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Zero illusions for the Cannes-can girls

I used to think prostitutes were easy to spot. That was until I spent five days at the Cannes Film Festival where it is difficult to differentiate between a lady of the night and the general female populace. The festival is supposed to be a market place for film buyers and sellers, but the most popular deals being struck here are rather more base.

The biggest business is between men and women. Wealth and fame are traded for youth and beauty, and sex is the currency. It's prostitution, only with a veneer of respectability.

Hemlines are hitched up, tops are low-cut and morality is in short supply. It cost €2,000 for a bottle of champagne in one nightclub and outside the beggars' bowls are empty.

If the gaggle of women here hadn't already hooked a man (who was invariably 20 years older, four inches shorter and seemingly incapable of conversation), they were unashamedly on the prowl. They marched up and down the Croisette eyeing up the uber-cars that cruised by them. They stalked hotel bars, sipping glasses of Champagne that they bought themselves and guzzling bottles that were bought for them.

You'd be forgiven for thinking some of these women had facial tics they took so many cursory glances to their left and right.

The saddest thing I saw was a mother and daughter double act -- apparently Cannes veterans -- who walked the length and breadth of the Croisette dressed entirely in leopard print.

I encountered them every night wearing the exact same outfits, the daughter with a mobile phone pressed to her ear (I imagine she was listening to an empty dial tone) and the mother hobbling behind her.

The widespread opportunism of the women lent a sense of entitlement to the men, rich or otherwise. A German composer told me I was "very lucky" when he passed me his business card (I asked for neither the conversation nor the contact).

An Arab investor eyeballed me before rolling his tongue around his lips every time his wife slipped to the loos. I could forgive the brazen skirt-chasing -- it's Cannes after all -- but what man licks his lips?

Then there were the comparative gentlemen: the American producer who invited me back to his yacht with the words, "we don't have to have sex; we can, you know, talk, whatever", and the French actor who proposed to me, before adding, "I am famous in France so if you marry me you will be very popular". At least a prostitute can name her rate.

My Cannes adventure gave me a newfound respect for prostitutes. While most women leave Cannes with a suitcase full of crushed dreams and a couple of business cards, the prostitute leaves with a full wallet and zero illusions.

These predatory women use euphemisms such as 'sugar daddy' and 'benefactor', but they are complicit in the oldest profession, plain and simple. I've been trying to discern the difference between a gold-digger and a prostitute and the only distinction I can draw is that there is a modicum more honour in the latter pursuit.