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.
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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.