We’re all rooting for Julie Adenuga, the host of Catfish UK. She laughs when I say this. “Do you know how much pressure that is? I’m like everyone’s cousin.”
It’s funny because it’s true. You can’t help but celebrate her finding the spotlight where she clearly belongs. She’s the sister of the Black British music dynasty (her brothers are artists JME and Skepta) yet she still manages to be down to earth and relatable. Our girl even wears gele on the red carpet. When we meet to discuss her next big gig as the co-host of the new MTV show, she makes me feel as if we have been tight for years. She pronounces my name perfectly and gently pokes fun, by the end of the conversation it feels like the natural next step is for us to go for cocktails.
She’s taking her first foray into mainstream television presenting. It comes 10 years after Nev Schulman’s US version first launched and spoon-fed wild stories of catfishes to a world greedy for dating drama. Changing the public lexicon forever, the cultural phenomenon, ‘catfishing’ describes the process of luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. In the US TV show, Nev and his partners help lovestruck individuals investigate and track down their online sweethearts, often with jaw-dropping results. Quotes like: “You shoulda never called me a fat ass Kelly Price!” will never leave our brains.
The presenter wants viewers to watch the show through an empathetic lens. “Anyone I said ‘I’m hosting catfish, UK’ to, their first reaction was ‘oh my gosh, it’s gonna be so funny’. That’s their first reaction. And I look at them,” she says before pausing. “These are real emotions.” She also understands how the road to dating someone is often paved with half-truths as she’s had a few people lie to her about knowing her two brothers without knowing she’s related to them (“now you look like the biggest clown of all time”).
We all learnt the rules of the game from Nev: reverse Google image search people if you’re unsure, video call them, ignore people with only one picture because it’s 2021 and everyone has a camera phone. However, through working on the show Julie reveals she’s learnt a new one: “Tagged photos really became our friends. We’ve had profiles sometimes when we see they’ve got 2,000 followers and only one person has tagged you. What’s going on there?”
Like the original, the UK edition is shocking yet heartwarming, hilarious yet sad. But the British context definitely changes the game. In the first episode, we meet Emma, whose search for answers sends the gang on a wild goose chase through England but it becomes an international mystery. Julie brings her familiar warmth and straight-talking nature to the proceedings, and co-host Oobah Butler is a delightful contrast with his Boris Johnson-adjacent hairstyle, razor-sharp perceptiveness and sensitivity.
After doing a full day of press, Julie is still in high spirits when we chat over Zoom. Here she gives me sisterly advice as I recount my own brush with a catfish, top tips on how to pree successfully and what it was like to take on this new role.
gal-dem: Lets start with the fact that I was catfished
Julie Adenuga: When did this happen?
I met this guy from Ghana right. I was thinking ‘rah we’re gonna do up Kente get ready’. He said he’s single and later he drops that he has kids and an ex-wife that has gone off and married somebody else, and the kids are in Ghana. We go on the date and this man is doing the most, he’s like toasting to us and I’m thinking ‘rah is this me yeah?’
No one has ever toasted to us. This is live.
I was thinking wow. A few weeks later he followed me on Clubhouse and I saw he had a Twitter account I hadn’t seen before. I see that he has a YouTube series with his four pickin [pidgin for children] and his wife. He has four kids in North London, G! Not Ghana.
Why didn’t you come on the show? Because if I found a donny living in North with four kids and a wife I would have lost my mind.
I know. Anyway congratulations on being the co-host of Catfish UK, we’re so excited for you! How was it?
I’m one of those people that likes to know all of the information that is available before I decide what route I’m going to take. But stepping into TV, the first day we were shooting the first episode – straight in. At the beginning, I wouldn’t say I was scared. I think my natural reaction to things is to just be frustrated. But the team of people that we’ve been working with made me feel like I can be myself. There have been times when I’ve gotten angry and I thought I’m gonna get in trouble. But my producer would say, ‘Well done, Jules.’ And I’m thinking if I was in school, I’d be in a lot of trouble right now.
How was it working with Oobah?
I’m actually happy that I ended up being with someone that I’d never met before. It’s just been a blessing in disguise that we’ve been able to start our friendship from scratch and the show from scratch at the same time. It’s almost like as our friendship grows, the show grows. It feeds into the show and where it’s going to go. It’s been a really amazing experience because we’re both on the same page.
“The Catfish is always in control of the situation. So if you turn it around on them, and you come out of nowhere, they’ll trip up if they’re not real”
Based on the trailer you can see there is definitely going to be some shocking moments – without giving too much away, can you tell us a moment in the series that spun you?
Okay so there was a moment when we were filming [the first episode] where I said, ‘Ah, why did he have to be Nigerian?!’ There was also a girl that we filmed with who immediately felt like my younger sister. I just wanted to hug her all the time. She kept saying things that reminded me of what I used to say about myself when I was growing up – how she didn’t think that she was deserving of love. I was fighting back tears for so long. I just wanted to say to her, ‘No bro, you’re amazing.’ I was holding it back for ages but then she started crying and I literally started to Kim Kardashian ugly cry.
How are we 10 years in and people are still catfishing and being successfully catfished in this day and age?
As much as it was crazy 10 years ago when people didn’t know much about catfishing then it’s actually super crazy now, because we’ve been using the internet for so long. Some things are second nature to us; we don’t realise that we’re actually deceiving people. I’ve got friends who facetune their pictures, who say that they’re doing certain things in their bio – it’s not true, but they don’t think it’s a big deal. All of these things still count as catfishing. So one of the most important things about the show for me is that people are going to learn and check their habits. But on a lighter note. I’ve learned a lot of stuff about preeing. I used to think I was the best pree-er. Now I’m the preeing queen.
What makes the UK breed of catfish different to the US breeds? For fans of the US original, what is different about the UK Context?
In the US Catfish everybody’s a lot more gregarious and funnily enough in the UK version, I’m that person. British people are British people, you know we don’t say much and we got a bit of a chip on our shoulder so you would never believe the stuff that happens here. I never for a second dreamed that these stories were happening in my backyard. And it’s not just catfishing where you thought you were talking to Barry and it’s actually, Billy. There are so many levels of deception that are complex and just weird. We’ve had moments where I’m looking at Oobah, like, ‘hang on?’ There have been moments in our show where we have spoken to Nev and he’s looking at us like we’re speaking a different language. ‘Yeah, I’ve never seen that in the US catfish.’ How are we getting Catfish firsts in the first season?
Have your attitudes to online dating changed since becoming host of catfish ? How have you adjusted your online habits in general based on what you have witnessed?
At the top of last year, I was single and ready to mingle. And then suddenly we’re in a global pandemic, and everyone had to stay indoors. So I found myself on a dating website. Magically, I just blinked and somehow I had an account set up with pictures uploaded and profile written. I remember feeling I didn’t want to tell anyone but there was literally no other way to meet new people. And so my feelings towards it started to change.
I started to realise that it’s what you make it but it also made me realise that every single person is signing up for a different reason. Especially now we’ve been filming, that’s the biggest realisation for me – everybody’s using the internet in their own way. You can’t be in control of anyone else so set your boundaries and stick to those boundaries. I would say just in general, I didn’t trust the internet before but now my trust issues have grown.
We’ve been in a pandemic, the streets have been cold. We need to get back out there. What advice would you have for us meeting a post-pandemic bae?
One that Oobah always says is spontaneity. Just pop up. ‘Hey man, where you at? You wanna go for a drink?’ Well, you can’t because pandemic. ‘Hey man, you wanna go for a sit in the park and socially distance?’ It has to be random because one of the things that we’ve noticed is the Catfish is always in control of the situation. So if you turn it around on them, and you come out of nowhere, they’ll trip up if they’re not real.
I was gonna say video calls, but there’s an episode where we had to look again and say maybe not. But one of the biggest things is trusting your gut. And knowing that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Yeah. Which isn’t nice.
Catfish UK is available to stream on MTV Play now.