MIKE WESTPHAL, aged 44, placed his small ad in the Times and Private Eye in October. No catch. He is handsome, he really is rich, he really is going on a world tour - and wants to find a female travelling companion. Yes, he has the chance of romance in mind.
He has since received plenty of replies, photographs, poems, 10-page letters and tapes - but he still hasn't found someone to take on his trip.
Mike is bemused. He is divorced, with a 16-year-old daughter whom he adores. He has had an action-packed life - goldmining in Australia, stockbroking and designing flight simulators - but two years ago his mother was taken ill with cancer and he decided to move near her. When his mother died, Mike went through a reappraisal of his life. 'I found myself alone in the middle of nowhere, with few friends nearby. I wanted to find a partner, but didn't know how I was going to achieve this. So I thought of placing an ad.'
He hoped a humorous advertisement would be more likely to get a good response. 'Libran nun, non-smoker, et cetera, lacks romance and a sense of humour,' he explains. 'I thought my ad would combine a sense of security and excitement.'
Secretly, Mike was dreaming of finding an outdoorsy woman who liked animals and the countryside, and who would be as enthusiastic about his venture as he was. Unfortunately, the irony was lost: not one of today's reluctantly single, capable, attractive women read between the lines of the ad.
Offers did flood in, but not the right type. 'I was amazed at the responses I received. The women who wrote ranged from 21-year-olds in Hull to an 81- year-old Chinese grandmother living in Scotland. It was incredible what kind of woman wanted to meet me,' he said.
'One woman wrote three long letters in one day. Another sent me what looked like a circular letter she'd obviously posted to all the ads she'd seen in the paper, and asked me to tick which advert was mine. Another woman wrote explaining she was a refugee from Georgia and didn't want to go back.
'Some sent amazingly bad poems - one woman sent me a poem about logs. Another sent a picture of herself in a strange ecclesiastical-type gown reading the Bible.'
Mike tried phoning a few of his correspondents. 'I rang one number, and heard soft music in the background, with a rather peculiar and saucy taped message. I rang another, and all I could hear was a drunken slur on the other end, so I hung up.' Other women rang and quizzed him for specific details. 'How much did I weigh, how tall was I, colour of eyes? It was awful.'
Mike actually met a few women, too. 'An ex-police woman rang up and said she wanted to meet me. I tried to put her off, but it didn't work - she just showed up on my doorstep. I was flabbergasted. Then she began to accuse me of being a con man who was out to get my hands on her money. It was ludicrous - she'd driven all the way down from Northumberland just to chastise me]'
Mike realises that he might have been nave. 'I did meet one or two who were delightful people, but we just didn't click. My daughter says that in your twenties you can fall in love with someone just because a friend likes him. At my age it's more difficult than that.' But the ad hasn't been entirely unsuccessful. 'The great thing is that I've started meeting people round here since placing the ad. All the locals are talking about it.'
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