How Did I Get Into The Sex Industry? Part Three.

[continuing from PART ONE and PART TWO]

To cut a long, very complicated story short; Jessica was no longer with the business and I was gutted. I can’t discuss why on my blog as that’s confidential employee information and not my story to share. After Jess left, our working environment shifted quite dramatically and there was now a lot of tension in the air. My focus shifted from selling to work politics. My personal life, and who I was seeing had become a topic of gossip and I was rapidly becoming bored. I’m not ‘a victim’ in life but I know when I’m being treated differently because of how I am. Customers weren’t laughing or dancing with us anymore and the music was played much quieter. A new manager came into the store, reeling off stories of how strong they were, how they’d had people ‘die on them’ and my instant thought was “Hmmm… do strong people have to reiterate their strength or do they just show it?“. Also, if you’re so good, why are your staff fucking dying on the job? I’ve never been a fan of people explaining themselves in too much detail. To me, it reads fake and I instinctively reject it. Let your actions do the talking, mate.

“I walked into the shop one evening, handed my keys in behind the till to my colleague Junior and removed the supplier information that I had personally sourced and binned it at Piccadilly Circus.”

A few weeks of bullshit followed, and on my days off a loyal work colleague would text me informing me that people were discussing the dating situation I was in – including the new manager, who seemed to revel in the ‘juicy gossip’. “What a sad old fuck,” I thought to myself. I still think that almost ten years later. I would come into work and people weren’t treating me the same, I wasn’t included in chats anymore and just being in that store was exhausting for me. It wasn’t an exciting sex-shop anymore, it was a central London retail unit. I appreciate that’s what a head office wants, but I felt short-changed. So, I decided to leave. I made my mind up, sent a text to my area manager and the new store manager, informing them I’d be leaving immediately.  I walked into the shop one evening, handed my keys in behind the till to my colleague Junior and removed the supplier information that I had personally sourced and binned it at Piccadilly Circus. As I was binning it, Alison Hammond drove past me in a car. I screamed frantically at the window trying to get her attention. Perhaps it was a sign… perhaps I need to get out more.

Soho Hotel

The SOHO Hotel: Part of the Firmdale Hotels Group.

I left my job in June 2009 and went to work at The Soho Hotel as Switchboard Operator, with my previous hotel experience backing me up. On my first day, I was told by hotel management that I’d be referring to myself as Christopher, not Topher, as it may confuse callers. This instruction was duly noted… but instantly ignored. The team in the front office were really lovely to me, even after I shredded paperwork that was stapled; resulting in what looked like an electrical explosion and stank the room out for 8 hours. I answered the phone as “Hello Simply Pleasure a few times too, which went down as well as you can imagine. A few of the VIP guests that stay at this hotel are AWFUL and treat the front office and concierge team like shit. Sometimes it was unbelievable. I remember one particular man causing so much trouble that the front office manager sat with her head-in-her-hands crying. I wanted to go and grab one of my friends from Walkers Court and send them to give him a clip round the earhole… but I ignored those urges as I needed the money. Not everything is resolved with a fight. Grow up. Jumping from such an informal environment into a VERY formal, controlled environment wasn’t working. I wanted it too but it just didn’t work. I felt incredibly out-of-place and realised my heart was with the adult industry. I missed the shop and I missed the subject.

“In my usual subtle and elegant style; I sent about 15 emails to the email address on the poster (to the point where I had a reply asking me to calm down that and my application had been received – don’t worry). I was eventually called into an interview. “

I had just turned 20 and had decided I was going back into a sex shop. In my spare time, I’d print out CV’s, make my way into central London and hand them out to every sex shop in central London and the surrounding areas. My ex and I were walking down Old Compton Street when I saw that the shop ‘Clonezone’ had a sign in the window, looking for a Wholesale Assistant. I had no experience with wholesale but wanted a job and knew I could blag it. I didn’t know much about Clonezone other than the Moschino underwear in the window and rumours about prostitutes living upstairs. My kind of place, I thought.

In my usual subtle and elegant style; I sent about 15 emails to the email address on the poster (to the point where I had a reply asking me to calm down that and my application had been received – don’t worry). I was eventually called into an interview. The interview was held in a beautiful modern glass office in SE1, right by Tower Bridge. There weren’t any rainbow flags anywhere and Village People weren’t playing. It had a sophisticated atmosphere that I really wasn’t expecting. I was used to sitting underneath shop floors in Soho with the smell of damp and no chairs.  As I left the office, I could feel eyes burning into me. I assume they were aware of just how many emails I’d sent to be considered for the position. I was the crazy one from the Clonezone inbox. I also realised halfway through, that the jumper I’d bought for the occasion was see-through and that my nipples were visible. I felt a coldness from the older man interviewing me and, not to my surprise, after a week or so, I didn’t hear back from them.


The store back in 2010. Clipping of Lily Savage opening the shop.

I sent a couple of emails again… but no response. Fuck. I’d never been interviewed and not got the job. So, my job hunt depressingly continued until one day (a few weeks later) I was walking down Oxford Street with my CV’s in a plastic folder when my phone rang. It was a guy called Tony Woodward [Clonezone’s Store Operations manager] who wanted to know if I’d be happy to do part-time retail in the Clonezone Soho shop. “YES” was my answer. “We can’t put you on the payroll just now so for the meantime, you’ll invoice us for your time” – Ok, great. I’d never written an invoice before but I’d figure it out. This was my window-in and I knew it. I wasn’t subtle on the phone with Tony, as I wanted him to know how much I wanted it. I was expected at the store the following Monday. 64 Old Compton Street, here I fucking come.

I remember my first day as clear as if it was yesterday. I walked up to the shop (early) and waited outside, watching the food and booze deliveries happen all around Soho. People were hungover, hadn’t slept or didn’t want to be there. I felt like I was at home again and felt really proud of myself for getting back into a sex shop. No-one had turned up after about 10 minutes so I did a circle of the block, to take in those familiar sites again. As I came back around to Old Compton Street there was what appeared to be a guy opening the store, so I walked up full of beans and said “Hey man!”… it wasn’t a man. This was Sue. Of course, I put my foot into my mouth straight away. She quickly corrected me and continued with opening up. She didn’t care. She had an air of indifference which was intimidating to me. As soon as I walked into the shop behind her and heard the sounds of alarms being unarmed, the flickering of lights turning on – lighting up very flamboyant clothing, something inside of me clicked and it just felt right. Sue was followed a few minutes later by a guy called Rob and the store manager, Robert. Rob had immediately recognised me as wandering around the shop weeks prior and told me he had clocked that I was observing everything. I guess he either thought I was a thief, mentally unstable or wanted a shag. I instantly clicked with Rob, over our shared love of Madonna. Who we pretty much played all day, every day until Robert [manager] would interrupt to play a Eurovision compilation album.

Clonezone for blog

Lady Zsa Zsa (Robbie) during Pride in London. The old storefront and the new design installed in 2012. [Images: Carl@Armadale, elkame and Norman Craig]

I’d never really spent that much time around gay people, so it was an adjustment to me as there were SO MANY social references that I didn’t understand. I’d always have to have things explained to me, so would make mental notes and listen to conversations around the shop. I was innocent again. Just like at Simply Pleasure, I was absorbing everything around me in order to do my best. One staff member, in particular, was regularly quite bitchy towards me and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Where I came from, you didn’t throw shade… you threw tables. I had to grow up. I used to bite back quite often, as I was very self-assured and it eventually levelled out. I had a crash course in gay and learned EVERYTHING. Very fast. I was super-impressed with the openness of LGBT customers coming to the till point and asking for things that would shock me. One guy asked me for a product that would “really open up my boy’s cunt” and I nearly collapsed. I was often kept upstairs on the floor of the shop which stocked fashion and novelties but really wanted to be downstairs. One day I had a chat with the store manager about sex toys and explained my interest in them. “Great,” he said, as he preferred fashion and had wanted someone to take ownership of the selection downstairs. He requested that I remerchandised the toys downstairs and make it my baby. It was mine if I wanted it. I did it with pleasure as it was a fucking mess and I absolutely loved it.

Within a few weeks, I was asked to move to full-time and was officially ‘given’ the toy area as my department by my manager. I felt like history was almost repeating itself, in similarity to what happened at Simply Pleasure and I was thrilled. I got close with my colleagues quite fast; especially Eddie (who was to become one of my best friends), Robbie (known as Zsa Zsa) and Rob. I felt at home in Clonezone. I have a strong memory of an older gentleman saying to be over the till point, after discovering I was new here. “Do you know this companies history?! This is an institution. It’s a shame that you’re going out of business”. Suddenly I panicked, as I’m thinking – wait – I’m not on the payroll… so perhaps this makes sense? I’m just filling a gap until they go? It turns out the company had just been saved from liquidation by a company called Libertybelle. The full-time contract I signed read Libertybelle, so I felt safe. PHEW. It had lost lots of shops and upset a lot of people. I didn’t know the ins-and-outs and my questions were often brushed off, as you could tell lots of my colleagues were still angry.

Part 4, coming soon.