Why single men are paying a fortune to find true romance ? One day last August, Duncan Cheatle walked into a London café to meet the woman he hoped would change his life. At 44, Cheatle had a lot going for him. He was a successful entrepreneur; he liked going on adventurous holidays to such places as Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar; he had a lot of style. But unfortunately he was still single man and was growing increasingly unhappy at living his life that way. He'd been close a couple of times, but it hadn't worked out. And now, as he saw it, "I don't want to be getting nearer 50 and still not settled down." And with that in mind he agreed to meet Rachel for coffee. Rachel was an elegant, angular woman with glossy blonde hair. Although only 34, she had her own business and spoke a language Cheatle understood – "consultant", "connecting". Their conversation was nothing more than a friendly discussion. But by the time Cheatle left he was convinced Rachel was the woman for him. "I trusted her straightaway," he explained later. Here, at last, was someone who understood him.

A week or so later, he met Rachel again. This time in her office, where he paid her £8,000, plus VAT, for a minimum of 10 dates over 18 months and the promise to help him find, if not the love of his life, then certainly a romantic partner. Rachel MacLynn is a professional matchmaker. She offers her service to high-end, successful people, mostly in their thirties and forties, and what they get for a fee is a series of introductions and a personal approach. As the founder and CEO of Vida Consultancy, she meets her clients, questions them closely on their life history and what makes them happy and, backed up by her psychology background, attempts to match them with a compatible partner. It is MacLynn's job to accompany her clients on their anxious journey to love, sometimes in person, although more likely via the telephone. "They can, within reason, ring me any time they want," she explains. She is your cheerleader, therapist, a friend who has no needs. Apart from your money. MacLynn is currently helping 40 people find a partner. And she is not alone.

There are a growing number of dating coaches, matchmakers, "pick-up" artists, seduction experts who, for a fee, will work on your behalf, rather than you trying to work it out alone. Because the matchmaking industry is self-regulated, it is hard to say how many professionals are out there. But the CUPIDON dating agency, for example, which charges up to 1500 Euro for membership and covers all Europe, has seen a 200 per cent rise in inquiries in the past year or so. "It used to be a taboo to use a dating agency, but now it is like a status statement. It has the same cachet as a personal trainer," says Ana Raluca, the CEO of CUPIDON, whose members range from executives to models. And with one million more people living alone than they did in 1996, MacLynn believes the love business is set to expand. From a background in occupational psychology, she launched Vida Consultancy two years ago after seeing matchmaking grow in the States. "Stepping away from a career in business psychology to focus on a career in matchmaking is the best decision I ever made. The industry is hardly tapped into at all."

Finding a mate, whether for conceiving and raising children, enhancing one's socio-economic standing, companionship or simply for having sex, can be a haphazard process, down to the referrals of friends, lucky meetings or chance chemistry in the office. Online dating promised a better way by expanding your universe of potential partners. Match.com/en, which went live in 1995, is now the biggest dating site in the world, with 17 million users a month. But people lie on their dating profiles. They post old photographs, or say they are looking for love when they are married. In an analysis of its own data, another site, OkCupid, confirms that men exaggerate their income (by 20 per cent) and their height (by 2in). Also, compatibility is calculated with an algorithm. Most internet-dating sites rely on a questionnaire that asks such things as race, religion, sense of humour, musical taste, desired age range and body type. The data is fed into the computer, which finds matches based on your stated preferences. Some, such as match.com/en, also learn from what you do on the site.

So, if a woman says she doesn't want to date anyone older than 30, but often looks at profiles of fortysomethings, match.com will know she is in fact open to meeting older men. But still, how can a computer know what's right for you when it doesn't know you? "People come to me and say, 'Will you do all the searching, vetting and screening for me, because I don't have the time to be trawling through the internet,' " says MacLynn, who sees her role as gatekeeper and quality controller. Jill Rhodes-Harvey, founder of Rhodes Harvey Introductions, is more forceful. She sees online dating as "a mass market of people you would normally cross the road to avoid, let alone go out and date".

The way most matchmakers work is by allowing you to browse through profiles as you would books on a shelf. Others choose for you: they bring five books to your door, ask you to select one and then return to the shop with the four others. Vida's model is based on executive recruitment. Clients pay for the personalised service – exactly how much depends on the target search: £8,000 (local cities and towns); £15,000 (either Europe or the States); £25,000 (both); £50,000 (global). It also has a database of names scouted by "search consultants" – people located in various cities around the world – who are paid a commission for each recruit. Registration is free for these singles, but each is interviewed on the telephone by Vida's staff (there are five) and spoken to in person if a client wants to meet them. Jill Rhodes-Harvey is critical of the modern matchmaking business, seeing it as "a money-making industry" run by people from "banking and recruitment agencies", lacking the personal touch of traditional matchmakers such as Heather Jenner, who ran the high-society Marriage Bureau in the Forties and Fifties and met and introduced all her clients. "Professional matchmaking is about finding love for a client, whether they are white, black, attractive, not attractive, 25 or 65. It is not about offering a pre-set number of introductions – that is about putting a certain number of bodies in front of you." "The industry does need to be more regulated," MacLynn agrees. "A lot go into matchmaking without any previous experience, but that doesn't mean they can't do their job." And those singles who have the means seem to be signing up to the idea, especially men. Vida has more men on its books than women – just under 60 per cent; the majority of Rhodes-Harvey's clients are men; Kezia Noble, the "pick-up instructor" and author of The Noble Art of Seducing Women, only coaches men. "Men in the modern era are very confused and intimidated by women, and this is the result of the ongoing feminist movement," she has said. "[Women] are empowered by programmes such as Sex in the City and that has led them to be very aggressive, quite dominant. Men think, 'I don't know what approach to take; if I get it wrong she is going to be quite ruthless about making me look stupid.' " Some remain sceptical that the primeval mystery of human attraction can ever be unlocked with money, but Cheatle believes £8,000 is worth a try. "Why would you not invest in what is probably the most important thing in your life?" he says.

'I'm 44 and I want kids. I don't want to keep waiting and waiting' Duncan Cheatle, 44. Spent £8,000. Entrepreneur. Earns: undisclosed. Used matchmaker Vida Consultancy. Current status: dating. Time since last relationship: six months. "I haven't found it that easy to meet people I feel strongly for and who feel strongly for me. But then, I've seen a lot of people get married to people they are not entirely sure they are completely in love with. To me, that's a no, and I'd rather stay single. "I met a fantastic, gorgeous woman when I was 31 and we were together for four years, but neither of us was quite ready. I've never lived with anyone. I don't want to think how rare that is. "After graduating from the Cass Business School, I joined an accountancy firm. I set up my business 12 years ago. I have a golden rule that I will never have anything to do with anyone at work, because I am the boss and that would be an utter disaster.

"I'm 44 and I want kids. While I don't have the issue of a biological clock, I don't want to keep waiting and waiting. "Rachel [MacLynn] was recommended by two friends. I procure lots of services in business and this isn't entirely different from that. Why would I not invest eight grand in someone I trust to help me find connections when I am very busy? And when I do meet people, they are invariably married, attached or not right. Rachel can't be a miracle worker, but she can clarify criteria or things that are deal-breakers.

I like women who are really bright, fun and attractive. Heels are good, but if they're wearing flats, that's fine as well. Caked in make-up is probably not my cup of tea. "I signed up six months ago and have met four women. I took the first date to a cocktail bar in Old Street. She was a good match on paper, but there was no chemistry. But the way Rachel does it is that she sets you up with a date and you give her feedback. I totally bought into that. It's a case of building a picture. Number two was attractive and we met again. She was great, but there wasn't enough there. I met my third date in a bar in the City. She didn't ask any questions. It's nice to be asked about yourself. And she didn't say thank you. As a bloke, you always pay. It's a big turn-off when a woman goes off to the loo when you are about to get the bill and they don't offer or say thank you. "Number four… We shall see. We met in a restaurant. She works in marketing and we've been together three or four months. "It was a leap of faith, because you are paying a substantial fee upfront. But Rachel said, 'Look, trust me, I will make it work.'"

'Laura was my fourth date. We were married last year' Paul Angus, 38. Spent £7,000. Works in IT. Earns: £80,000. Used Drawing Down the Moon introduction agency. Current status: married. Time single prior to meeting wife: one year. "My parents always said, 'You will just know when you meet the right person.' It will be clear, fireworks. When I met Angela at upper school, I thought, 'This is the one.' Angela was why it took me so long to settle down at Manchester University. But after about three years, it became too difficult to live two lives. So then I met Hannah. We moved in together. I thought, 'This is it.' Three years later, she ended it. "By my mid-twenties, I was single and more pragmatic. I focused on work. I became a director at 25. By 30, I was on £75,000 a year and had a flat by the Thames in Canary Wharf, London. My friends were all partnering up, but I was still single. Being successful was part of the problem. I was working long hours in a male-dominated world. "I didn't want a one-night stand, nor was I going to spot someone in a bar and think, 'We are going to have great chemistry.' The only thing you can possibly be attracted to is what they look like. And that wasn't enough.

"So, in my early thirties, I signed on with match.com/en. But it's hard to get a feel for someone from an online profile. People are reduced to bare facts. You think, 'I couldn't possibly be with someone whose favourite colour is magenta.' By the same token, I hated the thought that people were making snap judgments about me. "Then a friend suggested Drawing Down the Moon. I met one of its consultants; then they decide whether you fit the kind of clientele they have. In some ways that went against my view that it's judgemental just to look at someone, but I thought, 'OK, the fact that they are fitting you with other professional people might work better.' Having a go-between made it more comfortable. "What they promise depends on the package [fees range from £1,950 to £15,000]. I had a higher package, where you have a head-hunter to decide on good matches for you. First they interview you, and I filled out a questionnaire. When you go to the offices, they give you profiles and you choose some you find interesting. They ask you what drew you to those profiles and then they choose others based on that. They understand you, know what it is you want. "Laura was my fourth date. We met on May 24, 2008. She had a lower package, which meant she didn't have access to higher-package profiles (she spent £4,000). So I got told about her before we met. But she didn't get told anything about me. "She is a lawyer and is bubbly, caring and fun.

The following Saturday, I surprised her with dinner at Quaglino's. We were married on March 3, 2012; our baby was born in February. "The money I spent was entirely worthwhile. I don't think there's any way our paths would have crossed otherwise. Going to a matchmaker is about getting the opportunity to meet people. If you are someone who isn't meeting people, then you are not going to meet a special person." 'Once you get a date, you have to be a sex ninja, give them a good sexual experience' Siong-Loong Choong, 32. Spent £7,500/ Engineer and actor. Earns: £42,500. Used coaches and courses. Current status: single. Time since last relationship: two and a half years. "I'm looking for female affection. And sex. But I have shortcomings that need to be worked at. Asian men are less successful at online dating than whites, blacks and Hispanics, according to research. And white women prefer to date white men. Also, I am not a tall guy. You could say, 'Does that matter?' But I know a guy who is tall, good-looking, Caucasian. He's slept with more than 100 women. I've slept with fewer than ten. "I was born in Malaysia, where my father sold parts for ships. He died when I was young, but left us with enough money to emigrate to New Zealand. I studied maths at the University of Wellington. I moved to the UK when I was 27. I live in Maidenhead and run a successful website company. But there is not much to do in Maidenhead, so I joined Rotaract [the Rotary Club for 18 to 30-year-olds]. But these guys and girls formed a clique and I wasn't included. They were going out Friday and Saturday evenings and also having sex with each other. That made me think, 'Maybe I need to do something about my love life.' "I didn't go to a matchmaker, because that is like you are getting someone to fish for you, rather than learning how to fish for yourself. First of all, you need social skills to meet a woman, and then you use your seduction skills to seduce them. So two different skills sets.

Then, once you get a date, you have to be a sex ninja, give them a good sexual experience. So it is hard work being a man these days. But I am very thorough. I'm a mathematician, an engineer, and I think in a very logical way. "In 2010, I went to a three-day Same Night Seduction Bootcamp in Las Vegas (£1,850). Only a certain number of women are SNLs (Same Night Ladies), so, basically, you don't want to waste your time trying to seduce those who are not. You screen by asking questions such as, 'What are you doing tomorrow?' If they say work, chances are they don't want to be up all night not getting any sleep. On the first night, there was a girl who was really into me, but she had to drive her friend home. Second night, nothing. Third night, I was just about to walk out of a club with this girl. We were a few metres away from the entrance and her friend came out of nowhere and grabbed her away from me. Things like that happen. I felt on fire after the boot camp; maybe I'm making excuses, but there aren't that many SNLs in Maidenhead. "I'm having training with the dating coach Hayley Quinn on things like fashion and practice dates (£500). This isn't a quick fix; it's an ongoing process."

'Everybody is vetted, so you know the person you are going to be meeting is of a certain calibre. You don't get any old Tom, Dick and Sally' Llewellyn Francis, 38. Spent £4,000. Headhunter. Earns: £35,000-plus. Used the Mutual Attraction matchmaking service. Current status: divorced, with two daughters, aged 8 and 7. Time single since marriage ended: one year. "It was my wife's decision to split. We'd been married for eight years. I was devastated. At first, I wasn't interested in women; I just focused on my work and kids. But now I'm looking for a relationship. "I'm no oil painting, but I do have a way with women. It's the things you say and how you say it, your tone of voice. I've been out with lots of girls. I'll go to bars with friends and just go over and say, 'Hi, can I get you a drink?' Or buy them a drink when you're on the other side of the bar. They are lovely girls, don't get me wrong, but they don't come from professional backgrounds. "For me, it has always been about bettering myself. I'm from Malaysia, where my father was an officer in the Malaysian Army. We came to the UK when I was 13. I got a job as a chef in my early twenties. When I was 24, I was offered a job as a recruitment consultant in the hospitality industry. Not trying to blow my own trumpet here, but I have this ability to just talk to people. If I see a girl or a guy and they have the right look I'll say, 'Look, I am a headhunter. Here's my business card. Give me a call. Give me a CV. Let's have a chat.' My role models are Raymond Blanc and Richard Branson.

"It was Caroline [from Mutual Attraction] who approached me. I used to write a 'man about town' column for an online magazine. I'd write, 'I'm in this bar having cocktails with this lovely girl,' and tweet pictures of the food and my date. Caroline started following me. We met last April. I signed up in August for 12 dates (£4,000). "Everybody is vetted, so you know the person you are going to be meeting is of a certain calibre. You don't get any old Tom, Dick and Sally. So far I've been on three dates. The first was in insurance and was colder than ice. She was expecting Brad Pitt and got coal pit, so that didn't go too well. Number two was slightly better. She was a lawyer and we just went for a coffee. Again, we didn't really click. She said, 'You're a nice guy. Let's stay in touch on a platonic basis.' I said, 'Hey, not a problem.' After that, Caroline introduced me to a woman who works in commodities. We went to a restaurant and it went really well, then we saw each other two weeks ago. I definitely want to see her again. She is a divorcée and has no kids. She is more focused on her career, which is fine. "Obviously, the first two dates didn't go too well, but perhaps that is the one thing no agency can get right: the chemistry."

'Although I was confident in certain aspects of my life, I wasn't confident in this area' Winston Smith, 28. Spent £4,000. Business development consultant. Earns: £25,000 plus commission. Used Johnny Cassell, dating coach. Current status: single. Years since last relationship: six. "I signed on with Johnny Cassell for two reasons. One, I was in the 'friend zone' – girls only wanted to be friends with me, nothing more. Secondly, I was a virgin. "Although I was confident in certain aspects of my life, I wasn't confident in this area. It got to the stage where I said I need to get this sorted. "First I went to a relationship boot camp in March 2011. It cost £200 for 12 hours. I learnt body language and how to become more alpha maleish. For instance, if you keep your legs shoulder-width apart, and your thumbs in your belt strap or back pocket, it betrays you as a very open person. Before, I just fell into a chair and slouched. "But I didn't get a lot of time to develop myself, so I said, 'You are going to have to invest hardcore into this.' Johnny was at the boot camp. He is the only person in my life who has ever identified my problems. He said to me, 'I bet you are always in the friend zone.'

"I signed up in July 2011, but it took me about a year to save up. I was working in an O2 shop in Epsom. I worked for O2 while I was studying politics at Leeds Metropolitan University and liked it so much I carried on. "You have one consultant during the day and another at night, and you meet them in a café or McDonald's, or wherever. Johnny took me out to clubs on three nights. He showed me techniques. He says a female has to qualify herself to you, to show her that you are a man with high standards. So rather than asking her, 'What do you do?' you ask, 'What is it you do for fun?' And you've got to overcome their objections, as you do in sales. So if a woman goes, 'Can you do this or that?' you've got to question, 'Why do you want me to do this?' "I went up to 30 or 40 girls in one night. I was physically and mentally exhausted by the end. I got about 18 telephone numbers and then you have to maintain the texting vibe. It's tiring having to text so many people. "I lost my virginity two months after and have got a new job with a higher salary. So I got all the things I wanted and it's mainly because of the confidence. "Last week, I saw a girl at a station, and I went up to her. We spoke a bit and I said, 'I really want to take you out for lunch.' She said, 'That's fine.' So I took her out, but just for an ice cream. I haven't taken her out for a proper date yet. I might do that tomorrow."