BANG ON THE MONEY

Can a dating agency for rich people really deliver the man of your dreams? Kate Spicer goes undercover to see if she can snag herself a millionaire

“You didn’t hear me say this, but they’re all rich,” Mairead Molloy whispers conspiratorially as she describes the three men she has lined up for me. Alongside The County Register, Drawing Down the Moon and Sara Eden Introductions, her agency, Berkeley International International, mops up most of the six-figure-plus singletons looking for personal introductions in the UK. But only Molloy is reckless enough to let me go undercover and date her clients for this piece.

Playing down my cynicism, I talk up a desire for a husband and kids. She interrogates me on education, interests, family history, and forms a rudimentary opinion of my personality. How do I feel about Arab states? “What, politically?” “No, to live there. I have a wonderful Italian architect, so sexy, in the Emirates.” She says that all her clients want to settle down and live happily ever after. “Isn’t that what everyone wants deep down, if they are honest? That’s what I aim to do – get people married.”

There, over tea at a private members’ club in Covent Garden, she accepts me as an honorary member – the term given to people she headhunts for her clients. Molloy is 36, attractive, well-groomed, funny, honest; she drives a Mercedes SL, divides her time between London and Cannes and is fairly confident of getting people into relationships within a year. “Give me a year and I’m telling you, you’ll meet someone.” Her 5000 members, all of whom paid £10,000 plus Vat for her services, believe her.

We’ll call my dates Matthew, Mark and Luke, and I meet them over four days in London, Monte Carlo and St Tropez. I try to approach the prospect of dating these men calmly, but two things fluster my cool rationale: the perception that dating agencies are sad, and … the money thing.

It goes like this: you have been set up on dates with three different men, all described as rich. You find yourself wondering, just how rich is rich? The question covers me in shame, for a baser instinct has risen to the surface – for a man with money. It’s the female equivalent of pornography, the secret desire that you kick under the bed. You have been through life wanting a prince, then racing drivers, then pop stars, then plain handsome will do, then there’s that period in your early thirties when there’s a huge stack of unmarried bankers in the City that, women sort-of joke, will provide a wellspring of solvent husbands if not the more exciting, fairy-tale breed of millionaire. Eventually, wanting a rich husband becomes the equivalent of a man wanting a balloon-breasted, slut blonde. It’s a dirty fantasy.

But, surely, I wonder, if they are rich and using a dating agency, there will be something wrong with them. Molloy says only about 2% of her members fit the brief of dating-agency loser, “… with their waistband up round their armpits. And anyway, they’re easy to help because they have low expectations”.

Matthew, 45, has booked a restaurant in Berkeley Square, I receive a text: “I am wearing a navy jacket and waiting here with your drink,” There he is, with a bottle of Crystal, wearing a Ralph Lauren suit and a crisp shirt in a fashionable cut. Under flawless skin, he has an excellent bone structure, lots of harm and physically, he is no slouch, as he played rugby to European level until he went to work hard for a brokerage, that famously works its employees hard while paying them a fortune; so hard in fact, he lost the time to take a wife. All that is missing from his life now is a wife, he tells me. I find this admission sweet. (When I tell this to a friend who works in the City, he says: “Pah! Typical City arrogance – ‘Now I want a wife.’”)

Matthew has bought a beautiful house in Surrey; he just wants someone to choose furniture with. He would never judge anyone on anything, unless they were a smoker. Apparently sex with his ex, a slightly famous person, was ace. He’s clever, if a bit straight. But there’s no chemistry, and he gets drunk on the champagne we drink through dinner.

Matthew settled on Berkeley International because Molloy seemed like “a good networker, and that’s all this is really, isn’t it?” Put like that, the blow of engaging a matchmaker is cushioned by professional language. Joining a dating agency has no stigma, it is tantamount to joining a private members’ club. Molloy says she wants people to join Berkeley International the way they’d aspire to joining Soho House or Quintessentially, the concierge service. “I want them to feel if they don’t join, they’ll miss out. Put it this way: Quintessentially likes my clients and I like theirs.”

Mandy, a headhunter, told me she met her fiancé, a company director, through Berkeley International. “It was a gruelling leap to join a dating agency. I’m a normal person, I love nice clothes, skiing, sport, I’m outgoing. I just have an incredibly busy life and no time to meet the right men. I wanted to meet someone socially and financially on an equal footing to me. I liked Molloy because she made me feel like I was joining a club. The first few dates were okay, but there was no chemistry. Then on the eighth date, I met my future husband: immediately, there was this feeling of ‘I can’t believe we’ve never met before’.”

There was no chemistry with Matthew. In truth, I came away from the date feeling a bit grubby. But the second date required me to go to Monte Carlo, and tooling up the coast from Nice in the respectably nippy convertible Molloy had hired for me, it was hard not to feel part of a special club. My imagination is once again flashing with vulgar status symbols: yachts, a £30,000 watch made of diamonds and precious metals; a pied-à-terre in London, a fat car with real-leather smell. Yes, I’ll retire and write improving books. I’m sure I’d be great with staff.

The fantasy moment passes quickly on the beach in Monaco. I watch a shaven-headed, pot-bellied, old German in leopardskin micro trunks grope at the barely legal eastern European girlfriend in garish Versace shades sitting at his side. Is this the archetype of the Monte Carlo-dwelling, rich, single man?

No, it is not. Because Mark, 50, stands waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel, once again wearing a handsome crisp white shirt, an Hermès belt, expensive loafers. He dresses fine, I doubt he owns microtrunks, but he’s a bit too softly spoken for my liking. I think he is after a sweet woman. As we cruise the few yards to the restaurant in his Bentley, he asks how my hotel is. I jokingly mention that for the first time in my life, I am moved to complain by letter about the bad service in my hotel. “Like a saddo Points of View correspondent. Ha, ha.”

He didn’t laugh, “Complain a lot, do you?” He is mentally ticking and crossing boxes. Which is fine. As soon as I met him, I crossed them all. Chemistry is instant, and I knew instantly that he and I had none.

His friends text him to say they are eating on the other side of the restaurant and who is the mystery woman. Once again, light-hearted, I say: “Do you think they suspect you of procuring a Russian?” “If you were blonde, maybe,” he says, deadpan.

He does not introduce me to the friends he goes over to talk to, so I feel like a Russian regardless. We have nothing in common at all, apart from a couple of friends in shipping. But Mark’s not so bad; he’s sweet, too. He wants a wife and someone to love, and Monaco is utterly bereft of down-to-earth, intelligent, single women, apparently. “What would you do if you lived here?” he asks. “I’d work, and swim every day. I’d eat in France, and enjoy the mountains and the Côte d’Azur,” I answer easily.

“I hate the water … you’re a nature person are you … French food is so heavy, I’ve gone off it.” More boxes are crossed.

My criteria all along had been that if I felt even a tickle of chemistry or one iota of sexual interest, then these posh dating larks had something going for them. Thus far, what I had learnt was that people who dedicate their lives to making a lot of money aren’t fat, or ugly, or horrible, they’re just not fun. Mark asked me if I wanted to go back to his for a drink. By which I suspect he meant getting physical. He was thinking, she’s not for me, but I might get a shag. “What about brunch tomorrow?” I suggested as a compromise. Molloy is emphatic that you have to give people a chance, see them more than once. But Mark was going to the office – on a Sunday.

Luke impressively flies to St Tropez just to have lunch with me. He walks into Club 55 wearing a suit and tie and sticks out among the yachties in their shorts and sunglasses. He must trust Molloy enormously if he is prepared to fly to another country – for lunch – just to meet someone she recommends. He’s already had one relationship with a Berkeley International client; he has also balled out Molloy for wasting his “precious time” by sending him on a date with a woman who “looked and smelt like a horse”, by which I think he meant a Sloane ranger.

Humor, however basic, is like balm to my dating bruises. It’s frankly intoxicating being in the presence of unreconstructed male dominance. Luke is an alpha male, a silver-back gorilla, an old-fashioned left-school-at-16- and-made-it-on-my-own entrepreneur. He’s rich, cocky and confident. Molloy had said that this was often why the rich need her services. “That arrogance turns nice women off, and makes it hard for them to meet people. They need someone like me to find them the sort of women, like you, they want to be with.”

I quite like Luke’s arrogance. He didn’t care if I liked nature or writing letters of complaint or keeping fit. “I like my women feisty.” Truth be told, Luke and I have chemistry. I’m profoundly unnerved by this.

Molloy is a guerrilla matchmaker, juggling the needs of everyone at the end of her mobile phone. Consoling the sad, sending flowers to the disconsolate, egging on the romantically cautious, and telling those with bad hair to get down to Michael john and “sort it out, for God’s sake”.

Was I touched by the fantasy brush? Perhaps, but I agreed to see Luke again. Molloy seems delighted, “Oh, he loved your legs, and he really likes you. He thought you were great.” As I sit in her Mayfair office talking about the date, she whips up the enthusiasm of a sixth-form crush and urges me to go on more dates, “You’ll meet someone, you will. I’ve got another one for you, a complete nutcase, very funny, and rich.” Addicted to dating could become a problem, I say. “I know, it’s like the Lotto, isn’t it? You’re sure you’re not going to win, but you just keep doing it, just in case. And people do win, Kate. They do.”