Bond: London’s new elite £5,000 matchmaking service
First, the good news: If you’re going out to a bar hoping to meet Mr. Right, you might not have to put up with folklore after all.
The bad news? It might not be him approaching you, but a slim blonde matchmaker he’s hired to do the groundwork for him. Oh, and you’ll have to pay £5,000 for the pleasure of meeting him.
At least that’s the mission of Charlotte Ball, 35, and Bronte Upchurch, 28, the founders of London’s exclusive new matchmaking service Bond, which launched last week to make the capital’s dating scene one of its kind, if not ever. so-slightly-elite, conversion.
For a fee of £5,000, members receive five hand-picked introductions and a highly personalized package that includes everything from pre-dress checks and organizing hair appointments to appointments with a life coach to rebuild their confidence after a messy break-up or divorce . . Think of it as a cross between Indian Matchmaking and Made In Chelsea (Soho House, Annabel’s and The Ned are popular scouting spots), only with less pushy parents and, hands down, fewer plot twists.
“People are tired of apps,” says Ball when I sit down with him at Bond’s posh, Scandi-themed headquarters in Chelsea. “They want to know if someone is serious about dating. People ran the gauntlet of dating apps before they got to Bond.”
Ball and Upchurch — both professional matchmakers for seven years and best buddies for five — are serious about what they do. Having worked for top matchmaking firms, they’re ready to modernize London’s matchmaking game and become the city’s Cupids for hire, whether sliding into potential members’ DMs on Instagram or running after hotties on the District Line with a metaphorical butterfly net.
It’s clear there’s a market for it: before last week’s release, Bond had more than 100 singles on his books, each paying thousands for Bond’s customized early pack. What happens when one of them meets The One on their first introduction? “Then we’ve done our job!” the girls smile. Oh, no discount then.
Of course, Bond’s somewhat eye-popping fees (pretty standard in the matchmaking game) mean he’s unlikely to be the new wristband any time soon, especially amid the cost-of-living crisis. But Bond was always intended to be a premium matchmaking agency. The initial questionnaire paints a picture of the post-Ball and Upchurch clientele. Of course, all the usual queries are available – age, height, religious affiliation – as well as income bracket and whether you own property (with overseas and multi-property options in the drop-down menu). For pet owners, the selection includes the usual furballs in London – cat, dog, rabbit – plus a horse category, because even horse fanatics need someone to go polo with.
That said, joining Bond isn’t simply about plunking down the cash and joining an exclusive club. Membership isn’t a given: Bond has a strict vetting process to weed out scumbags, time-wasters, and those who just want a leg up. “Dating takes time. If there’s anyone on our books who didn’t mean it – what a waste of time [for clients]. It’s harmful to them,” says Upchurch. He and Ball say they also turn away people seeking unrealistic age ranges and anyone with a very specific list of requirements. “We would never accept someone if we thought we couldn’t help them,” they say.
So how does the process actually work? According to Ball and Upchurch, the “headhunting” starts in upscale restaurants and bars, even the Tube, where they approach potential members with embossed white and gold business cards. Their prime hunting ground is – you guessed it – West London and the popular members’ clubs of the West End and City, so don’t expect them to prop up the bar at your local Wetherspoon’s. Instagram is also said to be a great headhunting tool, so keep an eye on your DMs if you’re looking for The One and have deep pockets.
After the headhunting, potential mates are asked to complete an online questionnaire before being invited to Bond HQ for a face-to-face chat. People, not algorithms, are the most important negotiation tool here. There, amid pristine white boucle sofas and huge black-and-white prints by Sir Roger Moore, Ball and Upchurch dive deep into everything that concerns you: your family, your career, your childhood, your deal-breakers. Oh, and of course the big one: dating history.
Sure, it might seem like a bit of a therapy session, but if you dig deep, you’re likely to be rewarded with better matches, says Ball, who says there’s been a lot from open conversations about egg freezing to members wanting to do CRB checks. possible matches. “We start our meetings with a handshake and end with a hug,” she says. “By the end, we already know so much that we are friends with them. Emotional. People have really let their madness down.”
It’s questionable how much friendship you can really make in a 45-minute chat, but Bond certainly promises a more thoughtful and long-term approach than the average dating app. Rather than simply pairing you up with someone new and letting them thrive, Bond offers “connections,” a team of professionals who can help with everything from pre-date hair, beauty and styling appointments to phone calls. later. There is no way we can escape the ghost images.
So who is the typical customer so far? Upchurch, still in her twenties, says the youngest person on their books is 28, but they also have hopefuls in their seventies — and it helps that as a matchmaker, along with their CEO Sharin Shafer, they boast a wide range of ages and marital statuses. : The church is at the beginning of a new relationship; Ball is in his thirties, married with one child; And Shafer is in his fifties and remarried. “We appeal to different types of people. We had marriages, babies, grown children. We’ve been through different experiences so it’s easy [for clients] to relate to,” Ball says, adding that not everyone aspires to romantic love; many of the older members are looking for companionship, and Bond helps them navigate the vastly changed dating landscape, now dominated by apps.
For those looking for romance later in life, Shafer says many clients are “encouraged” to start dating again in their late 40s after a divorce. “It gives people hope that it’s not too late.”
Ball and Upchurch are the main faces of the agency and naturally make great poster girls. “Some are disappointed that these two aren’t single!” laughs Shafer as we talk about Ball and Upchurch as they approach potential customers at bars.
What if the stranger they approach has already been taken? “Even people who are happily married say, ‘Oh, I have a great boyfriend,’ and pass on our card,” says Ball. If that’s not an excuse to dress to the nines the next time you head to Soho House, I don’t know what is. Until then, it’s beans on toast for me.
Matchmaking vs dating bot: all is fair in love and artificial intelligence
I’m spending ten minutes a day on Hinge, scrolling through a pile of profiles, when a handsome lawyer stops me in my tracks. The problem is that your profile doesn’t say much. I’m racking my brain for a conversation that’s a little less pathetic than “hey how are you?”. I know it’s lame, but to make matters worse, every attempt is now scored. “You got a C, try again,” says AI matchmaker Dara, who quickly makes me feel like I’m in dating school (I probably should be). Can artificial intelligence really be a worthy competitor to my personal matchmakers?
First, a little about Dara. She’s not as tall or leggy as my personal matchmakers, but she has the advantage of being free and certainly has the brains. Elate dating app is built on the same technology as ChatGPT and promises to help you with everything related to dating. So how do they compare?
Where Bond has the relationships that allow for a head-to-toe, inside-out makeover (very Sandra B in Miss Congeniality ), Dara keeps things simple. She can’t book a mani or find the perfect LBD, but she does promise to deliver some applause-worthy opening lines and first date ideas. These include a picnic in a football stadium, which seems to be lacking on the romance front: imagine the reaction from the fingers at Arsenal FC.
That said, everyone deserves a second chance – even AI – so I’m tinkering with the boxes hoping for better answers. I get paddleboarding (lol), a day at a theme park and a hot air balloon ride over London, both a steal for £30. Unfortunately, Dara does not point to the operator who offers such an offer, but then it is still in the early stages of development.
It’s a far cry from the smooth running of Bond, where reservations are made at upscale restaurants that cater to picky eaters and certain dietary requirements.
As for the chat lines, well, it turns out to be a trick. Dara offers no help, only silent judgment and pious criticism. At least I’d get a sympathetic laugh from the Bond girls. Maybe robots won’t inherit the Earth after all.