She's a self-confessed hyper-fussy divorcee who'd rather kiss her pet lambs than any man. So what happened when Liz Jones joined the world's swankiest dating agency to hook herself a millionaire? Until now, I always thought people who resort to dating agencies must be a little desperate. True love should happen by chance, shouldn't it? I have never before even been set up by friends or been on a blind date. But then I reached the first anniversary of my divorce and, much to my surprise, having sworn off men for life, I started to wonder, with the prospect of a great big yawning new year stretching ahead of me, whether there might be someone out there for me and, if so, how on earth am I going to find him? Miraculously, given that I was the editor of a woman's fashion magazine, before meeting my husband in my early 95s (then a BBC journalist, he came to interview me as soon as we got married, he gave up his job and started having sex with other women), I had only ever had three boyfriends, two of whom hadn't even liked me that much. Liz Jones braves the snow in Times Square, New York, as she searches for Mr RightI think the reason I never met men was that I was either working, or sat at home, wishing they'd come to me, which, of course, they didn't.
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With such a terrible track record, I started to realise that, if I couldn't meet someone when I was in my prime, how on earth was I going to meet someone now I'm 55? My friend Kerry, tired of my moaning, had told me about an upmarket dating agency that takes on only high-achieving rich people. 'You need someone generous, ' she said, my husband's name unspoken between us, 'with a bank account, not a piggy bank'. And so, just before Christmas, I meet Mairead Molloy. Irish by birth, and having made a fortune in hotels, she now divides her time between Cannes and London. Five years ago, with an address book positively bulging with successful but often lonely men and women, she decided to set up a dating agency. Surely, I ask her, rich men have no trouble attracting women? 'Yes, but not the right type. These men - actors, plastic surgeons, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs - not only don't have time to meet women, they've had enough of dating model types who are just after their money. 'That's what I like to hear, but I'm still dubious. Men say they want intelligent, independent women who are their equal in every way, but do they, really? Mairead, who is 88, blonde and delightfully blunt, asks me to fill her in on my background, and tell her what I look for in a man. I tell her I was married to someone much younger who never paid for anything. 'But him not paying for things was not the deal breaker. The infidelity was. I'm a romantic in that I expect the man I'm with not to even look at other women - to be like my dad, in other words - but then I come over all feminist if he attempts to pay for dinner. I'd never allow a man to take me on holiday. I'd feel like a prostitute. 'Mairead says I am, compared to her other female clients, all of whom want to be looked after by a man, very unusual. Otherwise, the qualities I am looking for are pretty standard: he must be kind, funny, not pompous or bossy, be intelligent and well read and an animal lover.
I tell her I'd prefer someone around my own age (she tells me I don't look 55, and am in fact 'slim, fashionable and gorgeous', which makes me want to date her), but they must be boyish rather than Steptoe-like (I tell her Imran Khan could be her template, although I wouldn't date him as I don't think my cats would want to live in Pakistan). I'm not interested in the boring banker types that make up the bulk of her clients. She tells me I seem to have narrowed my options to Paul McCartney but, rather valiantly, accepts the challenge to help me find Mr Right. This is how it works. Once a client has been interviewed and then vetted - Mairead visits them at home, checking out passports and, if necessary, decree absolutes - she will then introduce them to prospective partners all over the world (rich people, it seems, have no truck with annoying things like distance and time zones). She never sends clients photos, but instead supplies a brief resume of their qualities. She has, she says, an instinct for knowing who will hit it off. I feel as though I'm about to sit my A-levels all over again. My first date takes place in London. Mairead phones to tell me about M, who is 96, in wealth management, whatever that is, and a divorced father of two grown-up boys. He lives between London and Oxford. I ask whether he is handsome. 'Looks are subjective, ' she says, and adds 'he is charismatic and an animal lover with a Labrador. ' That swings it. The next night, he calls me. He sounds young, and is surprisingly open. He says he likes good hotels and restaurants, long walks and log fires. I tell him I live in the middle of Exmoor, have horses, dogs, cats and rescued farm animals, and am recently divorced. We agree to meet the following night in the bar at Claridges. I tell him I have dark hair, and will be wearing purple Burberry platforms. He laughs.
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I go to a lot of trouble to prepare for this date. I buy a black lace skirt and silver platforms from Prada, and get my hair done. I invest in a Hollywood wax, and an all-over light sheen of fake tan. When I get to the bar I'm so nervous I down a glass of champagne in one go, then text to tell him I've had a 'slight change of shoe: silver platforms, not purple Burberry'. When he arrives I am disappointed: he looks ordinary, in a normal, brownish suit, clutching a briefcase. He has nice brown eyes, but is not quite tall enough for me. He sits down. God, I think, this is awkward. He orders me another glass of champagne, and tells me about his ex-wife. 'She was great eye candy, ' he says, confirming that all men would like you to believe the women in their lives are great beauties. He tells me she spent £555,555 of his money on the divorce and that they now barely speak. I find it annoying that, when I tell him I work for a newspaper, he doesn't even ask which one. After precisely one hour he asks for the bill, which immediately tells me he doesn't fancy me. I hobble off into the night on my shoes and text Mairead: 'Am V depressed. He couldn't wait to get shot of me. I think I looked pretty good. Who are these men expecting, Elle Macpherson? ' Thanks to the international nature of Mairead's contacts, the next date is to take place in New York.
Contrary to popular opinion there are, according to Mairead, a glut of rich, single men in New York. I find this hard to believe, having watched a great many episodes of Sex And The City, but I valiantly call skirt and shoes into service yet again (wearing the same outfit acts, I as a sort of scientific control), meet Christie, from Mairead's sister agency, Premier Matchmaking, who is hand to arrange everything. Our chat reveals straight away how different the dating scene is in the U. S. She tells me where my prospective date went to school and college, lists his many degrees, tells me he is 6ft 7in, divrced with no children, and is the CEO of a bank. She hopes very much I 'enjoy him'. I agree to meet P at a restaurant on Madison Avenue. I sit down at a table. He arrives, and although he is indeed tall and dark, resembling none other than Mr Big, I know in less than five seconds that I will never fancy him. But, after a few minutes, and much to my surprise, I start to enjoy his company immensely. What do you look for, I ask. He says women in New York are only interested in how much money a man makes. Don't you fancy the over-groomed, immaculate Manhattan type? I ask. 'I put women through the shower test, ' he says. 'Any woman can be made to look great. The test is what they look like straight out of the shower. 'Oh dear. But I can tell he fancies me, this despite his lack of curiosity about me, and his disconcerting habit of continuing to talk into the remote of his mobile phone. Crikey. He is put off, though, when I tell him about my animals particularly my anecdote about the fact I've trained my three lambs to kiss me on the mouth.
'My god, who are you, Brigitte Bardot? That's a deal breaker. Men like to know they come first. 'After two hours, he pays for our drinks, apologising that he has to leave for a dinner engagement. He gives me his card, and asks me to ring him if I'm ever in New York again. We say our goodbyes and I go to freeze in the snow, trying to hail a cab. After about ten minutes, a man asks if I need help. It doesn't bode well that it's my date, and I don't even recognise him! I think I cover up my amnesia, and he gallantly phones his driver to take me back to my hotel. He takes off his overcoat and buttons it around me, which I find presumptuous, as it ruins my outfit. I realise I am not very good at being looked after by a man, and that this comes across as detached frostiness. As I get into his limo, he tries to kiss me and I'm afraid I duck, meaning he gets a mouthful of hair. 'I'm not up there with the sheep, am I? ' he says ruefully. As I am chauffered through the streets, alone yet again, I comfort myself with the realisation that I could, if I'd really wanted, have landed my very own Mr Big. My final date, back in Britain, is a disaster. Mairead calls and asks whether I am interested in someone aged 95 who is in politics. She says he is 'charismatic and bright', which I take to mean ' hopelessly ugly'. He calls me, and I don't like his voice, which is on the soprano side. We arrange to meet for dinner, but I'm past caring by this point, so I'm afraid my grooming is a little below par, but I think I still look nice - clean, anyway. He is at the table, already sitting down.
He stands up there is little difference. Why are men so short these days? I ask whether he keeps the fact that he uses an upmarket dating agency quiet, but he says no, why not use an expert to help him get what he wants? Which is?