Young, single and clueless: why flirting is big business

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The Independent Online
It's all in the body language. A raised eyebrow, a brief, intense moment of eye contact and a tantalising smile. It sounds simple, but Britain's young professionals have forgotten how to flirt.</p>Long hours in the office have made a generation of 20- and 30-somethings socially inadequate, under-confident and single. As a result, classes on the techniques of flirting are booming.</p>Last week, at a hotel in Russell Square, London, The Independent on Sunday joined 50 people all hoping to learn how to improve their chances with the opposite sex. Each had paid £10 to attend an introductory evening on flirting.</p>Their host was Peta Haskell, Britain's self-styled leading flirt coach. Her organisation, the Flirting Academy, runs "attraction in action" evenings like this one; flirting weekends at hotels at a cost of £350; and even one-on-one consultations for which she charges a £150 an hour. Since Ms Haskell began in 1999, the number of people attending her courses has increased 10-fold. Flirting, or at least the teaching of it, is big business.</p>At the Attraction in Action evening last week, the session began with an hour of music and dance, supposed to make the audience relax.</p>Bedecked in a tight gold and black tracksuit with braiding in her dyed-blond hair, Ms Haskell, that great guru of flirting, demanded of the audience, "what do you want?" and, "Why are you here?"</p>To Paul, a student in his 20s, the answer was obvious: "I want to give a lot of women a really good time," he said. David, a clean-cut looking man in his thirties, was less direct in his answer but no less desperate. "I want to have an amazing, passionate, extraordinary relationship," he said. Spencer, a middle-aged man, on the other hand, said: "I want to live life as if in a whitewater rapid - more people, more energy, more full-on."</p>The first task for the audience was to greet each other. Mingling, they approached members of the opposite sex with the words, "hello you goddess/god". An exercise to create an "inner sense of belief".</p>The next step was to inform a partner of your desires. "Does your body language reflect what you wish for?" asked Ms Haskell.</p>While the theme of the night was "to get in touch with the jewel that sparkles within you", Ms Haskell's intensive flirting weekends are taught in a more practical way.</p>Her pupils are schooled in eye contact and sent outto flirt. If nothing else, Ms Haskell says, the pupils create "a sense of well-being" and "positive communication".</p>Jackie Kemp is a 33-year-old dentist who attended a flirting weekend in 1999. Having spent long hours locked away in her surgery she had, she says, "forgotten how to interact socially".</p>Throughout the weekend she put her flirting lessons to good use and developed, she recalls, "a close bond with Martin, a fellow pupil". Ms Kemp and Martin went on their first date a week after leaving the Flirting Academy and married 13 months later.</p>Ms Haskell is not the only coach with a growing clientele due to the demands of singletons. Relationship gurus across the UK are reporting a rise in business. Mark Williams, a life coach whose one-on-one and group sessions are designed to open people up to the opportunities of relationships, agrees. "It is a growing industry," he says. "Since I started 18 months ago, it has really taken off."</p>The Independent on Sunday decided to put the flirting advice to practical use. Friday lunchtimes at the Via Rossa are packed with single young men. First to be approached was Arun Rajput, a 24-year-old IT manager from Paddington. As this reporter played with her hair and attempted eye contact, Mr Rajput seemed impressed. "Her approach was different but good," he said. A group of Barclays Bank employees were also complimentary, although "a low-cut top would not have gone amiss," said one. </p>