English dating agency

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"I didn't really have the foggiest idea what I was doing," she says now.

"I just got on with it and decided I would deal with problems as they arose." Such was her determination that her first matchmaking attempts took place in the maternity wing of her hospital, where she had just given birth to her daughter.

"She later came to a party for the 25th anniversary of the agency and asked if I could sign her on again because she was now divorced. There were no average types." Soon, Stella had converted a bedroom of the family home from which to run her office.

I had to decline as she was now in her late 60s and I didn't think I could help her."As the business grew in the Sixties, there were no shortage of applications. "I employed a mother's help to look after Emma, alongside a secretary, a cleaner and a housekeeper," she recalls.

Like the one from the widow with three children who came to see her despairing that she would find love again.

There have been hundreds of weddings and, today, in a world of speeddating and internet romance, she still has around 400 clients of all ages hoping Stella's personal touch can help find them their Mr or Miss Right.In the process, her work has become a fascinating barometer of social change: when Stella first started her agency in the early Sixties, newspapers refused to carry her adverts for fear of causing a scandal.But some things remain comfortingly constant, among them people's expectations - which are, she says, on the whole, generally unrealistic.When a young Stella Groschel heard of her friend's plans to join a marriage bureau in her search for a husband, she was shocked to the core. I thought it was rather on the dangerous side and something that only really desperate, peculiar people would consider." Since then, however, Stella has learned to see matters from the other side.It was the Forties and, quite simply, respectable girls just didn't do that sort of thing. Now aged 83, she can lay claim to the title of the country's oldest and most long-standing matchmaker, still dispatching affairs of the heart at the country offices of her own dating agency.

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