No date for valentine’s day? If you’ve got a spare ten thousand or so, you could always give it to berkeley international, who make it their mission to find love for the uber-rich.
‘First on the wish list is a good sense of humour,’ says Mairead Molloy, the founder of the ‘biggest dating agency in the the world’ for the uber-wealthy. ‘Then honesty, intelligence, looks and confidence.’ ‘And being rich,’ I ask naively. ‘That’s goes without saying,’ she laughs.
Molloy – Irish, in her mid-forties, sartorially low key – is not how I imagined the founder of an elite company such as Berkeley International. I was picturing, let’s say, someone tall, exotic, willowy, all coiffed hair and Chanel, sitting delicately opposite me in members’ club Home House, but not a bit of it. Not to say she’s unattractive (she’s not), it’s just, well, she’s got that Irish charm (slightly barmy, frenetic, good-natured but razor-sharp), loves a good gossip (naming no names of course, discretion is key) and a jolly good craic. Which probably, when you think about it, is the key to her business. After all, her role is making people feel comfortable. God forbid her male clients tried to flirt with her, or her female clients felt insecure in her presence. She’s the bridge, the fuse, the confidante, the fixer and the key to her success is her ability to listen and her ‘highly attuned intuition’. As if to confirm her unglitzy lifestyle, you’re most likely to find Molloy ‘sat in front of the box in PJs, watching Corrie and eating a sausage sandwich’.
The fact that she’d be doing this in Cannes, not Wolverhampton (and, yes, you can get Corrie in France), where she has lived since her twenties, is beside the point. She left Wexford, Ireland for the glamour of the South of France where she became an hotelier. When that business ceased to be, she sated her voracious appetite for learning by retraining as a psychologist. Now, impressively, she’s studying for a PHD in Criminology at Birkbeck. You’ll also find her quite often on Bloomberg TV as a pundit.
Which all conspires to help explain how this woman is able to ‘hook up’ the world’s elite. When Berkeley International started over 12 years ago (Molloy was introduced to the idea through a serendipitous meeting with an ‘unnamed’ businessman and she flew with it), the idea of online dating was still taboo and Tinder not even a twinkle in the digital age’s eye. Besides, the very wealthy or famous are so obsessed with confidentiality that they are unlikely to post personal profiles and pictures of themselves online, hence the need for super discreet agencies where clients aren’t even sent photographs of their potential dates and there is no online proponent at all. Molloy and her team are entirely in charge of choosing who they think would make the perfect mate, chosen from their rather weighty black book. That’s quite a big demand, isn’t it, I ask, especially when you’re paying £10,000 per annum for the privilege (that’s the lowest entry fee by the way, it can go up to about £50,000 if you want them to headhunt someone specific). You can expect around six to nine dates in that year and you’ll be glad to hear it’s half price in year two, as it’s expected you’ll have found ‘the one’ or at least ‘a one’ within the first 12 months.
‘These people are serious about finding someone,’ says Molloy. ‘You want something for that money [no kidding]. We take no one with an “ego” or who we think is going to be tricky. We get to know all our clients – the good and the bad, so they have to feel comfortable with us and trust us. We want to know whether they’re neat or messy, what kind of films they like, what exactly they’re looking for from a relationship and we build a detailed profile.’
So where do these clients come from and who are they? ‘They’re bankers, lawyers, architects, surgeons, doctors… professionals. About 20 per cent are celebrities, ‘ says Molloy. Her biggest age range of clients is between 30 and 45 and for this group, she has a 75 per cent success rate. Which is what, I ask? ‘A relationship that lasts over six months,’ she responds. And then of course, they can’t always tell what happens next – whether the couple get that fairytale ending – because they won’t hear from them again. ‘It’s not like you’re going to go back to your agency with the good news,’ she says. Fair point.
I ask whether she could hook someone up with, oh I don’t know, Katie Holmes (at first she thought I’d said Katie Hopkins of Celebrity Big Brother at which we both guffawed). ‘Yes,’ she says without batting an eyelid. ‘Really, how?’ ‘You just ask! People are always flattered.’ Well of course you can just ask if you have Molloy’s address book. ‘It’s easy to match people,’ she says, ‘but what you can never know about is the chemistry.’
And that, I guess, is the billion dollar question. Until scientists and chemists are able to bottle up and sell us the secret formula, whether you’re an uber high net worth individual or not, you may still have a kiss a few frogs until you find your potential prince or princess.
020 7665 6651; berkeley-international.com