wanted to address the wider issues surrounding disabled dating.
“I know The Undateables is try to break down the stigma attached to disabilities in dating, but I think it’s still there. Now that I’ve been on the show, I know people are saying that the fact I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t bother them, but I still think that when I’m going down the street, they wouldn’t look at me and immediately think of me as dating material.
“They’ll always still see my disability first,” Dowell continues, “and won’t think, ‘oh, I want to go on a date with him’. They don’t see me in that way.
“So I think the main thing that’s come out of my appearance on the show – even though the positive tweets and support were really nice and unexpected – is that when people do see me now, they know I’m looking to date and might now approach me – whereas before they didn’t know.
“I think that’s good for everyone who’s in a similar situation to mine as well – it eliminates the need to explain an injury or reveal that, despite these injuries, we do in fact want to date like anyone else.”
However, the 23-year old is careful not to get ahead of himself.
“It’s early days. As I said, I haven’t been on the dating scene whatsoever and therefore I still don’t really know how being in a wheelchair is perceived on dates in general. This was my first date, so we’ll have to see what happens.”
Source: The Telegraph