A devoted husband and wife who wed when he was just 17 and she was 51 are due to celebrate 18 years of marriage – despite family and friends saying it would not last.
Teenager Jay Barham and divorced, mum-of-two Linda fell head over heels in love in 2000 despite their staggering 31 year age gap.
The loved-up couple wed the following year after a whirlwind romance which shocked many of their close friends and relatives.
Now Jay, 36, and Linda, 69, are due to celebrate 18 years of marriage in July with both insisting they are ‘more in love than ever.’
Jay said; “Linda has been called a child snatcher, I’ve been called a granny basher.
“We’ve been called names in the street, and sometimes people think she is my mum.
“But we don’t care what people say.
“Our marriage has lasted a lot longer than many others and we are still very much in love.”
Jay was a trainee youth worker when he first met council youth worker Linda.
The couple say they were instantly attracted and bonded during driving lessons she gave him and through their love of music.
Jay added: “For eight weeks she was helping me learn how to drive.
“And then one time a track just started playing and we just kissed.
“For the life of me I can’t remember which one but it had to be Elton John because he’s our favourite.
“It was completely unspoken up until that point, but as it happened it was like the sun just came out and it was a shock to both of us.”
It took Jay, who had had three previous serious girlfriends before Linda, three days to get over the shock of the kiss before asking her out on a date.
At the time Linda, from Hardcourt, Essex, was concerned for the feelings she felt for a boy the same age as her son Simon.
She said: “I just thought: ‘this is wrong’, I felt awful.
“But I was divorced for five years, my children were all grown up and knew that it just felt right”
Linda’s children Alan (13) and Simon (17) were “shell shocked” at the idea of the relationship but decided that “as long as mum happy, nothing else matters.”
For Jay’s parents, who were over a decade younger than his new girlfriend, they thought it was just a flash in the pan.
Jay said: “They were okay about it, they just thought: ‘Oh well it will last if it lasts.’
“We were more worried about how my nan would react, but she was fantastic about it.”
In spite of doubtful friends that were certain the relationship would never workout, Jay and Linda got married eight months after meeting in July 2001.
Jay said: “We got married at Colchester Registry office on Friday the 13th, and everyone told us that we shouldn’t as it was an unlucky day.
“And then my suit didn’t fit, our car broke down, the ring didn’t fit and it got to the point that I’d just wear trackies and a top”
Linda said: “We were happy to get a bus to the wedding, but our family stepped in and sorted us out”
Jay and Linda have worked together for most of their married lives at an Asda bakery and are now opening a small cafe together near their home in Hardcourt, Essex.
Jay’s mother Valerie, who died in 2014, was 12 years younger than Linda but the two were still extremely close.
He said: “Linda and my mum gelled really well, there were absolutely no problems.
“My dad has a really good relationship with Linda, he actually describes her as ‘the daughter he never had’.
“We all go on holiday together and we’re incredibly close.”
In fact, bemused onlookers always mistake that Jay’s dad Stephen and Linda as his parents.
“Of course people always think I’m their child and they’re my parents, but we just laugh at it.
“It’s understandable, all sorts of people ask all sorts of questions.
“But I’ve never thought about age, I just think about the woman I love.”
Jay and Linda are un-bothered by people’s comments about their extreme age gap.
Jay said “People have said horrible things to us in the street.
The couple have even had their car windows smashed in what they assume to be an attack on their marriage.
Jay said: “We just got on with it, even now people frown on it.
“I always reply to people like that asking how many divorces they’ve had.
“Most marriages have all split up, regardless of their age.”
Linda thinks there is some hypocrisy in judging older woman more so than older men that have young partners.
“If it’s a man then you’re doing well for yourself, but then if you are a woman then you’re disgusting and frowned upon.
“We just love each other, we haven’t done this for fame or for money, we just love and think about each other.”
When the couple first got married, Linda was still able to have children but Jay was never keen in being a parent.
“I never wanted to be a father, I’m one of those people that just keep the toys to myself.
“I’m just not the parent type, I much prefer having grandchildren as you get to give them back.”
Linda has seven grandchildren between the ages of four weeks and 18 years-old.
Jay says that he never thinks about the likelihood Linda will die before him: “I treat everyday as my last so there’s no point in worrying about numbers.
“Personally the biggest positive about being married to an older woman is the civility, being able to speak about feelings and not pushing them under.
“We have adapted our lives [for Linda’s age] for example instead of walking ten miles we’ll go for a ride in the car.”
Although they have adapted their lives in some aspects, they certainly haven’t changed anything in the bedroom.”
Jay wasn’t a virgin when he starting Linda and he described himself as “well experienced.”
“You don’t just stop having sex when you reach 65.
“She still haves that drive, I don’t know why people think you die sexually at 50.”
The secret to a happy marriage, according to Jay, is simply about loving one another.
“I think it’s spending so much time together, we love each other and we do everything together.
“The only think we argue about is the cat, and even then we never go to bed without sorting everything out.”