When I first heard about Raya, the elite dating app for celebrities, I was desperate to join.
Who wouldn’t want the chance to date top footballers, Hollywood actors and lusted-over pop stars? Ever since its launch in 2015, the site has attracted celebrities from all areas of life with one thing in common: fame.
Celebs reported to have memberships include Normal People actor Paul Mescal, Hollywood stars Sharon Stone and Channing Tatum, TV personality David Walliams, pop star Harry Styles, supermodel Cara Delevingne, plus A-list actors including Owen Wilson, Matthew Perry and Emilia Clarke (though she swiftly deleted the app). And masses of footballers. Spurs’ Dele Alli is reported to have signed up last month.
With a waiting list of 100,000 and stricter vetting procedures than any private members’ club, Raya is the most exclusive match-making service ever devised, and theoretically the most private, too. Until now.
An anonymous singleton in her 30s, from the UK, shares her experience of trying to find love on Raya. Pictured: Famous names who have reportedly flirted with Raya, Emilia Clarke
Few have ever talked about it in detail publicly, but I have been so entertained by my dating experiences on the app, I’ve decided to let you in for a sneak peek.
In the past six months, I’ve been on a date with a newsreader with a bath fetish, a chart-topping pop star with two incredibly famous parents and a love of hallucinogenic drugs, a lot of lockdown-breaking footballers, plus one very married famous classical singer.
The first rule of Raya is not to talk about Raya. With red-carpet events cancelled for the past 12 months, the app has been one of the few places the rich and famous can still look for love, and its popularity has soared.
The people who run Raya know this and reassure their user-base, saying: ‘We understand that joining an app of this nature is a “first” for many of you.’ If users take a screenshot, they are sent a warning. Your account can be closed if you flout this rule more than once.
Some have had their memberships terminated for just mentioning on social media that they are using the app. Raya says they ‘periodically review’ their community and remove anyone who isn’t respecting the members’ privacy, but leaks still happen .
As far as my personal life goes, I’ve never got on with dating apps. Too many of them give us too much choice. I didn’t like making the first move on Bumble, haven’t had any luck on Hinge and don’t much fancy the raw hook-up culture of Tinder.
Two years ago, I decided to join Raya in the hope it would whittle down my matches. It promised to give me access to the most eligible bachelors in the world — and quickly delivered the most fun I’ve had in ages.
As a Brit in her 30s who works in the entertainment industry, I was accepted with two referrals: one from a friend who is an LA socialite and another from the host of an incredibly successful dating podcast. The process was fairly fast, and within 24 hours the world of Raya was unlocked for me.
The singleton said just eight per cent of applicants to Raya are accepted for membership. Pictured: Famous names who have reportedly flirted with Raya, Matthew Perry (left) and Sharon Stone (right)
I admit I was lucky: applications are assessed by a membership committee and the acceptance rate is just eight per cent. For perspective, you’ve more than double the chance of being accepted to Oxford University, where applicants have a 17 per cent chance of getting in.
There’s no joining fee but I pay a nominal £5.99 a month.
Raya was founded by Daniel Gendelman, 36, who’s previously said he wanted to create an app like a perfectly curated, intimate yet thoroughly vetted dinner party. Its HQ is in Los Angeles.
Gendelman’s global team will also check your Instagram profile before allowing you in. While a vast following is a plus, what they’re most concerned about is how many of your followers are already Raya members. In other words, they’re looking hard at the number of rich and famous people you know.
Raya’s acceptance rate is just 8pc. You’ve got a better chance of being accepted to Oxford University
Many of the men on Raya have jobs such as football agents, talent managers, broadcast producers and directors. They might have a small following themselves, but, on the whole, entry is reliant on your level of fame and success.
The number of potential matches is clearly far smaller than on any other app. Like Tinder, you have to both mutually swipe yes to each other’s profiles to match and be able to speak. But unlike Tinder, you do see all the profiles.
For example, I’ve seen Strictly professional dancer Giovanni Pernice, but we didn’t match. In that scenario, there is an option to pay more and send a ‘direct request’ (you can buy three for £7.99) but to me, using one of these reeks of desperation.
In fact, when I match with someone, I always leave it to them to send the first message. After the initial match, you have ten days to get talking or the match expires.
I call it my Raya Refrigerator. Once a match expires, you never see their profile again.
The singleton said after going on about 20 dates, she’s spotted a trend. Pictured: Famous names who have reportedly flirted with Raya, Roman Kemp
Last summer, crushingly, I had three international cricketers — in London for the Ashes — go past their sell-by date as I waited for them to make the first move and send a message.
One Love Island alumnus has also been in my Raya Refrigerator.
We both clicked on each other but, alas, he didn’t ever message me either. I’d definitely have struck up conversation if he’d made the first move.
Because the pool is so tiny — 10,000 in total — you aren’t limited by location but can match internationally. Most users tend to be in London, Paris or LA. I have a friend who matched with a New York entrepreneur who flew her out from London in a private jet.
Alternatively, you can switch on Raya Maps and see which members are nearest to you.
There’s also another feature, solely for networking for work purposes, where I once saw Lily Allen scouting for work.
One user described the site as going on safari and I’ve seen the Big Five — actor, comedian, musician, sportsman and CEO
Users choose a ‘theme song’ that accompanies their photos. A former EastEnders actor chose This Woman’s Work. An often-subbed footballer has Maybe Tomorrow by Stereophonics selected as his. And I was shocked to see one boyband star, at the centre of a sex scandal, had selected Smooth Operator.
Though footballers make up a good chunk of the numbers, I once saw a very well-known philosopher and author on the app, with the theme tune Cello Suite No 1 in G Major. As far as photos go, I’m always surprised when celebrity men use paparazzi shots (complete with agency watermark) on their profiles, but most have at least one in the mix alongside pictures of posh parties, yachts on exotic oceans and the obligatory private jet steps shot.
During my two years of dating matches from the app, I’ve been on about 20-odd dates and I’ve noticed trends.
The singleton said her last Raya boyfriend was an international sports star who ended their arrangement seemingly out the blue. Pictured: Famous names who have reportedly flirted with Raya, Cara Delevingne
Comedians are often short-tempered, not funny in real life and in desperate need of validation; also, the worst in bed by far. I’ve dated so many now that I consider myself in a position to generalise. Comedians are like grown-up babies — always in need of attention and on the brink of an inexplicable tantrum.
Actors take themselves and their art very seriously and tend to regard themselves as demi-gods. One actor I was dating almost proved a modern-day Narcissus when he stepped in front of traffic to point himself out in a film poster on the side of a bus.
Sportsmen don’t do sarcasm but are generally outstanding between the sheets. In fact, my last Raya boyfriend was an international sports star. We started messaging during the first lockdown and quickly started seeing each other. With everywhere closed and limited options for socialising, our first date was a Costa coffee on a park bench. Our second offered further evidence of his sporting talents off the pitch.
It’s also convenient that many sportsmen are tested twice-weekly for Covid, so make the perfect addition to my social bubble.
We saw each other a couple more times before he ended it, seemingly out the blue. The following weekend, he posted pictures of a baby and a stunning brunette to his Instagram page.
Before that, I was with a Bafta-winning actor. The first thing he told me after saying hello via a message was that he had important meetings in LA, which left me checking I hadn’t gone on to Raya’s work section.
The singleton admits she didn’t expect men looking to her to social climb. Pictured: Famous names who have reportedly flirted with Raya, Harry Styles
Dinner at private members’ club Shoreditch House in East London followed and, shortly after that, a weekend away and a four-month romance punctuated by occasionally bizarre behaviour. When invited to meet my two best friends over dinner, for example, he ordered for everyone without asking first.
Inevitably perhaps, he ended up dumping me for his first love — himself — which left me to go on his planned birthday spa weekend on my own. He said I’d probably enjoy it more without him.
And I did enjoy it until lunchtime came and the waitress brought over his birthday cake. ‘You may as well have this, too, since you have paid for it,’ she said. I footed the entire bill. Still, soon I was back swiping with refreshed optimism.
I’ve been on dates with high-flying barristers and CEOs of major companies, including the chief of a national healthcare and gym company.
Age isn’t a barrier on Raya, and there are as many men in their 40s as there are 20 and 30-year-olds. All of my meetings have led to either a friendship, a hook-up, or a relationship, making Raya the only dating app I’ve had any real success with.
In turn, my dates have shared how men view Raya. . I’m told that one television presenter in her 60s uses a very generous age range to net her matches.
One theme I didn’t see coming was men looking to me to social climb. A number have rather clumsily initiated conversations by saying they ‘swear they recognise me from somewhere’ when I very much doubt that they do, and instead have clocked photos that I’ve had taken in television studios.
The singleton said the number of horny, house-bound footballers has indeed surged over the past year
Feeling unsure whether I was getting involved in a flirtation or a networking ploy is not a pleasant feeling.
Just as people misuse LinkedIn to send personal messages, I sense people misuse Raya the other way, looking to elevate their status rather than find The One, or even a genuine spark.
Through this, I’ve had a glimpse into the celebrity conundrum when looking for love. Is it me they really like — or my fame?
Despite this, I think a portion of Raya users genuinely look for a partner, not just a fling. Now-married actress Amy Schumer met a previous partner on the app, and they were together for more than a year. But as with any app, I’m not naive about the majority of the users’ intentions — and the number of horny, house-bound footballers has indeed surged over the past year.
‘I just signed the contract on a new house, and after looking at your pics, I want to christen every room with you,’ wrote one charming League 2 player during the writing of this article.
One Raya user described the site as going on safari and spotting one measly zebra.
But while that may have been her experience, I can safely say I’ve seen the Big Five — an actor, comedian, musician, sportsman and CEO — which is why the novelty of being on Raya hasn’t worn off yet.
On the contrary, all that fame and success is a lovely distraction from the everyday grind. If I properly bag a celeb, you’ll no doubt see me in the pages of OK! or Hello! some time soon.
For now? I’m going to keep on swiping in secret.