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season of love First Dates' Mateo Saina: 'We got engaged, we had a child, then the pandemic happened & now we're having a lockdown baby'

Mateo Saina from First Dates Ireland is ready for the season of love. He tells us about filming during the pandemic, the show's success and his excitement at becoming a dad once again

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Mateo Saina pictured with the First Dates Ireland crew, Alice, Ethan and Pete

Mateo Saina pictured with the First Dates Ireland crew, Alice, Ethan and Pete

Mateo Saina pictured with the First Dates Ireland crew, Alice, Ethan and Pete

To many, Mateo Saina is the gatekeeper of reality TV romance. The enigmatic maître D' has shepherded scores of singletons towards the path of true love on our screens.

Some might argue that fronting a show like First Dates Ireland, which is now in its sixth series, makes the Croatian somewhat of a matchmaking expert.

So in the build-up to what is billed as the most romantic day of the year, the doting dad is surely planning to make a statement this Valentine's Day? Wrong.

"I wouldn't say Vjerana thinks I am too romantic," he says of his long-term partner with a laugh.

"For Valentine's Day I will try to make a nice dinner, probably something she won't like," he chuckles. "What I won't be doing is ordering clothes because I will get the size wrong again and be in even more trouble."

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First Dates Ireland charismatic maitre D’ Mateo Saina

First Dates Ireland charismatic maitre D’ Mateo Saina

First Dates Ireland charismatic maitre D’ Mateo Saina

The couple, already proud parents to their daughter Isabella Luna (2), are now set to welcome their second child in May, so at least for now, grand gestures of love are off the table.

Cool, candid and always collected, what Mateo will at least attest to is that it is possible to keep love locked down during the pandemic.

He adds: "You spend the whole day together, it's new for all of us and we are not designed to be locked in the house all the time. We don't have a clear road in front of us so that makes it very difficult.

"But it is possible to keep the romance alive in lockdown, without even going into details, I put my ego aside and always look for solutions.

"I would also recommend a lot of sex, that will lead to a healthy relationship," he quips with a laugh.

"I have learned a lot from my mum and father, you choose your lady and regardless of how hard it is, you stick to it.

"If it is broken, fix it. It might be an old-fashioned way of thinking but that's how I think."

Mateo may have popped the question over three years ago, but there's no immediate plans to organise a wedding.

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Mateo Saina, with partner Vjerana

Mateo Saina, with partner Vjerana

Mateo Saina, with partner Vjerana

"We got engaged, we had a child and that (the wedding) wasn't a priority and then corona happened and now we have another baby on the way. The last thing we think about is us."

Asked if he is ready to welcome his latest addition, he says: "I guess it is a corona baby. Nobody has a plan and nobody is ready for children - not for the first, second or third.

"Right now it's like we have two kids in the house because we have a new puppy. She will grow up with my daughter, they love each other, they are always up to something which is why I'm so busy.

"Isabella is two-and-a-half, she is quite like me. She has her own set of rules, nobody listens to me in the house anymore. I need to go back to work."

Relishing the free time he now has with his daughter, Mateo says: "You have to make the most of the free time that you have now. Before I wouldn't have been able to spend as much time with her because of work, but now I have all the time in the world to spend with her."

Reflecting on the impact the pandemic has had on his beloved restaurant industry, the TV star says he is hopeful businesses can recover.

"It is not an easy time for anyone. After this pandemic, within a year we are going to see how many restaurants are still open and see who has survived."

Amid the devastation of the virus, Mateo hopes the fly-on-the-wall dating show will give viewers a much-needed boost. And as always, he promises the smash hit RTÉ show will make us laugh, cry and cringe in equal measure.

"It has become an Irish institution and it is a genuine product.

"It's a place where people make real connections.

"We barely made it with filming because they closed the country on the second lockdown and that was the last day of filming.

"With all the stress I think we did a phenomenal job. Everyone felt comfortable, there was masks and the tables were bigger.

"We made it our little bubble and it worked perfectly and we did our jobs and made the daters feel special.

"There a lot of great characters on this series, there is a lot to look forward to."

As always, he takes no credit for the success of the show.

"Maybe I come across as having a great job and being on TV, but I do a job.

"I deal with the public. I am not a real estate agent or a banker. I am a normal person that provides normal pay for his family and this is the way I pay my bills.

"I am not crying that I am not a billionaire.

"I am human being just like everyone else and I am grateful. I am happy with everything I have."

Check out First Dates Ireland, on RTÉ Two, this Thursday, February 11 at 9.30pm

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