When Denise Hardwick split from a Gambian toyboy husband she fell for on holiday, her family and friends breathed a sigh of relief.
They had warned her it would end in heartbreak and, within weeks, it did.
Badou Colley was unmasked as a love rat only interested in her money and, she claims, the chance of a British visa.
But if Denise’s family thought she had learned her lesson, they were wrong.
Now, just three months after her divorce, the 45-year-old is marrying another Gambian – and it has caused uproar.
Her eldest son, 24, is so unhappy with the situation he’s refusing to talk to her. But Denise, who has blown £10,000 chasing her Mr Rights, is unrepentant.
“My heart tells me this is the right thing to do – and I am going to follow my heart.” Until three years ago Denise had never set foot in Gambia – and the idea of finding love there never crossed her mind.
But all that changed in November 2011 when she and her 11-year-old son agreed to join her sister on a holiday to the West African country.
“I was in a real lull,” she says. “I’d lost my mother and brother to cancer and desperately needed some happiness.
“I’d never thought of going to Gambia, but its beaches looked wonderful online.”
Just a few days into their stay, Denise met Badou, then 28, a hotel worker and tennis coach who was fluent in English.
“He was teaching my son tennis,” she says. “He was good looking, but I didn’t really think of him in a romantic way because he was 15 years younger than me. Then he invited me and my sister for a night out and things went from there.”
The pair quickly became inseparable. Denise says: “I fancied him from the start. But he was a strict Muslim and I respected that. We didn’t do anything more than kiss or cuddle.”
When the week’s holiday came to an end she promised she would return.
“I booked another two-week holiday for my son and I as soon as I arrived home,’ says Denise. “I invited my
sister, too, but she told me I was being foolish and he was only using me to
get a visa.”
In February 2012, Denise flew out and within days, Badou was talking of marriage. Denise says: “He told me
once we were husband and wife we could live together.”
But it quickly became clear Badou was broke and it was up to Denise to bankroll the relationship and buy flights for frequent trips to see him.
She says: “I used all my spare money to make the relationship work. I was forced to rent out a spare room in my house for extra cash.” She even paid out £900 in solicitor fees to try to secure him a holiday visa to the UK.
He finally proposed when she flew out on a visit in October 2012.
“We were intimate for the first time that night,” she says. “I felt really loved.” The pair tied the knot there the
following month – but not everyone
was happy for her.
She says: “My sister told me I was mad and my eldest son stopped talking to me. It was tough as I am really close to my family but they were convinced I
was being used.
“It was just my youngest at the wedding and all of Badou’s family.”
Days after tying the knot, the couple discussed where they would live. She returned to the UK determined to get him a visa. But once she was back home in Epsom, Surrey, Denise says Badou changed.
“His calls became less frequent and he just seemed distant,” she says. “I said I’d fly back out to see him as soon as I could but he told me he was away for several months at a tennis tournament. I knew something wasn’t right.”
When Denise flew to see him in March 2013, she realised she had made the biggest mistake of her life.
“He was really angry when I turned up and refused to spend the night with me,” she says. “His mother then announced he was impotent and needed to see a witch doctor.”
Denise says: “It was humiliating to hear such a thing, I cried non stop for the whole holiday.”
In July, her worst fears were confirmed. “His friend called me and told me Badou wanted a divorce,” says Denise. “He said he’d met a younger English woman and wanted to be with her as I couldn’t give him children. He had cheated on me.
“My first thought was, ‘my sister was right,’ I knew at that point that he’d just been using me.”
But lovestruck Denise could not let go. She continued to visit Gambia in the hope of winning back her love-rat hubby – only to end up with toyboy Dan Jarju, 29, who worked in a juice bar.
She says: “At first I was too devastated to even think about dating again, but when I confided in Dan about what happened he became really caring.
“Suddenly, I was in another relationship, but I couldn’t help myself. Dan is gorgeous and I feel really lucky he’s interested in me. Of course, I know he might be using me too but I’m prepared to take that chance. Life’s too short.”
Denise and Dan are now engaged and are planning the wedding. She wants him to live with her here.
She insists every penny of the £10,000 she has spent in her search for love has been worth it.
“I haven’t spoken to most of my family for months,” says Denise. “They were unhappy with Badou and thought I had been taken for a fool. But I’m not hurting anyone and I am having fun.
“I believe in second time lucky. Yes it has crossed my mind that Dan might do the same thing. But he’s a lot more attentive with me than Badou and we’re blissfully happy.
“You only live once and I’m not going to letting this chance of happiness slip through my fingers.”