7 July 2003
Mark (not his real name) is a attractive young man in his early thirties. With his wild dark hair and piercing blue eyes, he makes an unlikely centrepiece to the homely bakery around him which is where we first meet. The juxtaposition of his exotic Mediterranean good looks with pastries is not nearly as incongruous however as the scantily clad ladies who periodically appear throughout our interview. Dressed in tiny silky dresses in a variety of peacock colours, they wander through the café area where we are sitting, munching on doughnuts and baps.
"Oh, it's still something of a sideline" says Mark when I question him. "People do occasionally come through wanting something a bit hotter that a chilli sausage roll, a bit tastier than a Danish pastry, if you catch my drift."
"They might actually want a Danish" I venture.
Mark nods. "Exactly. And I don't like to disappoint; I want my service to be the best so that people come back for more. I keep my girls and boys for the same reason that I use organic apples in the turnovers. It's all about quality, innit? But no, it's not the main business anymore. I'm well out of pimping now that the bakery's doing so well."
Many young professionals today see career change in a more favourable light than their parents might have. With the "job for life" mentality truly eradicated in this brave new world of temporary contracts, today's young investment banker or accountant may look forward to the day that they can move into dress-making, teaching or rainforest upkeep, bolstered by the fat salaries afforded to them by their previous jobs.
Yet many of today's changes in career are catalysed not out of a specific desire for better quality of life or the desire to "make a change", but out of more unusual sets of circumstances which are often related to a more basic way of survival.
Susie (not her real name) had been working as a fluffer in Stoke for a few years when a series of events intervened to change the direction of her life.
"It wasn't ideal, but it paid well" she says as she pours me another glass of cognac. "In larger companies it might have been a bit more business-like but me and the boys, we had a laugh. I'd been doing it since I was nineteen and before then I was just bumming around, doing the odd shift at the off-licence."
It was one of Susie's colleagues, Tim, "A lovely, lovely man" who first caught sight of Susie's hands and nails.
"I was well pissed off when he said he'd been looking at them on his thighs, because why wasn't he paying attention to what I was doing to him?" Susie laughs. "But he carried on making a fuss about them and everyone came over to look, and Jules, the make-up girl, she said he was right".
Susie's hands are now probably the most recognised pair in America, thanks to the lucrative contract with a computer software company that she's just received. Her long, elegant fingers and smooth oval nails are among the most highly sought-after in the competitive world of hand-modelling. She explains to me the importance of the knuckle-thumb ratio and cuticle implant techniques which goes completely over my head, but there is no doubt that the luminescent skin on her hands is truly lovely.
Hannah's story is less cut and dried than Susie's. A polite softly-spoken girl, her gentle home-counties vowels belie the nice middle-class girl inside the swathes of satin and diamonds that she wears.
She was at Leeds University in the late nineties when "it all began". A model student with excellent grades in chemistry and physics, she was studying Fire Science and aiming to work either for the police or in film special-effects after she graduated. It was in her second year that things began to go wrong.
"My parents divorced" she explains quietly, running a hand through her dark glossy hair. "It was extremely messy and they were very tied up with the lawyers and bank managers". In the ensuing chaos neither parent remembered to pay Hannah's tuition fees. "Financially, I was screwed" she explains. Arson had always been an option for the Fire Studies department but not one generally followed because "it was so fucking obvious, to the faculty, to the police and everyone". But Hannah was desperate. Reasoning that no-one would suspect a nice girl like herself, she took a number of small jobs around the north-east over the next few years to pay her way through university, and later, to supplement her meagre police income. Inevitably she was caught.
"It was something of a relief, to be honest" she says. "I was so grateful not to have to have the fear and suspense of doing another fire job that I hadn't really considered what prison would be like. It was such a shock - my first night in the cells and the fights between the women, it was just awful." It was in Holloway however that Hannah's true talents rose to the surface. As she tells me of her path her spine straightens and her eyes become brighter.
"They all thought, all the girls, that I wouldn't be able to handle myself, that I 'd be someone's pet before the week was out. I couldn't bear three years of that. But they didn't know me; they underestimated me. The first woman who tried to take me was my cellmate. I suppose that she thought I'd be an easy ride as she didn't bring anyone in to try and help." Hannah smiles. "She was on the floor begging for mercy after fifteen minutes. Other girls tried to have me after that but they didn't get anywhere. By the time that I left early on good behaviour I had the entire wing and several of the wardens at my feet"
Hannah's career as a professional dominatrix is now well established. She has a Mayfair "set" courtesy of a London barrister, and several well-equipped dungeons around Europe. Unusually she has made her name working exclusively with women. A remnant of her prison days? "Not really. There's such a shortage of lesbian tops that it was an area I was bound to do well in, regardless of my orientation. As it is none of my girlfriends have objected to my work."
When asked whether they would ever return to their previous lines of work, Susie and Hannah thought not. "I've made enough out of the modelling not to need to fluff again" says Susie. "I'm still in touch with the Stoke crew but, you know, not touching in the same way".
Hannah echoes these sentiments. "My girlfriends and clients all appreciate the fact that I can get a good roaring fire going in my playrooms but really, that's as far as it goes."
I will leave the final word with Mark. "The first time that a client said that he'd rather have a bacon butty I was, y'know, surprised. But it does make sense when you think about it and that's why I'm keeping the business going, because at the end of the day, most guys would rather have a cheese sandwich."