Sue Ostler flicks her hair and plunges into a sea of beery yells. A lone island of glamour in the courtyard of Covent Garden’s Porterhouse pub, she takes two lost-looking girls by the arm, sashays up to a pair of male drinkers and flashes them a megawatt smile. For the next couple of minutes she’s all coquettish playfulness, glowing skin and towering platform heels. But once everyone’s nattering away, she takes a step back and quietly melts into the crowd.
‘The girls said they’d had a bit of eye contact, but didn’t know what to do,’ explains Ostler. ‘I just started chatting to the guys and once the girls had joined in, I took that as my cue to leave.’ Just a few hours earlier, the same girls, a pair of eager-looking thirtysomethings in party frocks, had been participants in a one-hour ‘flirt-shop’ led by Sue. She had split them into pairs to practise flirting their way round Covent Garden bars.
It’s something she’s been doing since 1998, when she was, in her own words, ‘dumped, big time!’ Alongside a day job as publisher of Rolling Stone in Australia, she wrote ‘Getting Over It’ – a manual for moving on with your life – and ended up on the Australian bestsellers lists. Since relocating to London in 2004, she’s taught hundreds of women to flirt (although she has also branched out into men), had Metro and Cosmopolitan seek her relationship advice, and set herself a number of challenges where she uses flirting as a kind of sociological experiment. At the moment, she’s attempting to flirt with a different stranger every day, ‘to prove that not everyone in London town is unfriendly’, she says.
After an hour, Ostler and her wards head over the road to Jewel. Sue sends her students off to mingle and within two minutes, they’ve been invited to a private party. At the bar, all four of tonight’s disciples are being individually chatted up. Sue smiles and takes up a position in a corner. ‘I could get involved, chat and have a good time, but that’s not really the point,’ she says, pulling out a ticksheet containing categories like ‘eye contact’. ‘Plus I need to take notes on them for the feedback session afterwards.’
One woman breaks away, and one by one her companions’ conversations also peter out. ‘Once they’ve talked and drifted away, it’s very hard to get them to go back into the conversation,’ Sue sighs, so we move on to the Maple Leaf. At the bar, the women enthuse about their ‘good pulling power’ and plonk themselves down at tables with pairs of guys. By now, they’re on fire: a flurry of animated conversation has their male companions eating out of their hands. ‘The whole point of these nights is about confidence,’ explains Sue. ‘If they go away feeling comfortable having spent the night flirting, they’re more likely to do it again.’ And has it worked tonight? ‘I think so,’ says Sue. ‘And I should know. I’ve already got two weddings on my books.’ Alexi Duggins
For info on Sue’s weekly flirt classes, see flirtdiva.com. Her new book for men, ‘Sex, Dating and Really Confusing Girls’ is published by MX at £12.99.