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"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.

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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.

In fact, despite Stella's unhappiness, the couple remained married for 14 years, during which time Stella fell pregnant, aged 38, with the couple's daughter, Emma.

By then working as a journalist on her local newspaper in Sheffield, where the couple had settled, Stella knew she would be unable to continue with her career but, with a stultifying marriage, was aware she needed something else to distract her.

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.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.We had nothing in common and simply couldn't communicate.I was very young and we'd never spent any proper time together.Marriage bureaux were still in their infancy and, bound by the sexually conservative mores of the time, Stella found it difficult to gain publicity: in the early Sixties, few newspapers were willing to publish her ads, fearful they were linked with the sex industry.

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