Ex-18-30s holiday manager SADIE NICHOLAS says the holiday was tragic

Why I’m so glad this tawdry party’s over at last: It sold itself as ‘sun, sea and sex’… but ex-18-30s holiday manager SADIE NICHOLAS says the truth was far more sordid and tragic

  • At the heart of the mayhem were holiday reps, ‘masterminding’ drinking games
  • Down on the beach there was sex, and lots of it — involving reps and guests
  • For many reasons I won’t be mourning the passing of the Thomas Cook brand

15 years ago, Sadie Nicholas managed the in-house press office for High Street tour operator Thomas Cook, which has owned the Club 18-30 brand since 1998

On a steamy night in August 2003, the streets of Magaluf were filled with swathes of drunken, semi-clad men and women in their late teens and early 20s.

Inside the bars, more groups of sunburned party- goers danced provocatively on table tops, downing vodka shots, hellbent on oblivion — and casual sex at the end of the night.

At the heart of the mayhem were holiday reps, jeering them on and ‘masterminding’ various drinking games designed to get them even more plastered. Revellers licked squirty cream off each other’s chests, passed courgettes from mouth to mouth, and burst balloons by purposely clashing groins. No one seemed even remotely embarrassed or ashamed.

Meanwhile, down on the beach there was sex, and lots of it — involving both the reps and their young guests.

Welcome to a Club 18-30 holiday in its heyday, fulfilling the promise of its many famous advertising slogans, including: ‘It’s not all sex, sex, sex. There’s a bit of sun and sea as well.’

At its peak in the late Nineties and early Noughties, the company owned a 65 per cent share of the youth travel market, herded more than 110,000 passengers a year to party resorts around Europe, and spawned a no-holds-barred cult ITV docu-show, Club Reps, which followed its reps in the Greek resort of Faliraki, on Rhodes.

Famously, that same summer, five club reps were photographed indulging in a lewd sexual act on the beach in Kavos, Corfu.

Despite subsequent sackings and suspensions to satisfy public outcry, both from locals and officials on Corfu and in the UK, behind closed doors at Club 18-30 HQ there was no such thing as bad publicity.

After all, sex, booze and general debauchery were its USP, and precisely what those who signed up to a Club 18-30 trip coveted most. In fact, far from damaging business, that notorious episode in Kavos led to an increase in bookings.

At its peak in the late Nineties and early Noughties, the company owned a 65 per cent share of the youth travel market

How do I know all of this? Well, 15 years ago, I managed the in-house press office for High Street tour operator Thomas Cook, which has owned the Club 18-30 brand since 1998.

Over two years, I got to visit many of the brand’s key resorts and was more privy than most to the tawdry drunken behaviour that was its trademark. If it all got a little too out of hand, even for the liking of the head honchos — as with the Kavos incident — it was my job to try to brush the controversy under the nearest beach towel.

Back then, I couldn’t see an end to it. It felt like an out-of-control party where no one would leave. Every year, when I thought human behaviour couldn’t sink any lower, it found a new low.

Wind forward 20 years, though, and it seems — finally — that it might be drawing to a welcome end. Nowadays, rather like its original generation of customers, Club 18-30 is way past its prime.

Thomas Cook herded more than 110,000 passengers a year to party resorts around Europe

Interest in the brand has waned, and it was no surprise when this week it was announced Thomas Cook is understood to be making plans to offload the brand. So what has brought about this change in tastes? Apparently, it’s down to advances in technology. The current generation of 18 to 34-year-olds prefer their holidays to ooze a certain urban cool — which they can show off to their friends back home on Instagram.

Camera phones and social media didn’t exist in Club’s debauched heyday; what happened on holiday stayed on holiday, and even the most revolting behaviour could — eventually — be hushed up and forgotten. Blushing over your holiday snaps in Boots was as close to public ‘outing’ as it got.

Nowadays, as many young people have found, any minor infringement has a habit of appearing on social media, and being extremely difficult to erase — ruining reputations, relationships and even job prospects in an instant.

Consequently, holidays have evolved into picture-perfect Instagram ‘stories’, taken against holiday backdrops designed to incite envy in friends and strangers alike.

The trip pawned a no-holds-barred cult ITV docu-show, Club Reps, which followed its reps in the Greek resort of Faliraki, on Rhodes

In fact, a report published earlier this month revealed that more than half of 18 to 25-year-olds say social media is a major factor when picking a holiday hotel.

Still, it would be naive to think that, beyond the carefully crafted gloss of their photos on social media, young people don’t also go off with their friends, get sloshed and have holiday romances. Of course they do. I have a four-year-old son whom I fully expect will one day — once he’s mastered his doggy paddle without armbands, of course — head off on a lads’ holiday with his friends. It’s a rite of passage for young people which I hope never loses its thrill.

It’s just that the appalling behaviour which used to be commonplace no longer holds the badge of honour it once did — for which mothers everywhere, including me, are truly grateful.

Yet, far from writing this from some sort of moral high ground, I’m guilty as charged of having had my own dalliances during my university years with the very down- market resorts in which 18-30 made its name, including Magaluf, Kavos and Benidorm.

The appalling behaviour which used to be commonplace no longer holds the badge of honour it once did

Although my friends and I would have recoiled at the idea of signing up for an 18-30 holiday, we certainly danced on the tables, spent more on cocktails than accommodation, and partied till dawn.

Club 18-30 was founded as a cheap way for young people to get away and have some fun.

It started out in 1965 when it took a group of 580 young holidaymakers to Spain’s Costa Brava.

Founded by the Horizon group, it was originally developed as a way for the company to fill seats on unpopular night flights to the Mediterranean.

But the difference between my own girls’ holidays and the ones I was subsequently privy to during my time at Thomas Cook was that there was a dark underbelly to many of Club 18-30’s misdemeanours that went beyond the innocent foibles of youth.

And that is why I won’t be mourning its passing.

You could bet your flip-flops that the brand would be in the thick of whatever shameful melee made the headlines back then (and there were hundreds of them), be it a mass brawl on the streets of Faliraki, with holidaymakers flashing their breasts at locals, or up to 100 girls a day requesting the morning-after pill in Malia, Crete, as was the case in 2003.

Founded by the Horizon group, it was originally developed as a way for the company to fill seats on unpopular night flights to the Mediterranean

Worse still, I learned that there were frequently devastating consequences to guests’ drunken behaviour, and that serious injury and death — almost always linked to alcohol consumption— were simply part and parcel of the summer season. The balcony falls are the incidents that stand out most in my memory.

I still shudder to remember the report that landed in my inbox of a young man on holiday with 18-30 in Magaluf who’d drunk way too much then attempted to jump from the balcony of his apartment into the swimming pool.

He missed, landed on the tiled poolside, shattered almost every bone in his body and — last I heard — was expected to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Ibiza’s main party resort, a Newcastle University under- graduate on an 18-30 break with his brother and a friend fell to his death from a hotel roof after partying.

Two holidaymakers also died when they were hit by cars crossing the road outside the resort’s famous clubs. There were reps who died in drunken incidents, too — one young girl slipped, fell and hit her head in her apartment, dying from her injuries before she was discovered by a friend.

Inevitably, I also received the official reports of countless incidents of 18-30 customers being seriously injured or killed in moped accidents, often drunk and without helmets, although, to be fair, the reps always advised against hiring them.

But in the early Noughties it was Faliraki in Rhodes that made most of the headlines as Britons wreaked havoc there, shameful behaviour that many believed was fuelled by the ITV documentary that followed the 18-30 reps in the resort.

Doctors in the A&E department of the island’s main hospital recall his staff had been pushed to the edge by the relentless drunken behaviour of young Britons

If the reps could behave with such disregard for the island, the locals or their guests, why shouldn’t they do the same?

There were constant incidents where police were called to arrest holidaymakers brawling, having sex on the beach day and night, and pushing the local casualty department to breaking point with drink-fuelled injuries.

I spoke to a doctor in the A&E department of the island’s main hospital for this newspaper some years ago, and he recalled that his staff had been pushed to the edge by the relentless drunken behaviour of young Britons. Where booze was concerned, though, it was the reps who probably had most to answer for.

After all, alcohol was a lucrative cash cow for 18-30, and formed the basis of most of the excursions they sold to earn commission.

It was common knowledge in the industry that many male reps would sleep with female guests as a means of getting them to go on more excursions. And for young girls away from their parents for the first time, bedding a holiday rep was seen as a coup.

And it was an open secret that the reps would compete among themselves to see who could have sex with the most holidaymakers, knowing they’d be on a plane back to Blighty before long.

Still, Club 18-30 bosses would probably say that the brand has had a good run for its money, while wafting away the devastating trail of unwanted pregnancies, rape claims and tragic deaths it leaves in its 53-year wake.

But for every person who looks back nostalgically at the hedonism of their own experience of Club 18-30 in its heyday, there will be many more who will be relieved that the brand appears to be on the verge of being all partied out.

The squirty cream and courgettes that symbolised the debauched holidays of a generation of teens and twentysomethings may yet be laid to rest. 

The pool area was like a packed A&E: Mandy Francis remembers her Club 18-30 trip in 1981

It was 1981 and my friend Suzanne and I had just finished our A-levels and were desperate to go on our first independent holiday.

Having saved a little from our Saturday jobs, I was thrilled when she called me to tell me the travel agency had ‘a couple of last-minute cancellations’ on a holiday to San Antonio in Ibiza — at a bargain price.

It was only after we’d paid that we realised we had signed up for a Club 18-30 holiday — and we were horrified.

That year there had been lots of lurid stories about all the awful things that had been going on during these notorious trips — including drugs, drink-fuelled violence and no-strings sex.

But the lure of two weeks in the sun was strong, so we decided to spare our parents the finer details and flew out for our Balearic break.

Mandy Francis (left) flew out for our Balearic break with her friend Suzanne 

Our hotel was an ugly high-rise block next to a patch of wasteland. We opened the French doors to let some air into our poky room — to be faced with four boys, clearly worse for wear on the balcony of a facing hotel, completely naked apart from strategically placed blobs of shaving foam.

Down at the pitifully small, overcrowded hotel pool — where a greasy pole had been placed across the water for the guests to try to cross and win a scary green cocktail — things didn’t improve much.

The boisterous shouting and joshing we could hear as we approached suddenly hushed — and we were greeted by stunned silence.

There were about 150 people round the pool — and every single one was male. Scared off by bad publicity, it appeared no woman had been brave enough book a Club 18-30 holiday to San Antonio that year. ‘Throw them in the pool’ someone suddenly yelled — and a massive cheer went up.

But we needn’t have worried. Being British, the four boys that approached us politely asked for our sunglasses, purses, towels and sun hats — placed them somewhere safe and dry, checked we could both swim — and then threw us in.

After two days, the swimming pool looked like a hospital A&E department. One lad had a plaster cast on his ankle (run over by a moped when lying drunk at the side of the road), another two had black eyes, there were a couple of cases of blistering sunburn and a septic tattoo.

We went on only one of the notorious Club 18-30 organised trips. Yes, there were drinking games, yes, there was a foam party in a local club afterwards . . . but there was no casual sex, harassment or spiked drinks — just good, silly fun.

Fond memories of a first holiday without parents. But with a 16-year-old son champing at the bit for independence, I’m relieved this kind of trip is on its way out.

I’d rather he came home with some contrived holiday snaps than ‘San Antonio’ tattooed on his buttocks.

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