It’s the stuff of fairy tales: Girl looks for handsome prince, kisses lots of frogs, finally finds her knight in shining armour and lives happily ever after in a beautiful castle.
This, in a nutshell, is what happened to Claire Cale, 29, who feared she was destined to remain a spinster of this parish.
However, any similarities to Cinderella or other fairytale princesses stop there. Claire is every inch the independent woman.
Clever, ambitious and self-sufficient, you would never catch her trying on glass slippers or scoffing poisoned fruit. As for letting a bloke climb up her hair, forget it.
Nevertheless, her story is remarkable and every bit as heart-warming. It could even be described as a parable for our busy times.
Like most women, Claire, from Sutton Coldfield, dreamed of finding Mr Right. But like many other women with busy careers she has had to make sacrifices in the love and romance department.
Also, blighted with a chain of dating disasters, she had started to believe that she would remain on the shelf.
“I’m career-minded,” Claire tells me, “so I didn’t have much time to meet people. One of my friends suggested internet dating, so I decided to give it a try.”
I had always considered lonely hearts columns and online dating companies to be the last refuge of the desperate, deformed or downright dodgy.
Not so, says Claire.
“It’s an easy way to meet people,” she explains. “If you meet someone in a bar, you don’t know if they’re telling you the truth about themselves, whereas if they advertise themselves online, especially on a reputable site, they have to go into more detail about themselves.
“The difference between lonely hearts columns and internet dating sites is that the websites are much more interactive.
“You can talk about yourself in greater detail and there’s not as much pressure. You don’t have to meet anyone until you’re sure.”
Claire’s quest was to last 10 years.
“I almost lost faith,” she confesses.
There’s a simple reason why it took her so long: “I’m actually quite picky,” she says. “I was looking for a non-smoker, someone who lived locally, who was conscious about their diet and health.
“I’m vegetarian so that was important in a prospective partner. Most important of all, I wanted someone who’s driven and ambitious. My job’s important to me and I put in a lot of hours. They have to understand that.”
Crucially, Claire also wanted “someone with morals who doesn’t lie and cheat.”
That’s not a lot to ask, but time and time again, dates would fall short, often disastrously so, for Claire.
When Claire found a potentially suitable match, she wouldn’t jump in blindly.
“I found it helpful to actually put off a date,” she explains. “I’d email a few times and talk to them on the phone, just to find out if they were serious. You can weed out quite a lot of the non-starters from there.”
If Claire believed there was some sort of spark, then she would organise a date. That’s when things would go wrong.
Claire talks candidly about the many “tossers” she met in her search.
“There was one guy who seemed quite good-looking in his photograph and we got on well. It was only when we met that I realised why he didn’t smile in his photograph.
“He had the most awful teeth, all black and green. That was the end of that.
“I met someone else who lied to me about his age. He told me he was 32, but I found out he was older when I heard his mum organising his 40th birthday party.”
Was that the end of that? I asked.
“Not quite, I was quite keen on him. I ended it when I found out he was cheating on me.”
Asked to recall her very worst experience, Claire replies: “Blimey, how do I pick one?”
“The most bizarre was when one date turned up with his ex-girlfriend. She was firing questions at me all night, obviously not over him.
“I actually enjoyed the evening. We went to the theatre, which wasn’t bad. I liked the play but made a swift exit after it finished.
“If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.
“There are so many idiots out there and I seem to attract them. I’ve had loads of insulting messages and one guy virtually stalked me. He’d bombard me with emails for weeks. I’m so glad I didn’t meet him.
“Another guy - he was Greek - actually offered me £200 to spend the night with him. I found that really insulting and told him so.
“You also get emails from people in foreign countries who are looking for an easy passport.”
Another problem is that men will often leave their details online and carry on dating after they’ve found a match.
“That happens quite a lot,” Claire reveals.
Claire’s friends, entertained by her apparent bad luck told her that she ought to write about her experiences which she did, once she’d met Mr Right.
Her book, Becoming A Princess is out now.
“I wouldn’t say I was getting desperate,” says Claire, “but I did want a family amd my body clock’s ticking. I was in a real dilemma. Should I accept second best or keep looking for Mr Right?”
Luckily, Claire didn’t have to make that choice because, out of the blue, Mr Right came calling.
“Robin ticked all the right boxes and we hit it off straight away. I knew I had found my Mr Right.”
What Robin didn’t tell Claire until they had agreed to meet was he was actually minted and lived in a castle in Staffordshire.
“He kept that quiet at first,” says Claire.
Claire had an inkling that her and Robin would get on. They shared many interests: health, work ethics and ambitions.
“There was a real spark straight away,” says Claire.
Their first date was “fabulous”, says Claire.
“We tried to decide on where to go and settled on meeting in the village square where he lived. I thought, oh he’s going to take me to the village pub.”
The pair spent 45 minutes chatting in the square, “he probably wanted to check my online photograph was real” before Robin asked Claire to follow him in her car.
“We drove into a castle, although I’d seen it before, I thought it was a stately home,” Claire remembers.
“Then Robin turned to me and said: ‘Welcome to my home.’
“I remember thinking ‘how bizarre,’ I thought I’d seen it all. I still didn’t realise it was actually a 13th century moated castle. We sat in the orangery for 45 minutes just chatting and then he said: ‘Come on, I’ll give you a tour.’
“That’s when it started to sink in.”
Things progressed quickly from there. Robin had to fly to Spain for the weekend on business but the pair had their second date as soon as he got back.
“That was in January and I moved in in March this year.”
Robin’s no toff, his money is not inherited but completely self-made through property development. With 70 properties, mainly in Manchester, he has built up his wealth himself.
When he bought Caverswall Castle, he planned to live in it himself and has spent time and money restoring it to a very high standard.
“Robin told me he was interested in design, but I had no idea it was on such a grand scale,” says Claire.
The pair were a perfect fit. Robin’s commitment to enterprise matched Claire’s dedication to her top sales job which showed a matched ambition and rather than slow down into domestic bliss, the couple actually seem more driven.
Robin’s turning the castle into a commercial venture for weddings and functions while Claire, having written the book, now finds herself in high demand.
“So many opportunities have come my way,” she confirms. “I’m writing a newspaper column, working on a second book and I’m heavily involved with the dating website, match.com.
“I’m also talking to a life-coaching company about overcoming the disappointments I had in my search for happiness.”
Claire has common sense advice for people considering internet dating. Always meet in a public place and let people know where you are.
It’s best to meet someone local so you’re on familiar ground.
As for advice about meeting your very own prince, she’s certain about several things:
“Never accept second best and never be distracted by status. Never let go of a good man once you have found him. Nothing has romance until you put some work into it.
“You don’t have to live in a castle to be a princess. You’re a princess if you’re treated like one by your partner. If he respects you and shows it, then you’re a princess. That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned.”
* Becoming A Princess by Claire L Cale is published by Authorhouse and available to buy now. The website is here.