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  1. Wealth
August 31, 2007

Can’t Buy Me Love

By Spear's

Lois Rogers on why time-poor millionaires are turning to dating agencies to help find them a suitable mate

Lois Rogers on why time-poor millionaires are turning to dating agencies to help find them a suitable mate

Money and happiness are not necessarily linked, as anyone who has had a lot of both will tell you. In fact, it could be said that rich people attract unhappiness because of the unfortunate magnetism of wealth.

Often it means that prospective lovers will seem charming and alluring until after a time they discover that multiple homes and holidays do not provide happiness after all. Misery, disappointment and a bitter urge for financial compensation, rapidly replace any outward semblance of happiness.

The financial boom from hedge funds, property and the dot com industry, has created a community of thousands of multi-millionaires, who work punishingly long days. The single mindedness and effort that go with building up a fortune are anathema to the romantic relationships and domesticity that most people crave.

It is small wonder, then, that wealthy people find it difficult to form relationships that have any meaning at all. Still less to form relationships with partners they might actually want to spend their lives with.

The question is, should one lower oneself to using a dating agency, and if so, what type? How do people who are fantastically successful in other areas of their lives, admit they cannot succeed at something so basic, and is it possible to ‘invest’ in this area without looking like a complete idiot?

Self-made multi-millionaires are often not the types to risk wasting time on the social dance of developing a relationship with a partner who might turn out to be a gold-digger after all. George Harwood, 48, a divorced father-of-two who has built up close to a £20-million fortune in the IT industry, and divides his time between London and Barcelona, is a case in point.

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‘It is tedious to build up a dialogue with someone who probably won’t fit the bill anyway,’ he says. ‘I know exactly what sort of woman I am looking for and I don’t really want to spend time being polite with people I have nothing in common with.’

It is four years since his marriage ended and there have been few signs of a new partner. Internet dating produced people who were not what they seemed, and he says the experience of being in an incompatible marriage has made him more determined to hold on to a clear idea of his type of woman.

‘I think you end up with low tolerance of things that are not right,’ he says. ‘But I freely admit work dominates my time. It takes a huge amount of discipline not to keep looking at the Blackberry to concoct replies to emails when I am at dinner with friends.’

His is not an unusual story. Mark Constantinou, 38, a Cypriot-born property developer with assets worth over £40 million, says he has not had time for a serious relationship with a woman since he was in his early twenties. Yet he remarks that his attractiveness to them seems to have increased in direct proportion to his wealth. ‘It is impossible not to become cynical,’ he says.

‘I might well have met some genuine women over the years, but when they comment on your Rolex, or remark how nice they would look in a Versace dress they see in a shop window, it tells you what the agenda is.’

Constantinou, who lives in St John’s Wood but has four homes scattered elsewhere, says he spends much time on his own and is terrified of marriage.

‘I come from a Greek background and the notion of family is strong. If a marriage ends after thirty years of bringing up children and making a home, it is reasonable the woman should be left comfortably off, but when you hear about people like Paul McCartney who lose hundreds of millions after just a few years, it makes you think you stand to lose everything you have worked for if you marry.’

Wealthy women are similarly circumspect. Lisa Williams, 36, who has made a fortune building up a global headhunting agency, says there is no doubt that being successful does have an effect on one’s personality and view of other people.

But she maintains: ‘If you are pro-active in every other aspect of your life, there is no reason not to be pro-active in looking for a partner by using an agency. I don’t want to get to forty without having a family.’

The problem, though, is what sort of agency. The commodification of romance has spawned a dating industry that has grown to an estimated value of £800 million in the UK alone in little more than a decade. Demand is relentless. In view of the fact that the number of single adults in the UK is forecast to grow to 16 million by 2010 – with equal numbers of men and women, it is unlikely to slow down.

Much of the matchmaking however, is done on the internet, and those who run the websites privately admit that anyone with real wealth would run a mile from the prospect of exposing their status to an anonymous email correspondent. The joys of wireless romance have therefore, largely been limited to those of lesser status.

Into this minefield has stepped Susie Ambrose, a psychotherapist who increasingly found herself dealing with the secret angst of lonely, super-wealthy City types and international tycoons.

It was during the course of counselling such desperately unhappy men that she realised there was a gap in the market for a bespoke dating agency for millionaires who find their limited leisure time is often spent deflecting the attentions of vapid gold-diggers.

She has named her agency Seventy Thirty, a jokey reference to the work-leisure time balance available to high flyers, and is remarkably upfront about the vulgar business of how much her clients are worth.

‘People have to prove they have at least £1 million in liquid assets to join,’ says Ambrose, who charges £10,000 a year for her service. ‘When I started I was told English people would never discuss their finances, but they do because they recognise that is part of their problem. We are the only agency in the world which selects like this.’

She now employs a team of impressively qualified psychologists who ‘scout’ at private parties and upmarket functions for the right sort of prospective partners for her clients. The net spreads far and wide.

She thinks nothing of going to a race meeting in the Emirates, if it is likely to attract a particular type of person she is looking for. Single people who have the correct combination of education, sophistication and financial independence, are identified at such social gatherings and invited for dates with her clients.

First however, they are put through a screening process that would not be out of place in the average adoption agency. They are interviewed at length and visited at home. Their backgrounds, personalities, education and aspirations are scrupulously checked.

Both parties for the prospective date are then given a full curriculum vitae and personality profile of the person they are meeting, thus obviating the tiresome getting-to-know-you conversation which can take up to six months in the development of a relationship formed as a result of a chance encounter.

The success of this goal-oriented approach to romantic partnership is, of course, impossible to quantify. Despite her business, Ambrose recognises the fact that wealthy men often initially enjoy the female attention their lifestyle attracts.

Earlier this year the press carried unedifying pictures of the Queen’s younger son Prince Andrew – a man whose physical charms have long since vanished beneath a considerable amount of excess weight. Nevertheless, the Prince who was at a party in the South of France, was locked in an evening’s flirtation with a girl 20 years younger from a small town in America’s deep South.

‘It is only when the men realise they have been exploited that they start to get upset,’ says Ambrose. ‘I just tell them they got what they wanted, she got what she wanted, and to stop complaining.’

Although her view reflects the comments of Constantinou, his attitude might be about to change. After several pleasurable though ‘chemistry-free’ dates set up by Susie Ambrose she introduced him to the woman who has now become his girlfriend.

‘Last night we sat down and had dinner together in one of our houses,’ he enthused. ‘It was so nice not to be in a restaurant. Nowadays I actually want to leave the office. I even hear myself saying things like “You guys finish this, I’m off home”.’

He is circumspect about whether this nascent love affair will lead to a long term commitment, but he says: ‘Who knows?’

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