How Did I Get Into The Sex Industry? Part Two.
There is something special about Soho. I’ve not visited anywhere else that gives me the same feelings of both curiosity and excitement. You never know whats around the corner. Soho brings people from all walks of life together, and its true vibrancy is brought by the lower-working class, the homeless, the outcasts and the artists. From the red light district to the music scene, fashion, club-kid, and gay scenes through to the foreign food institutions; Soho has something to appeal to all of your senses. It wakes up curiosities that you never know you had (Which can be a double-edged sword… I think we can all agree.). It was one of the only places on this earth that you can get a £10 blowjob, bump into an A-list celebrity and grab some vegan Pho all within a 30-second walk. Soho is a different story today but we’ll get there.
Soho was again becoming my home and safe space. I seemed to know everyone, the right places to hang out, the areas to avoid and the right people to speak to if you had any trouble. On Friday and Saturday nights, I’d finish work at 1 am and looked forward to observing the chaos on Brewer St, Rupert St, Wardour St and Old Compton Street as well as of the connecting alleyways. This was before the nepotism-tinged arseholes at Soho Estates group had cleansed the area of its vibrant red-light culture.
I got to know the local working girls quite well and looked forward to them recognising me. I don’t know why. I guess it made me feel edgy. The T-girls would congregate on Walkers Court, and some of them took a shine to me. They used to call themselves ‘trannies’ so I used that term for them. I didn’t know any different. I had no idea that this could be offensive. There was also a popular club night that used to happen at The Soho Revue Bar & Madame Jo Jo’s called Tranny Shack. Fast-forward to 2017, where I think using ‘tranny’ would cause a few raised eyebrows, HuffPo and Teen Vogue articles. But back in 2007, it was used widely. There was a whole scene surrounding it. It took a bit of maturity and education to learn about the harmful nature of certain slang words. I’m still learning today.
The girls never told me their birth names, other than Shabazz. She had a down-low (DL) love affair with one of the “straight” drug dealers on Rupert Street, which lasted for what seemed like forever. They were incredibly sweet to watch as they behaved like an old couple. I saw him a few weeks ago actually (October 2017) still hovering around the area. I was very tempted to ask him how she was and where she was. I wonder if they ever ended up together? I haven’t seen her since 2009. I hope that she’s on a Yacht somewhere.
You get to know the locals when you spend 40 + hours a week in an area. The people you see wandering around that appear to be homeless… They are often written off as crack-heads, thieves, trouble-makers, etc. Which in many cases is true, but I got to know them if I could. Sometimes they‘d want £2 and sometimes they just wanted someone to talk to. These people have a lot of time to think, so it’s only fair to let them vent if you have 5 minutes. I genuinely wanted to hear it! They seemed interesting to me. Soho was full of eccentrics, too. You can’t forget someone like Snakey Joe. This eccentric man had moved to London and had quickly earned this nickname by walking around London with a python on his head in a sequinned disco shirt or completely topless. If you want to see a photo of him being told off for trying to approach Nelson Mandela with the snake: click here. Snakey was a constant presence in the store, with his loud voice and dancing. He could never grasp how to pronounce Topher so used to shout “TOBBBAYYYY” when he saw me. We all loved him. It was impossible not to. He was the unofficial member of the team and amazing for security reasons. I used to play ‘Rock The Boat’ by Hues Corporation on repeat as it was his favourite song. Drunk people visiting the shop loved Snakey. He’d drink Super Malt like it was water and protect the doorways of the shop (there were two small corridors on either side leading into the centre).
Next up was Maggie. Oh, Maggie! How we loved her. An extremely petite, ferocious Scottish lady with an unfortunate addiction problem – fueled by a series of unfortunate events and poverty. Maggie was in her 40s and her only child (a son) was based in Iraq with the army. This amazing lady used to somehow have a new wig on every time we saw her; sometimes a white blonde bob, sometimes long, pink and my personal favourite – her frizzy orange combed afro. Sometimes she would come into the store chatty and other times distant, just wanting some cash. One day I was cleaning the entrance hall of the shop and heard loads of commotion outside, so (being nosey) I stuck my head outside of the door. Maggie had somehow got hold of a birthday cake and ran past me laughing with a new sidekick in tow, throwing it at the back of a businessman. It hit him between the shoulder-blades, exploding right outside of the Duke of Argyll Pub, covering people outside the pub too. She left a trail of the smell of LUSH bath bombs as she ran. I think she‘d been nicking. To say that I laughed would be an understatement. It took me almost 2 hours to stop myself from creasing. I never did find out why that happened.
Rumour has it that if you gave Maggie some money and told her the bits you liked the sound of in particular shops – you‘d get them for a fraction of the price. (Obviously, I never partook in such reprehensible behaviour) Ahem.
I never asked addicts what they were addicted to. It’s none of my business. I also never asked the homeless why they were homeless. It reached a point where you’d barely bat an eyelid at seeing some of them in the most outrageous situations. The sad part was when you stopped seeing them completely. I haven’t seen Maggie since 2010. No-one knows what happened, and I don’t want to know.
The Red Light District in Soho was my favourite place to be. Listen, I‘m not going to pretend that all of the people I was surrounded with were ‘good’ people. I was well-aware of their reputations. It’s worth taking into consideration that nothing bad ever happened to me, even when there was ample opportunity for people to take advantage. I was taken care of or ignored completely. I was young and blissfully ignorant. I was often ending up drunk and alone and could’ve easily being led away, robbed or worse. I think most of them could sense my innocence and sincerity. Plus, no-one sits and brags about their illegal activity to a 19-year-old sex shop assistant, do they? I saw a few questionable things, and I definitely got asked to do unregistered porn films and offered money for sex acts. But other than that… it was all good.
Ok – back to the shop. Nothing phased me, at all. I very quickly got used to people openly masturbating in front of me and asking for sex. It wasn’t offensive, it was just irritating and embarrassing if it was in front of my boss. Sometimes it was entertaining and sometimes it got dark and morbid. I did my best to always keep a sense of humour about the working situation and often managed to find empathy for people, even if they behaved badly. Human sexuality can bring out the best and worst in people, so I did my best to not to judge. I still try today. Not always successfully, mind.
Work-wise, I was doing very well. I knew it and appreciated it. I took a fortune in sales and my ‘sales receipt’ was always the longest. I was developing my own way of interacting with people. I learned how to merchandise adult product, doing my best to assure that it was not intimidating. I’d always make a beeline for someone that looked embarrassed to be in the shop and get a sense of satisfaction out of relaxing them. Jessica (my manager) would empower me to make decisions; so I’d be choosing new product lines and overlooking the weekly store replenishment. I was studying what sold when it sold, and where items were best placed in store. This led to constant re-merchandising, which led to a vicious black eye from a falling cock pump. Also a dent in my shin from a falling lube shelf. We got there, in the end, though turning the store into a smooth shopping journey. Beginning with gentler introductory products, through to hardcore toys – then through to my department (Fetish, Lingerie, BDSM) and finally to the DVD side of the shop. We’ll get to the ‘DVD side of the shop’ very soon.
I developed a genuine interest in the product and the effect it had on peoples sex-lives. You’d see return-customers coming in monthly, treating themselves to new bits-and-pieces or simply replacing their old ones. I would always subtly ask people lots of questions, to find out what made them pick those products, what more they want from the product, etc. I was building up a mental database of information. I used to daydream about having my own line of toys one day. I already knew at 19-years-old that this was the industry for me. People used to come in and ask for me especially. For the first time in my life, I was the best at something and I didn’t even have to try that hard – it just came naturally.
I was meeting people from all-walks-of-life daily, and going for drinks with people that I‘d probably never get to know in typical situations. I remember having a lock-in at a pub on the corner of Rupert Street with a very famous female porn actress once and watching her get a man to remove a certain “luxury” feminine care product from her body with his teeth. Fun times. She told me I would make millions doing cross-dressing porn. I politely declined. Thanks though. We ended up staying out all night and I had to open the shop the next day, so I spent the day propped up against the wall praying since 6pm to come quicker. One of my colleagues took pity on me at 3pm and sent me home. That’s amore.
We used to have this regular customer who was around 6-foot-6 tall, must’ve weighed 20 stone and was pure muscle. He would always try and have a conversation with me but could never quite spit it out. He reminded me of a Bond villain and scared the shit out of me because he would always look at me like he’d seen an alien. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me or wanted to kill me. One day he kept coming in and out of the shop, gradually getting more and more wasted with each return visit. This happened to the point where he could barely stand up straight and came stumbling in. He came up to the till point, tried to grab me by the collar and tried to kiss me. He pulled me across the poppers, which sent loads of trays falling onto the floor and smashing. You can imagine the smell. In a few seconds, a massive brawl had kicked off with my colleague Steve and a few customers thankfully intervening. I dread to think what would’ve happened if those guys weren’t there. This man could’ve flattened me with half of his palm. He got away and we never saw him again. The shop smelled like Isopropyl Nitrite for hours. The most annoying thing was it happened in a CCTV blind-spot so I couldn’t laugh at the footage.
Another time I heard a drag queen drop a vibrator into her bag from the other side of the shop. So I approached her to remind her she had to pay for it or fuck off. As soon as I got close, she tried to leg it. In the heat of the moment, I grabbed her handbag but accidentally grabbed the end of her wig too… pulling it off and pins out of her scalp. This resulted in a punch-up in the dirty Soho doorway. Oh and by the way, I got the vibrator back. 😉
I got asked for child porn a couple times and both times chased the guys down, with one hiding in the alleys around the old Co-Op on Berwick Street. I managed to grab him a few times, after smashing into a lamp-post but he got away. We called the police, but to our knowledge they never caught him. We got asked for animal porn quite regularly and I was always shocked at how comfortable people were in asking. I’d have expected a bit more discretion when announcing your desire to see someone fucking a dog. One of my favourite things about working the DVD side of the shop (which I didn’t do regularly, as the boys usually had it covered) was seeing what films people would buy. It was never usually what you’d expect; therefore encouraging my obsession with the psychology surrounding sex. You never REALLY know and it fascinates me. Aspects of this industry can desensitize you but that’s something that I’ve never got tired of.
We served lots of celebrities and I even served a teacher from my strict Roman Catholic, Secondary School. I’d never tell who I served though. One part of working in this environment is knowing what TO share and what NOT to share. You have to have a level of respect for people’s privacy.
I had a bit of tough time adjusting from getting huge tips at the hotel job to working in retail. I wasn’t badly paid, but it was still a financial adjustment. I would take random shifts in independent sex shops on my days off and used to get paid to turn up at Soho Revue Bar. A guy from the club also took a shine to me and used to give me wads of cash. I’d like to clarify that nothing sexual happened, despite gossip spread by some desperate perma-tanned queens. Queens that had to buy their own drinks. Just saying… I just used to sit, pose for pictures and chat with him. I actually enjoyed his company. He had amazing stories and enjoyed the fact I didn’t give a shit about his wealth. He’d make sure I didn’t pay entry, cloakroom, drinks and sort me a cab home. He even bought me a phone when I threw mine at someone during a fight and smashed it. We are still friends to this day.
I got used to hanging out in clubs with a fabulous mix of people; celebrities, escorts, footballers, DJ’s, drag queens, TV presenters and more. You never knew who you’d see on a night out, or where you’d end up and that was the appeal. My club of choice was Circus, a night put on inside of Soho Revue Bar on Friday nights by Jodie Harsh.
I also did some modeling for independent photographers. I wasn’t symmetrical enough to be signed and didn’t have the build for sample size clothes, so could never do catwalk or editorial work. My ass wouldn’t squeeze through a 28-30” waist even if I starved for weeks. I sold lots of my old designer clothes and mastered the art of getting drinks bought for me. I did what I did best, I blagged it and made it work. My boss was quite happy with my progression and used to treat me to lunch often, take me on extended breaks and open up to me about her tumultuous childhood and teen years. She was very maternal towards me and I guess I revelled in it. I used to spend a lot of time at her house in Watford. I had a loyalty to her, even though she did behave badly sometimes. She had given me the job, after all.
About 9 months into working with her, I got a phone-call to tell me that she had been very suddenly fired from her position.