She is surely not the first holidaymaker to get amorous with a gondolier in the romantic city of Venice. But then, Melanie Sykes is no ordinary tourist.
Not only that, at 50 she is more than twice the age of the handsome boatman she was pictured kissing passionately, draping her arms around his neck as he clung tightly to her waist.
Little surprise then that the TV and radio presenter, who found fame in the 1990s as the face of Boddingtons bitter, told her online followers she was feeling ‘just a bit giddy’.
As our exclusive pictures show, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment clinch. Ms Sykes and the handsome Riccardo Simionato, 23, who still lives with his parents, went on to enjoy a six-day fling in the Floating City.
It should be said, however, that twice-divorced Ms Sykes, who has two sons aged 18 and 16, looks much younger than her age. As the gallant gondolier, who declined to discuss their dalliance, himself noted: ‘Beauty is relative.’
Manchester-born Ms Sykes was in Venice on a mini-break with a female friend and first posted a picture of herself being punted along a canal by obliging Riccardo last Saturday.
Saturday: On her first day in Venice, and Melanie Sykes, 50, heads straight for the gondolas, where she met her holiday romance Riccardo Simionato
The pictured embrace came less than 48 hours later, on Monday, and the next day she was seen enjoying an alfresco breakfast in the gondolier’s company in the intimate Campo San Toma square.
The following morning, Riccardo abandoned his gondola and joined Ms Sykes for a sightseeing boat trip along the Grand Canal.
Of his relationship with the former Big Breakfast star, Riccardo was coy. Speaking back on board his gondola, he grinned broadly as he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I don’t remember. I meet a lot of people.’
Pressed further, Riccardo, who was not born when Ms Sykes first found fame, acknowledged the 27-year age gap but added: ‘Beauty is relative. Maybe what in your eyes is beautiful, isn’t to me.’
Monday: The pair met up and shared a passionate kiss two days after they were first spotted together
Tuesday: The next day Melanie was seen enjoying an alfresco breakfast in the gondolier’s company in the intimate Campo San Toma square
He remained with Ms Sykes until Thursday, the last day of her holiday, when they were pictured arm-in-arm under an umbrella.
Riccardo wheeled Ms Sykes’s suitcase on to a water taxi that took them both to the city’s Marco Polo airport, where he waved her off as she made her way to passport control.
Asked if he prefers English women, Mr Simionato replied: ‘Every person is different, nationality doesn’t matter. True, no?’
But he clammed up when asked if he planned to see Ms Sykes again. For Ms Sykes’s part, she posted a tantalising picture on social media of the famous Rialto bridge with the caption: ‘Ciao for now.’
A former chef who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a gondolier three years ago, Riccardo earns €80 (£72) for each half-hour boat ride.
Tuesday: Melanie is clearly delighted as they make plans to meet later that evening
Wednesday: The gondolier spent Wednesday, his day off, back on the water, taking a boat trip with Melanie
Ms Sykes’s dalliance is in keeping with her penchant for younger men. ‘Men of my age tend to have shut down in some way, or they’re not as confident,’ she said three years ago.
‘One of the reasons I think I end up with [younger men] is because they don’t seem to have a problem approaching me. They have a bit more about them and they’re more confident and I need someone with confidence.’
Ms Sykes made her name pulling pints from an ice cream van in adverts for Boddingtons beer in 1996.
Coincidentally, a subsequent Boddingtons advert, this time starring actress Anna Chancellor, showed two Venetian gondolas drifting down a canal in Manchester, where the beer is made.
Thursday: The pair couldn’t keep their hands off each other as they walked the rainy streets. Then Mel posted this (right), suggesting she’d be back
Ms Sykes went on to host a number of TV shows including ITV’s Today With Des and Mel, with Des O’Connor, and Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast.
She also finished third in I’m A Celebrity in 2014 and has co-hosted a Radio 2 show with comedian Alan Carr, as well as having her own show on Capital Radio.
After the collapse of her first marriage to actor Daniel Caltagirone, Ms Sykes embarked on a whirlwind romance with Jack Cockings, a roofer, who she met on Twitter. Aged 28 at the time, he was 16 years her junior.
They wed in 2013, but she filed for divorce after just seven months of marriage, later admitting she married ‘the wrong person’.
She was briefly then linked to singer Olly Murs, 14 years her junior, and German golfer Martin Kaymer, who is 15 years younger, before dating comedian Steve Coogan, 55, for six months last year.