The Language of Love – Interview with Ricky Merino

He’s a singer, actor, TV host, big fan of the Spice Girls and co-host of Channel 4’s new reality dating series The Language of Love alongside Davina McCall.

We caught up with Ricky Merino to ask him all about the new series and his busy year of releasing music and stepping out as “the Spanish Patrick Swayze”.

The Language of Love starts 4 January at 10pm on Channel 4 and All 4.

Many viewers in the UK won’t be familiar with you yet. How would you like to introduce yourself?
I’m Ricky Merino, I’m a singer and an actor. Here in Spain, people started to know me because I was a contestant on a talent show (Operación Triunfo) which is kinda like The X Factor of Spain. I’m so pleased to be a host now on British television. It’s a dream come true. I can’t believe it’s happening.

In your own words, tell us a bit about what The Language of Love is about.
It starts like a dating show, but to me it’s more than that. It has some bits of social experiment. For example, the daters need to break the language barrier to have deep connections between them and that’s not easy.

How did the daters initially get along with the challenge of not knowing each other’s languages?
Some of them were really open to the experiment. A few of them were not that happy in the beginning, because they came thinking they were going to be in a conventional dating show and this revelation blew their minds. We have a great cast and every one of them wanted to give the experiment a chance. We have some really funny moments in the beginning when they didn’t know they wouldn’t be speaking the same language.

What type of activities did the daters do to get to know each other?
We had these tareas románticas – tasks that they had to do to improve their connections. They have things like yoga time as couples to get to know each other. They did something called soul gazing, where they had to look into each other’s eyes, and there were tears! I’m very proud of some of the tareas románticas because British people will get to know a bit of my country and my culture: lots of them are related to Spain.

What do you think the daters found the most difficult about getting to know someone who doesn’t speak the same language?
The first days were the most difficult, because they had no idea how to explain themselves. For example, when you meet someone for the first time, you ask them for their age and they didn’t know how to do it, so that was frustrating for them. It was fun for me and Davina to watch. But you’ll see as the time goes on that they really build strong connections.

Did you think the Spanish men or Spanish women would have more success in the experiment?
There’s one thing about the Spanish people that I think is very different from the British people and that is that we are very open from the very first moment, which is very good for the experiment, but also we can be a little bit rude or a bit loud. But we are very easy-going people so that really worked for the experiment. I don’t think that would be a difference for women or men. I think in this show, the men were a little crazier but all of them were really open.

How did you get on with your co-host Davina? It seems like you two really hit it off.
It was love at first sight! I met her a couple of days before we started the show. It felt like we’d known each other for ages. She was the perfect co-host. I was so lucky.

Did you find you had anything surprising in common with Davina?
I’m a huge fan of British music, especially the Spice Girls, and Davina knows some of the Spice Girls, so that was huge for me. I told Davina that I remembered that she was the host of the Brit Awards in 1999 and she was the one that introduced Geri Halliwell’s performance of Bag It Up – the one where Geri danced between two legs, it was iconic – and the moment I met Davina, I needed to tell her. After I met her, I called my friends and told them “Oh my god, I met Davina!”. I know her because of the British culture and also from MTV Select, because I was a teenager who watched MTV and I remember her on that.

And you’re both into your exercise, did you get to work out together?
No, she was in one hotel and I was in a different hotel so we didn’t get a chance to have time together to work out. I’m keen on crossfit, so I’d love to have Davina as a crossfit partner anytime.

Did the British daters or Davina teach you any interesting English expressions you didn’t know?
More than words, they taught me so much about the British culture, because I had so many questions. I’m from Mallorca and I’m used to meeting British people. So, for example, I asked Davina, “Why do you British people always wear socks with flip flops when you come to Mallorca?” and “What is gravy made of?” and she didn’t know.

Did you teach any Spanish expressions to Davina?
A lot of them. One was “picaflor”, which we use for that kind of guy who goes from one girl to another. We use it for guys and not girls. It’s like a hummingbird that goes to a flower and dips its beak and then flies off to another flower.

The series is shot in a beautiful countryside finca in Andalusia – did you get much time to enjoy the surroundings?
Not really, because during the time we were doing the show I was in rehearsal for a musical I am in – Ghost: The Musical, in Madrid – so every night I had to travel over to Madrid for rehearsal and then come back to Málaga where we were filming The Language of Love. It was a lot of traveling, so I didn’t get time to enjoy Málaga, but it was worth it. Two weeks before filming there were some bad wildfires in the province, pretty close to the finca, I think it was the biggest fires we had had in Spain for ages. It was pretty messy.

For the Brits, this show is all about finding love overseas. Do you think a holiday romance is a something everyone should experience?
It’s in the movies. It’s in all the series and the TV shows. It’s something you need to live. I have had a holiday romance in the past, but not with somebody from another country. A holiday romance doesn’t need to be the final romance in your life – it’s not like you have to marry that person, but you need to experiment with that.

I think it’s the way that you’re out of your home and you’re really out of your comfort zone. If you travel outside your country, then the culture’s different, the food is different, the smell is different, the heat is different. Everything is different to you. I think that all affects you emotionally, and it affects the way you socialise.

Do you speak any other languages besides English and Spanish?
I speak Catalan, because I’m from Mallorca and we speak Catalan there. I tried to learn German, but it was impossible for me. I tried for a year and I barely learnt a word: “Ich heisse Ricky”, that was it. English and Spanish are okay for me. My sister is amazing, she speaks five or six languages. I speak three.

Would you say it’s important for people to learn a second language?
Yes, definitely. This show is the proof of that. We live in a global society where everyone is connected. You Brits are lucky because you speak the universal language, so that makes things a little easier, but it could happen that you speak to someone who doesn’t speak English. It can help you a lot if you know another language.

Have you ever had an awkward or embarrassing experience with someone who didn’t speak the same language as you?
I’m from Mallorca and for a long time I worked as a singer at different hotels around the island, so I met a lot of tourists. I could speak with all of them in English, but I must confess I had some issues with understanding your northern accents. It was like a different language! There was one time I was singing, playing a Robbie Williams tribute, and people who were a little bit drunk came to the stage to speak to me and I remember responding “Uh huh… Okay… Yeah” but… I couldn’t get a word. They could have been being rude about me or they could have been saying they were in love with me, but to me they may as well have been speaking Chinese. But it was very rare – I didn’t have so many problems in the past.

As a musician, do you think music is a gateway to love?
Oh yes, music is the universal language. It can express everything: Every emotion, every feeling. you can talk to someone through songs and music. You can talk about love through Adele’s music for example. I’m telling MY story, but when I release a song it becomes EVERYBODY’S story and that’s what makes music so special.

What do you like to do with your spare time when you’re not working?
I’m obsessed with crossfit. I do crossfit all the time. I’m always in my box training. I’d love to see Davina do some crossfit training with me – she’s in really great shape.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I just released my self-titled first solo album and I’m now promoting that in Spain, and I’m the theatre in Madrid with Ghost: The Musical playing the male lead, Sam Wheat. I’m the Spanish Patrick Swayze! It’s a lot of things going on. I’ve had a busy year. It didn’t start as a busy year, but by the summer it all came at once.

On your new album you’ve got some collaborations with two music acts we know in the UK – Ruth Lorenzo, who was on The X Factor UK and Eurovision, and Conchita Wurst, also from Eurovision. What was the experience like?
I love Ruth! I knew her from The X Factor. She was living in the UK and she wasn’t famous in Spain, but it became huge news over here that a Spanish singer was doing so well in the UK X Factor. I was very proud when she represented Spain in Eurovision. Then when I was a contestant on the talent show I was on, she came on it as a guest and after that we started talking a lot and became close friends. For me, it’s huge having a collaboration with her. I think she has one of the most incredible voices here in Spain

And another Eurovision star, Conchita Wurst. What was she like to work with?
Yes, from the same year of Eurovision. Conchita is so funny, I love her. We did a cover of Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat. I really wanted someone from Europe who was an LGBT artist to collaborate on it and she was absolutely perfect. I went to Austria to record it and it was so easy. I think she is one of the artists in Europe that we should feel so proud of having.

Are you looking forward to being introduced to a UK audience?
Yes, it’s a dream come true. Since I was a little child, maybe because of my love of the Spice Girls, I always had my eye on British television and music so it’s going to be amazing being a host on UK television. I’m so lucky that my first time I’m going to be on British TV is going to be next to Davina. I knew Davina, but I didn’t realise until we were filming what an icon she is on British TV and that she was the host of Big Brother for many years. I saw the admiration people had for her during filming of the series – all the British daters and the crew absolutely loved Davina. I’m so lucky to have her as a co-host.

Do you believe love is more than just the words we say?
It reminds me of Ghost. Because my character, Sam, can’t say “I love you” and he’s in love in Molly. Absolutely, love is more than just saying those three words. Sometimes it’s difficult. We should take care of those we love with acts, not only with words. Words are the easy way. I can tell someone “I love you” and not feel it, but I need to show my real feelings.