The matchmaking guru, 59, on how, to her surprise, lockdown is actually making it easier to find love — and the secrets to having a successful online date
What did you want to be as you were growing up?
At school I wanted to be a famous actress but my dad had two actor friends and they said don’t – you have to be incredibly good and there’s not much money in it unless you make the grade. One, Jon Pertwee, suggested I enrol for a Saturday class at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama so I did and realised I wasn’t very good so gave up.
What happened next?
I joined the Metropolitan Police. I only expected to stay for six months but they offered to fund a business studies degree so I stayed longer. Then, when Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace in 1983, the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department was set up at Buckingham Palace and I was transferred from Personnel to be in charge of the civilian staff to provide admin back-up.
How did you go from working at the Palace to setting up Sara Eden?
In January 1988, I broke my shoulder and couldn’t work. All my friends were coming to see me and saying they just couldn’t meet the right person. I thought, ‘There’s something in this, maybe I could start an introduction agency.’ When I resigned, everyone thought I was mad.
You must have faced some big challenges.
In the 1980s, there was a stigma and we had to persuade women that joining was a sensible thing to do. Although I did find that when I said ‘introduction agency’ to some people, they got muddled and thought I was setting up an escort agency! I chose the name because Sara means princess and Eden love and paradise. I enlisted a lot of friends for £50 each and they had to go out with whoever joined. Once I started getting real clients I matched them on similar values, wanting similar things in the future, and similar lifestyles and hobbies.
Do you remember Sara Eden’s first marriage?
It was Malcolm and Vicky in November 1989. It was a beautiful Christmas wedding in a church in the countryside and she wore a gorgeous blue satin gown. Since then there have been hundreds of weddings – and babies. There was one wedding in the 1990’s where initially the man had said he didn’t want to meet the woman because she didn’t appeal. I said, ‘What have you got to lose?’ When they got married I presumed they wouldn’t tell anyone how they met but when the ceremony finished the priest called me up to the altar – the bride’s mother wanted to thank me and get a photograph of me with them. It was lovely – that photo is still on my wall. Another time, a couple invited me but didn’t want people to know how I knew them so said I should say I’d been to university with the groom. When I got there the tables had been muddled up so when I said where I knew the groom from, they replied, ‘We were at university with him too but don’t know you.’ He told them in the end.
What’s been the high point?
Our 30th anniversary. We invited a lot of the couples and it was fantastic seeing some we hadn’t seen for years. One couple, Pim and Lynn, who’d been married for 29 years, came and Pim said to me, ‘My son is an airline pilot and do you think he can meet anyone?’ I put him on the phone to Debbie, my manager, and we introduced him to a lady called Claire. Their baby, Sophia, was born on November 9 last year!
And the low?
I took one of the couples who came to the anniversary celebration out to lunch last July and by September he was dead, diagnosed with lung cancer. And Sally, the first lady to walk through the door as a fee-paying client, who I’d stayed in touch with all these years, also recently died.
Mistakes, you’ve made a few?
I interviewed an older man once. He was lovely, a dentist, and I went and got a load of profiles, putting the lady I thought matched him the best on the top. He took one look and said, ‘I was married to her for 25 years!’ I was mortified.
Presumably, given lockdown, there’s not much matchmaking going on?
That’s what I thought. I even furloughed some staff but we’ve been so busy I have recruited an ex-worker to cover the evenings and weekends. I think in lockdown people are actually thinking about what’s important in their lives – finding a partner. They’ve realised it’s not things that matter, it’s relationships.
How does it work if no one’s meeting face to face?
We used to insist on meeting people before we took them on but now we’re confident we can do this via Skype. It’s changed my business model forever. Before lockdown I’d have laughed if you’d told me you could successfully date online but it absolutely works. They are Skyping or Zooming each other and one lady told me she really likes it because she’s getting to know people before she meets them.
So how can you find love in lockdown?
There are many things you can do, including joining an introduction agency that is a member of the Association of British Introduction Agencies or, if you’re younger, using a dating app. Or join an online choir. I firmly believe lockdown is making it easier to find love – not only does talking about it break the ice but you can also get to know someone slowly. That way Mr or Ms Maybe, who you thought you might not have wanted a second date with, becomes your perfect partner over time.
What tips have you got for successful video dating?
Have an end time for the date, then afterwards you can decide if you’d like to see them again. Remember they can see what’s behind you so make sure it’s tidy. And don’t share too much sensitive information. I think if you’re meeting them virtually it can be easy to be too relaxed and off-guard. Finally, do dress up as if you were going on a date because you’re on one!
So you’ve met someone in lockdown and you like them. What should you expect on your first real date?
They’ll be different and more animated in real life. Don’t expect too much. You may both feel nervous, so be honest about that.
‘If you want to be a matchmaker, the Association of British Introduction Agencies offers a consultancy service. It costs £2,000 but you get a mentor’
Salary: With experience, expect to be earning around £40,000 to £50,000.
Regular hours? Mostly but you’ll need to work late occasionally and some Saturdays.
Short and sweet advice: Listen to your gut feeling about people.