For a hugely bright private wealth consultant who has racked up goodness knows how many millions of pounds for her well-heeled clients over the years, Tereza Burki knows she’s been pretty daft.
‘When you’re advising a client to invest in something, you exercise due diligence, go to Companies House, make checks, do your research — but in matters of the heart…’
She shakes her head. ‘You want to believe you can have the Cinderella story, the happy ever after, and meet Mr Perfect who ticks all the boxes: financially secure, handsome, sense of humour, intelligent, adventurous and wants children.
‘And someone promises you can have that eternal happiness if you just pay whatever and sign here — you don’t read the small print or exercise the due diligence you would for a client, as you want to believe. I had a gut feeling telling me: “Don’t do it.” Why didn’t I listen?’
Why indeed. Five years ago, Ms Burki, then a 42-year-old mother of three who was desperate for a fulfilling relationship and a fourth child after two failed marriages, approached the exclusive international dating agency Seventy Thirty.
Tereza Burki paid £12,600 to the upmarket dating agency, Seventy Thirty, who failed to find her a single match, then sued her for libel when she complained online
Staff at its plush headquarters in London’s Knightsbridge claimed to have more than 7,000 of the most desirable and affluent singletons on the planet on their books.
They were offering Ms Burki a revolutionary psychological profiling service to help her find the man of her dreams. Truly believing she was investing in a happy ever after, she handed over an eye-watering £12,600.
What followed was, well . . . nothing. No romantic dinners. No nights at the opera. Not even a shared pot of tea. She didn’t receive so much as a call from a potential Mr Right.
When she demanded her money back, Ms Burki, who was attracted to the agency’s promise of discretion, found herself caught up in a high-profile court case that has been pored over — and, in part, ridiculed — on social media.
Three months ago, Ms Burki won a High Court battle to recover her fees after the judge ruled she had been ‘deceived’ and ‘misled’ by Seventy Thirty. It was an empty victory.
For not only did the company successfully sue her for £5,000 libel damages for writing a damning Google review, in which she described it as a ‘scam’, today she is still very much single.
Agency boss Susie Ambrose outside the High Court during hearing in the company’s dispute with Ms Burki
Now 47, she fears her child-bearing years are behind her and feels utterly humiliated by having had every cough and splutter of her life aired in public. So much so that she has stopped dreaming of her happy ever after.
‘I’m finding it hard right now. I no longer have dreams. I used to dream of meeting someone, of having a future, when I went to these people. Now, I don’t know what’s next,’ she says.
‘I wanted someone to share my life. I love spending time with my children, but I missed adult company.
‘I missed the stimulation of a conversation, of sitting there with someone who cares about me, of sharing a bottle of wine with someone who says: “What happened to you today?” and who takes what you say to heart.
‘But how do you meet a man who shares your interests and accepts that you are an independent, strong woman when you’re in your 40s?’
Her story will resonate with thousands of successful women of a certain age all over the country. For, on paper, Ms Burki — who is fluent in eight languages — is highly eligible.
Born in Bulgaria to teachers, she worked hard in the world of finance to achieve her material dreams, starting in ship brokerage.
After describing the company as a ‘scam’ Ms Burki was taken to the high court and was sued for £5,000 libel damages
Before arriving in London six years ago, when her second marriage to a French civil servant ended, her income funded a home in Cannes, flying lessons, luxury African safaris, Swiss skiing holidays and a passion for sailing.
Today, she is impeccably groomed, in a Celine dress, with a diamond-encrusted Patek Philippe watch, a Van Cleef gold necklace and a Hermes Kelly bag.
She has her hair blow-dried professionally twice a week and shops for bread at Harrods, a short walk from her Knightsbridge home.
As well as her private wealth consultancy work, she invests in property. This allows her to privately educate her two youngest daughters, while paying for sailing holidays in the Caribbean, trips to the theatre and heaven knows what else.
But something is missing from her life, she says. ‘I’ve reached a stage where work no longer gives me the thrill it did.
I want something more meaningful. Material things don’t matter so much now.’
When Ms Burki moved from Cannes to London, she was, she says, initially excited about meeting new people.
She had friends in the City and presumed they would introduce her to an eligible man. But the reality turned out to be very different.
‘Most of the people I knew were married,’ she says. ‘The only things I was invited to were things with the kids.
‘When you’re single, you don’t get invited to suppers where there are couples, as you’re the odd one out.
‘The moment a woman divorces her husband, she’s out, because the wives fear you might set your sights on their husband.
‘My friends know I’m on my own. They knew I wanted a fourth child, but you’re not on their priority list. They’re not looking out for you.
‘They think you have an adventurous life because you can go out for drinks when they have to go home to their husbands. But all I wanted was to go home to a husband, too.’
Not that she readily confided in others about her loneliness. ‘You don’t want to seem needy. When I told one girlfriend how tired I was of doing everything on my own and that I wanted to be supported by a man who shared my interests, she said I should go to a pub in Chelsea where all these 60-plus single men drink.
‘She said they were wealthy and I could hook up with one of them and inherit their house.
Three months ago, Ms Burki won a High Court battle to recover her fees after the judge ruled she had been ‘deceived’ and ‘misled’ by Seventy Thirty
‘I said: “Why do I have to pick up a guy who is 70? Is that how you look at me? Am I the sort of woman who deserves nothing better? Why can’t you set me up with someone my own age? Her husband’s colleagues were all hedge fund billionaires. They had crazy criteria for women — not to mention crazy sexual quirks.
‘They wanted someone definitely younger, definitely slimmer, definitely taller. They didn’t want me.’
Ms Burki, who says she is ‘5ft 2in and five kilos too heavy’, tried going out with single girlfriends, but it was never really her scene.
‘I went to Annabel’s and other places in Mayfair, hoping to meet the right man, but I’m so tired in the evening due to everything I’ve had to do during the day and worrying about whatever might be going on with one of my daughters that I don’t have the energy to put on a fake smile and pretend to be this extrovert person.
‘When you’re in your 40s, you’re not as brazen as you were. I’m no longer flirty and 30, so I don’t go to bars and say: “Here I am.” It feels desperate.
‘How does an independent woman, who doesn’t seem to need a man, convince a guy you do need them?
‘I know I scare people away because I’m too earnest — not smiley enough — and I have a dry sense of humour. In my experience, that’s a turn-off to men. A guy needs to be reassured and admired. They say they want a successful woman, but they don’t.’
She adds: ‘Sometimes, I wish I was a man, who could go out to a club, have random sex with someone, then go home. But I’m not. It wouldn’t work for me. Sex has to be meaningful.’
When Ms Burki moved from Cannes to London, she was initially excited about meeting new people, but reality did not turn out that way and she was left disappointed
Ms Burki had a handful of brief flings before enlisting the services of Seventy Thirty, but few of them were satisfying and none lasted.
Overwhelmed by feelings of emptiness, she even consulted psychics, tarot card readers and astrologers, searching for hope.
‘You’re looking for answers,’ she says. ‘You want to be reassured things will turn out the way you want them to. I asked one psychic if I was going to have another child. They told me I was going to have a grandchild. I said: “Forget it.”
‘I began to feel that I was beyond going out. I’d sit at home, reading or watching a film with a bottle of wine and convince myself I was happy. Wine numbs your feelings.
‘It serves as a replacement for your loneliness, but the effect soon wears off. I don’t do it every night. I have to lose a few kilos,’ Ms Burki laughs.
Once she relaxes, she is thoroughly good company, with a lively mind and dry, self-deprecating sense of humour.
But, as she says, she can be ‘stand-offish’ when you first meet her. She’d hoped Seventy Thirty would grease the wheels of the initial awkward introductions.
‘The idea that something can be pre-arranged by a professional appealed to me,’ she says.
Tereza Burki (right) hoped the dating agency, run by Susie Ambrose (left) would help her get past the awkward situations of new introductions but was not found a single match
‘They pick the people and vet them, so you know who you are meeting and that their intentions are honest and they want the same thing as you.
‘OK, so they may meet you and decide they don’t want a future, but they are out there looking for the same thing: a relationship that will end with living with someone, marriage and children, whatever.’
She first approached the agency in October 2013 and visited its elegant, red-brick townhouse offices, where she was shown CVs of eligible bachelors on an iPad.
‘They showed me a guy who was in a T-shirt, very fit, leaning against a Mercedes in front of a nice house.
‘He had this air of nonchalance and well-being. He was about my age. I thought: “He looks nice.”
‘I said: “But I’m short, I’m not very young and I have kids. Are you sure this man you’re showing me wants someone like me?” They said: “Oh yes. Your experience and intellect will really appeal to them.’’ Ms Burki dithered over whether or not to join the agency. ‘My gut feeling was telling me not to.’
But the agency continued to email her on a monthly basis. After a fling, which didn’t last, with an American she’d met ‘by chance’ in Geneva, she decided to go back a year later and signed the contract.
‘The psychological profile takes an hour,’ she says. ‘You bare your soul to these people and tell them your dreams and aspirations.’
During the court case a judge found there were only around 100 active male members of the dating agency
Still in two minds, Ms Burki had only paid the first £4,000 for the profile when, in January, they sent the details of a handsome chap called James who worked in finance and seemed to tick all the boxes.
So she made her final payment. ‘When I asked about meeting him, they said he was travelling. I talked to him after the court case and learned he had no interest in meeting me, as he never wanted children.’
The agency presented her with another CV but, again, the introduction didn’t take place.
‘I still hadn’t met anyone by my 44th birthday on March 2, so asked for my money back. They said no and asked me to be more flexible.’
When Ms Burki instructed a lawyer, the agency claimed she was in breach of contract.
Angry, she wrote two negative online reviews, on Google and Yelp, which described the agency’s practices as a ‘scam’.
‘That was after three glasses of wine one evening when I’d tried to get hold of the owner [founder Susie Ambrose] to find a solution, but had been told: “Nobody talks to her.”
Ms Ambrose, on behalf of her company, sued for malicious falsehood and libel, claiming £75,000 damages. The judge dismissed the claim for malicious falsehood, but awarded £5,000 damages in respect of the libel claim relating to the Google review.
The judge also agreed that claims there were a substantial number of wealthy male members actively engaged in the agency’s matchmaking services were false
Crucially, though, he agreed that claims there were a substantial number of wealthy male members actively engaged in the agency’s matchmaking services were false.
In fact, the judge found that there were only around 100 active male members altogether, which could not be described as substantial ‘by any stretch of the imagination’.
He concluded that Ms Burki was induced to enter her contract by ‘false’ representation and ordered Seventy Thirty to return her fee, along with damages of £500 for emotional distress.
After the case, Ms Ambrose described Ms Burki’s expectations of Seventy Thirty as having been ‘lofty and unrealistic’.
‘She assumed it would be like internet dating, but we are a niche, exclusive agency, not a mainstream, mass-market online dating service,’ she said.
‘We are not going to have thousands of members because there simply aren’t thousands of single, wealthy, high-calibre prospects out there.’
‘I should have been smarter,’ says Ms Burki. ‘What is it about us that we’re always looking for this perfect guy? We become so desperate that we want to believe whatever we’re sold.’ She shrugs.
‘We have to keep trying to dig for truffles,’ she adds. ‘Perhaps I should start my own agency.
‘Maybe dinners where a number of eligible people meet each other. But then . . . where would we find the men?’