When Karen Mooney was in her 20s, she noticed that many of her friends were struggling to find The One.
In the late 80s, the men and women in her friendship group found they just weren’t meeting people who took their fancy, and who shared their views and ambitions, in bars and clubs – they were getting frustrated.
Long before online dating became a thing, Karen had the idea of setting up a matchmaking company to bring together like-minded singletons – and 33 years later, she’s responsible for thousands of marriages and countless babies.
She explains: “There was nothing like it around. I was in my 20s. A lot of my friends couldn’t meet the right kind of people so I thought maybe there is a business in it – and there was.
“The dating rules had changed.
“Women had their own careers, their own mortgages. We weren’t looking for someone to provide for us. We wanted to be independent. It was difficult to meet people in wine bars and pubs that you had something in common with.
“They wanted someone who had mutual respect for them, where they would be a team and not one part of the equation was more successful than the other.
“There was nothing for young, forward thinking professionals who wanted to take charge of their own life.”
Karen jumped straight into her new venture, Sara Eden, quitting her job at Buckingham Palace with enough money saved up to keep her going for a few months.
She started interviewing people at her kitchen table, finding out everything she could about the singleton to find them their perfect match.
She said: “I’m good with people and I had a fantastic gut instinct.”
It wasn’t long before she was able to move her business into an office in Windsor and start to step things up.
At the beginning, she charged singletons £230 to help them look for love.
For the fee, they would visit the office once a month and be allowed to pick 12 dates. After getting to know each individual, Karen would try to work out who was best suited to who.
Before long she was making good money, which allowed her to start advertising in national newspapers.
She said: “I started going to pubs and handing out business cards.
“People were fascinated because there was nothing like it.
“In those days we had to sell the concept because there was a stigma, but it’s changed completely now.
“People now say they hope we can take them on.
“The Internet has brought dating into people’s homes. You’re meeting people who want to be met and who want the same as you.”
Summing up online dating and match making services perfectly, Karen compares it to buying a house – saying that you would never look for a new home by just walking up and down streets. You find an expert who shows you the ones that are available, and go from there.
Karen set up the business in September, and was invited to her first matchmade wedding in the following December, in 1989, – Malcolm and Vicki.
The couple invited Karen to their wedding celebrations, and she says it was a “fantastic” day.
She says: “I remember it like it was yesterday. He phoned me to say he was going to propose, it was lovely.
“I’ve still going the wedding photo on the wall.”
At the wedding of another couple she set up, Karen was shocked when the mother-of-the-bride asked the vicar to call her up to the alter to be part of the official photos.
A few years and two children later, the couple invited Karen to a barbecue at their house and they recreated the fun photo.
One of her favourite success stories is a two-generation set up, where she matched up a couple and then introduced their son to his bride.
After 33 years of matchmaking, Karen’s business has come a long way but while the logistics are very different, her aim is the same – to help people fall in love.
She’s set up thousands of couples and has lost track of the number of weddings and babies that have come from her matchmaking skills.
She now has a second office in Westminster and has clients around the world.
She explains: “The best part is changing people’s lives. When people phone up and say this time last year I was by myself, and joining the agency was the best thing I’ve ever done.
“Sometimes you just get a feeling about two people. You get a feeling that they are similar and they want the same things. I can’t explain it but I’m not often wrong.
“You never know who is going to walk through the door.
“You can’t help everybody, sometimes people are single for a reason, but by large it’s very exciting.
“How many jobs can you go into in the morning and by the afternoon you might have changed someone’s life.”
Karen has seen her company change drastically through the pandemic.
The first few weeks were extremely quiet and she was forced to furlough the entire team, but things started to pick up.
“All of a sudden it went bonkers. People were at home and thinking about their life.
“Some people were thinking, ‘I’m 60, I could have 20 years with someone’.
“People who are nudging 40 were thinking they wanted a family.
“It became incredible busy so I could unfurlough everyone.
“It’s completely changed my business. If you had said to me would virtual interviews work I would have said no but they 100% work.
“We’ve got a new website launching in January, it’s been fantastic.”
But what makes the perfect couple?
For Karen, there are a few things she looks out for when setting people up.
She explains: “It’s very important to laugh.
“You don’t have to have the same hobbies but you have to have the same values and want the same things in the future.
“There has to be attraction there.
“If you’re young, can you see yourself being with that person when you’re old and grey and the children have grown up?”