Shirley Valentine, eat your heart out! Pam Pardo lost her heart to a dishy local chef in Portugal

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There I was, sitting in a sun-dappled restaurant, eating the local delicacy of slow-cooked pork and clams and drinking a glass of cold Portuguese white wine, when a beautiful man walked in and changed my life.

He was wearing shorts that showed off his long, utterly divine, suntanned legs. He’d obviously just come back from basketball training (I learned later that he was a coach with the Algarve team), and sweat still clung to the hairs on the back of his neck as his eyes twinkled in the midday sun.

He picked up his guitar and began singing, and just like that I knew my 23-year marriage was over.

I was 44, with two grown-up children, an empty nest and a relationship that was — for me — long past its best when I fell for the charms of this exotic, moustachioed local who threw a live grenade into the middle of my ‘little’ life.

Pam Pardo said: ‘He picked up his guitar and began singing, and just like that I knew my 23-year marriage was over’

And if this sounds like the plot of a very famous film from 1989 — the seminal Shirley Valentine, starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti, about a bored English housewife who has an affair on a Greek island and learns to love herself and her life again — I’d totally agree with you. That was me. I was Shirley. The object of my crush, Jose, known to everyone as Ze, even looked like Conti’s character Costas Dimitriades.

The only differences are that I am still with my ‘Costas’, and I hadn’t gone to Portugal on my own.

My poor ex-husband Tony was sitting next to me in that restaurant that day in 1988, and could not possibly have guessed that in one heart-stopping moment I had fallen in love with another man.

The parallels don’t end there. Like Pauline Collins’s character, I’d been stuck in domestic ennui, watching middle age creep up on me. We lived in Congleton, Cheshire, where Tony ran his own hairdressing business and I worked part-time doing book-keeping and various other things.

Without the demands and distractions of motherhood — my grown children were their own people and no longer needed me — I’d started to question my purpose in life.

In the film, Shirley and her husband Joe, played by Bernard Hill, were known for their strict, staid routines (egg and chips on a Tuesday, steak on a Thursday). Likewise, we had a meat delivery from the butcher every week, and meals were set in stone.

And if this sounds like the plot of a very famous film from 1989 — the seminal Shirley Valentine, starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti, about a bored English housewife who has an affair on a Greek island and learns to love herself and her life again — I’d totally agree with you. That was me. I was Shirley. Pictured: Pam and Ze Pardo on the island of Armona, Portugal

And if this sounds like the plot of a very famous film from 1989 — the seminal Shirley Valentine, starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti, about a bored English housewife who has an affair on a Greek island and learns to love herself and her life again — I’d totally agree with you. That was me. I was Shirley. Pictured: Pam and Ze Pardo on the island of Armona, Portugal

While I wasn’t yet talking to the wall like Shirley, there was a definite nagging, dissatisfied chatter going on in my head, asking: ‘What is this all about?’ I wanted to do something a bit more adventurous, maybe even live abroad. I had dreams. Big ones.

Tony suffered from asthma and one winter, when he got quite sick, I persuaded him that we should sell the business and go to live in the sunshine.

And so, in 1988, we bought a house in Pechao, a small village in the eastern Algarve, about four miles from the sea.

We would eat in a little restaurant called Fonte Nova (meaning ‘new fountain’) where everything was fresh and bought locally.

And that’s where I met Ze, who worked there as a chef. With his brilliant English, passion for life and fabulous cooking, we struck up an instant rapport. A year later, he bought the restaurant.

In all honesty, things with Tony had not been great for a long time. We’d met at a fancy hair salon in Manchester when I was 17. I came from a pretty wealthy family — my dad was a director of Manchester City — and every week I went to this upmarket hairdresser’s where Tony worked as a junior. We married when I was 20 and I had my son Arthur at 21. Tony became successful and opened a string of salons.

Pictured: Tom Conti and Pauline Collins in the 1989 film Shirley Valentine

Pictured: Tom Conti and Pauline Collins in the 1989 film Shirley Valentine

I had modelled when I was young (I came second in the Miss Camay beauty contest) but I never felt good enough for my charming, effervescent husband, who used to have the ladies in the salon eating out of his hand.

It wasn’t a bad marriage, it just wasn’t a good one — not bad enough to leave, but not good enough, ultimately, to stop me falling for Ze.

Six months after our arrival in Portugal, Tony went back to England to attend to some business and I asked Ze to our house for a drink — he was a good friend by then, and I was on my own.

Ze was 34 and his marriage was also at a dead end; he and his wife had already separated. We sat chatting until four in the morning and then it turned into a kiss. The most sensational kiss.

I made my mind up then that I was going to leave Tony.

As soon as he came back from Britain I told him I was very sorry, but I was in love with Ze. Naturally he was shocked and devastated — it was a terrible conversation to have — but I’d never been so sure about anything. It was almost as if I had tunnel vision.

Of course, there were other people who needed to know, for whom this confession also represented a grenade thrown into their lives: our children.

In the film, Shirley’s daughter reacts with utter revulsion to her mother’s rebellion, whereas her son is more supportive. For me, it was the other way around.

My daughter Kate, who is a doctor, knew things with me and her dad were not great, so she was happy for me.

But my son Arthur was not pleased. He asked Kate if she could give me ‘some sensible pills’.

It was a bit like the scene in the film where Shirley’s husband calls her and begs her to come home, and tells her she must be going through the change of life. Her classic response was: ‘No, Joe, it’s a change of life.’

'My poor ex-husband Tony was sitting next to me in that restaurant that day in 1988, and could not possibly have guessed that in one heart-stopping moment I had fallen in love with another man,' Pam said

‘My poor ex-husband Tony was sitting next to me in that restaurant that day in 1988, and could not possibly have guessed that in one heart-stopping moment I had fallen in love with another man,’ Pam said

I never once wavered. I knew I was doing the right thing.

Over the course of several months, both of my children grew to absolutely adore Ze. Thankfully, they’d got to know him when they’d come to visit, and before we were a couple, which helped.

Three weeks after that first kiss, I moved into a small rented apartment with Ze, while Tony stayed in the old house — he still lives there now.

Obviously in a small village everybody knows everybody else. I wouldn’t say people were scandalised, but we were certainly the talk of the place.

Portugal is a male-dominated society, but right from the start I got Ze around to my way of thinking. If we were going out, we went out together, which was unusual (wives were normally left at home!).

I went to work in the restaurant, because I hated being stuck at home all day. That’s how I learned my fluent Portuguese.

But unlike Shirley I didn’t cook egg and chips for the English tourists — Ze’s pork and clam dish was too good for that.

In the film Shirley Valentine (pictured), Costas moved on to the next tourist as soon as Shirley left for the airport. He made a big mistake

In the film Shirley Valentine (pictured), Costas moved on to the next tourist as soon as Shirley left for the airport. He made a big mistake

In the end, my and Tony’s divorce was entirely amicable. We went back to England, where we had a lot of property, to sort everything out.

We scribbled out the details on a cigarette packet, saying: ‘Right, I’ll keep this, you keep that.’ Then I went to my solicitor and he went to his, and we said: ‘This is what we’re doing. What’s the cheapest way around this?’ It cost us about £200 and was the best divorce ever.

Ze and I finally got around to getting married in 1998. We had a lovely wedding in the town of Olhao with 50 friends — the ending of the Shirley Valentine story that never made it to celluloid.

It has been a beautiful partnership. We love each other very much, and always will. Ze would do anything for me.

Eight years after we met we set up a successful golf business, which organised trips all over Europe for rich American golfers.

We even got Tony involved as a tour guide. He used his charm to take the golf wives on cultural tours and to shops and restaurants while their men went round the 18 holes. He was a natural, as he never stops talking and the women loved him.

Pam said: 'Over the course of several months, both of my children grew to absolutely adore Ze. Thankfully, they’d got to know him when they’d come to visit, and before we were a couple, which helped'

Pam said: ‘Over the course of several months, both of my children grew to absolutely adore Ze. Thankfully, they’d got to know him when they’d come to visit, and before we were a couple, which helped’

Nowadays, we live on the tiny island of Armona, a stunning place with no cars or cashpoints, and just a few shops, cafes and restaurants. Ze took over a local restaurant with the most spectacular views from its rooftop terrace.

Armona is paradise to me, with its dune-backed white sand beaches that go on for miles, and little bungalows filled with families barbecuing on their porch.

And it is where I built my second business, as a project manager. I help people find properties and then renovate them.

My daughter Kate has a holiday home here, and my son Arthur lives here permanently with his two adorable Portuguese water dogs. I’m really proud of myself because I’ve built two businesses, and I went from a bored housewife to the director of my own destiny, with a lovely man at my side. Even though I’m 78, I’m still working

I look back and find that quite unbelievable really. I’m a different woman altogether. But I didn’t just fall in love with Ze, I learned to love myself. As Shirley says: ‘Really, I’m alright.’

Ze Pardo says:

When I first saw Pam on the main street of our village, Pechao, I noticed that she walked like a model. She was an incredibly attractive woman, and when I learned later that she was ten years older than me, it didn’t matter. She had something I had not seen in a woman before.

I had admired her from afar, but when she started to eat in my restaurant I got to know her — she was funny and sparkling.

My marriage had ended in separation, but I was not looking for someone new, and Pam had a husband. We became friends, but then one night we kissed and everything changed. I can’t really explain it, but I knew that this woman was the one.

Being from Portugal, where women unfortunately take second place, the relationship was a learning curve for me, but Pam was determined from the outset that we were equals, and we still are.

Ze said: 'Pam and I have had a wonderful life together, and now that we are in our autumn years I run a great restaurant, while Pam takes these old wrecks of houses and turns them into people’s dreams. It’s heaven'

Ze said: ‘Pam and I have had a wonderful life together, and now that we are in our autumn years I run a great restaurant, while Pam takes these old wrecks of houses and turns them into people’s dreams. It’s heaven’

She’s a brilliant woman and she changed my life for the better. We had a wonderful time doing golf tours for more than a decade, and now we live on Armona, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

But Pam has not stopped having dreams. She wants to buy a big camper van and travel all over Europe after the Covid pandemic. I’m not sure about that, but I’ll do anything for Pam.

In the film Shirley Valentine, Costas moved on to the next tourist as soon as Shirley left for the airport. He made a big mistake.

Pam and I have had a wonderful life together, and now that we are in our autumn years I run a great restaurant, while Pam takes these old wrecks of houses and turns them into people’s dreams. It’s heaven.

When approached by the Mail, Tony declined to comment.

Interviews: AUDREY GILLAN

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