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.
"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 matched her very first client, a shy widow in her early 40s who was looking for a new partner to help with the upbringing of her young children."I found her someone and she married shortly afterwards," she recalls.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.We had nothing in common and simply couldn't communicate.
I was very young and we'd never spent any proper time together.
In almost half a century of romantic busybodying, nearly 20,000 people have passed through her books - from Bluebell girls and businessmen to beauty queens and barristers.
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.
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.
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.