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.Born in Farnborough, Kent, in 1924, Stella Flanders, as she was then, initially trained as a nurse.Then, aged 24, she married Ernest Groschel, a Czech engineer 13 years older who had come to Britain to escape the war.Those Stella has helped over the years include television personalities - although Stella is resolutely declines to name them - and members of the aristocracy.It is the ordinary folk, however, of whom she is most proud, and whose thank-you letters she treasures."I didn't really have the foggiest idea what I was doing," she says now.
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.
"I was fortunate that I had encountered them during my work as a journalist. Stella relied on word of mouth to get her business off the ground and by the end of 1962 she had amassed her first clients, who paid 15 guineas each (£15.75) for a year's membership.
Each came for a personal interview, with Stella carefully jotting down their age, hobbies and preferences into a notebook.
Unable to have children of her own, she believed herself to be no catch at all. "She had such low self-esteem." Stella matched her to a local man who was seen as something of a confirmed bachelor when he joined the bureau. The couple were so enamoured of her matchmaking abilities that just a few years ago, they sent their nephew to see her.
"I introduced him to someone and now they're very happily married, too." Most people, she says, have a firm idea of what they want, and Stella endeavours to deliver.