The handsome young waiter’s eyes followed Sarah as she walked across the restaurant, and she felt her heart beating faster as he leaned over to place a napkin in her lap.
“At 54, I was unused to the attention of young men, especially a handsome one in his 20s,” she says.
“Our eyes connected as I told myself not to be silly – he couldn’t possibly be interested in me. But I was wrong.”
Sarah Jarvis is 59 and has four grown-up children and four grandchildren.
Attractive, slim and smartly dressed, she has been divorced from her lawyer husband for 15 years, and had resigned herself to a series of uninspiring dates with overweight, balding men of her own age at home in Chester.
But here, on holiday with a girlfriend in the Turkish resort of Dalaman, was the promise of something very different.
For Sarah was about to become one of the many thousands of British women courted by the legions of young foreign men in such tourist hotspots as Turkey, Egypt, Jamaica, the Gambia and Kenya.
This summer, thousands of these middle-aged, single women will pour off the planes, to be met by countless fit, athletic-looking dark-skinned young men who will casually approach them, saying: “What a beautiful lady you are. Can I help you find your hotel?”
The chance of a harmless sexual fling, or something more sinister? Writer Jeannette Belliveau, a self-confessed former “sex tourist” and author of a book called Romance On The Road, says the problem is becoming endemic and that these women are deluding themselves about the dangers such flings present.
“The ultimate risk is death,” she says, bluntly. “In the past two years three Western women have been killed for their money by their foreign ‘toy boys’.”
Some of these women tourists never went home after their holiday. Barbara Scott-Jones, 61, from Leeds fell in love with Jamaica and was building a home on the island when she was found dead earlier this year.
Labourer Omar Reid has been charged with her murder. Police believe Barbara had been having an affair with the 30-year-old and had just ended, or was trying to end, the affair when she was killed.
The number of older women who form long-term relationships with holiday gigolos is growing year on year. Statistically, a third of all cross-cultural “marriages” end in divorce, and Jeannette says the naivety of the women involved is unbelievable.
“Most of them are middle class and intelligent, which makes their behavior even more baffling,” she says. “These guys are after their money, pure and simple, and the ultimate goal is marriage so they can get a visa and move to the UK. The fact that they can fall for lines such as ‘You are so gorgeous’ is ridiculous.”
Fifty-three-year-old Jeannette, from Surrey, divorced in her early 30s. A few years later, despairing of the lack of dates in the UK, she began to travel the world and had numerous sexual encounters with young, foreign men. Today, she is married to Lamont Harvey, a historian ten years her junior.
“The trouble is that for divorced or widowed women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, their male peers in the UK are either very unattractive or are looking to date much younger women.
“In countries such as the Gambia and Kenya, there is both a surplus of men and the fact that women there tend to marry men at least ten years older than themselves, which is the culture. So for 18-year-old and 20-plus men, there is no one to date.
“Poverty is rife. Then, over the past ten years, planeloads of mature single British women have started arriving, their handbags full of cash. They’re fit, good-looking men and it didn’t take them long to realise that there are rich pickings here.”
Sarah now realizes how deluded she was during her Turkish fling. She began sleeping with Mohammed, a waiter, almost as soon as they met.
“The sex was amazing,” she says. “Either Mohammed was a very good actor – which is more than possible – or he genuinely enjoyed going to bed with me.
“Imagine what it was like for me, a fifty-something women who felt abandoned, unloved and on the shelf, thinking no man would ever find me attractive again. Here was a beautiful young man with the most incredible, fit body, begging me to go to bed with him.
“Even though alarm bells were ringing, I thought: ‘Why not? What if I never get this opportunity again?’
“He asked me to go for a walk with him when we were in the restaurant. My friend said ‘You can’t be serious’, but I said: ‘Why not?’ And off we went. He kissed me and before I knew what was happening I was inviting him up to my hotel room.”
At 54, Sarah had gone through the menopause and, deciding there was no risk of pregnancy, did not use a condom. “I can now see that this was extremely foolish, as I later discovered Mohammed had slept with hundreds of women,” she says. “I could have picked up a sexually transmitted disease, not to mention the threat of Aids.”
As they lay together, Mohammed told her he was 22. “For the rest of my holiday we spent most of the time in bed. It must have been awful for my friend, but I didn’t care. I was on cloud nine.
“He would look into my eyes and cry, saying: ‘I want to grow old with you, and I want to take care of you for the rest of my life.’
“When I left him at the airport he was in tears, making me promise to write every day and come back soon.
“As soon as I got home I phoned him. He mentioned that he needed some new shoes, and could I send a small amount of cash? Still besotted and with the memory of so much happiness, I sent him money.
“Gradually, the requests began to multiply. Could I send him the money for a DVD player, as he did not have one? Whenever alarm bells began to ring and I sounded a bit short with him, he made me promise to fly out and see him.
“Within that year, I flew back to Turkey four times, spending a fortune not only on plane tickets, but on gifts for him.”
Meanwhile, back in the UK, her children were highly dubious of mum’s new ‘boyfriend’. “I didn’t dare tell them how young he was, and played down the fact that he was a waiter,” she says.
“I said he was in his 30s and ran his own business. They were saying: ‘Look, Mum, this guy is clearly a conman.’ I told them not to interfere, that I knew what I was doing.”
As they lay together in Sarah’s hotel bedroom Mohammed poured out all his financial woes: he was responsible for his elderly parents and was the only bread-winner in the family. “He made me feel guilty if I questioned his constant need for money,” she says.
For the next three years, Sarah flew to Turkey five times a year. Not only did she give Mohammed thousands of pounds, she also flew him on holiday to Istanbul and the coastal resort of Marmaris.
“Sometimes we’d be walking down the street, hand in hand, and other British tourists would look at us askance,” says Sarah. “But I was very defiant – they didn’t realize that this was a real relationship, that we were in love.”
Sex tourism by British women is not a new phenomenon. As far back as the 1890s, there are recorded incidents of single British women becoming involved with dark-skinned Italian and French men on their cultural ‘tours’ of Europe.
During the British Raj, it was not unknown for English matrons to fall prey to the dark-eyed charms of young Indian men.
But in the past two decades, the phenomenon has escalated. Author Jeannette says that since the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of western women have had affairs with much younger foreign men.
“These are respectable middle-class women. Not all of them are unwitting victims to these sexual conmen,” she says. “I have spoken to many women who fly to the Gambia or Jamaica specifically for the purpose of recreational sex.”
Indeed, some British women are utterly shameless about it.
Nicky Jardine, 50, who has two adult daughters and runs her own headhunting business in Guildford, Surrey, goes on holidays with the intention of having sex with young foreigners.
“I see nothing wrong in being a sex tourist,” she says. “My working life is very stressful. Holidays are a time when I can have fun. I have dated men here, but men my age want younger women, and they are also boring. Compare them to a fit, tanned 20-year-old Egyptian!”
Nicky first had sex on a holiday four years ago. She says: “I went on my own to Egypt. I didn’t go looking for sex, but on the first day I became aware I was being eyed up by a very handsome young Egyptian who worked in the hotel complex.
“I told myself not to be silly, but then he approached me and told me I was beautiful.” Nicky invited him to her room.
“It was amazing,” she says. “Maybe he’d targeted lots of British women before – who cares? I wasn’t looking for a long-term romance.
“Of course, you have to realize that these people might be living in poverty. You could be robbed, or even kidnapped. But I felt quite safe when I was with him.”
Now she is settled into a pattern of wild holiday flings totally at odds with her respectable image. Indeed, many would argue that her insouciance about such promiscuity is rather demeaning.
Last year, Nicky enjoyed a Caribbean cruise. “A young crew member made advances,” she smiles. “We had the most amazing times in my cabin. I’d taken my mum with me, and she knew what was going on. In fact, she said: ‘I wish I was 50 again!’”
“I totally understand why more and more British single women like me are going on holiday looking for sex. It’s the easiest thing in the world to pick up a young, handsome guy who will tell you are beautiful and make passionate love to you. All it takes is a bit of cash for presents, and I have plenty of that.
“I always practice safe sex, so no one gets hurt. But I would tell women to be careful. Always use a condom and don’t go off with these men. They are strangers, after all.”
Five years on and Sarah Jarvis no longer looks back on her holiday romance with rose-tinted glasses. “I must have spent more than £20,000 on Mohammed,” she says. “On my final trip last year, I rang his mobile as usual when I arrived at the airport. There was no reply.
“I drove to the hotel where he worked as a waiter, and stormed into his tiny room. He was in bed with an elderly, white woman – like me. He rang me, sobbing, saying it was all a mistake and he loved me.
“Later I marched up to the woman in the hotel dining room and asked her, very calmly, what she thought she was doing. She looked at me in surprise. ‘But he’s my boyfriend,’ she said. ‘We are in love, and I have been flying backwards and forwards from the UK to see him.
“I told her I had, too. She said she had promised Mohammed she would leave her husband and marry him. I said she was a fool.”
Sarah then told Mohammed that his lies had been exposed and ended the relationship. “Speaking to some of the hotel staff, I found out Mohammed had at least 40 white girlfriends,” she says. “It must have been a real juggling act making sure we didn’t all arrive at the same time. Goodness knows how much money he was making out of us all.
“I know people will think: ‘How could you be so stupid?’ But you have to realize just how seductive it is, if you feel fat, old and ugly, to have a beautiful young man saying he cannot live without you and making love to you as if you were a stunning creature.”
But Sarah adds: “More than anything, I want to send out a warning to all the British women planning a holiday romance this summer: don’t do it!
“It will cost you thousands of pounds, and you will end up feeling ridiculous and despised. These are practiced conmen – they don’t think you are beautiful; they laugh at you behind your backs.”
Jeannette agrees. “Wise up,” she says. “At the very least you will be fleeced out of hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds. In Kenya and Africa generally, Aids is endemic and you are putting yourself at serious risk.
“Some of these guys are so poor they have nothing to lose, and they may turn violent. If you go off alone with them and change your mind, they may well rape you anyway.
“I know I have been guilty of sex tourism in the past, but there is no way I would take those risks now, knowing what I know.”