Reconciliation of a Sort
In December 1986 David telephoned my parents in the hope of being able to change their minds about seeing me. Subsequently my Father wrote to David, attempting to explain what an impossibility this would be.
… “I find it hard to marshal my thoughts to present them in a way that would help you to understand how my wife and I feel about our son’s behaviour. He has been disfellowshiped from the organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and he well knows what this means and involves. We cannot compromise our faith and we are convinced that he would not expect us to. If you care to read the words recorded at Math. 10:37 you will see that we have no choice in the matter if we wish to follow the Christian way of life. We are not at liberty to pick out the parts that suit us and ignore the difficult parts, for as the Bible tells us at Ephesus 5:17 we must go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is. We loved our son dearly, and naturally we miss him very much. He however has chosen his way of life just as we have, but also, they go in different directions. The only consolation that we have left is that he seems to have found happiness in his chosen way.”
Still I refused to give up hope. In August 1988, having long wanted to show David where I grew up, we decided to spend a weekend visiting my old hometown. As I had every intention of taking David to meet Auntie Elsie, I sent my parents a telegram informing them that we would be staying at the Harpenden Moat House Hotel for the weekend – so that they wouldn’t think we were doing something behind their backs when Auntie Elsie told them of our visit. Though I did not really expect them to contact me, part of me secretly hoped that the very fact that we were so near might cause them to relent.
On Saturday morning I walked out to our car alone, while David went back upstairs for something he had forgotten. It was a beautiful, hot sunny day and while I wandered around admiring the flowers I was vaguely aware of an elderly lady climbing out of a car that had just pulled up. Then a voice behind me softly said ‘Stephanie?’
I turned around and there in front of me was Mum. I hadn’t recognised her because her hair, which had once been so dark, was no a pure snowy white! She was also much smaller than I had remembered. For a few moments we just stared at one another in disbelief. Then we flew into one another’s arms and hugged each other, with tears pouring down our cheeks. When David arrived he was totally nonplussed to be greeted by the sight of me holding on to this complete strangers hand.
‘This is my Mum, David.’ I was so proud and excited and I was grinning from ear to ear.
Over coffee, Mum explained how she’d just had to come down to explain in person why she and Dad couldn’t have anything to do with me. She so wanted me to know that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with their faith. When she told us that she’d not only defied Dad, who hadn’t wanted her to come along, but had actually told him that she was going to defy him, I could hardly believe my ears. I hadn’t thought I would ever live to see that day! It was a bittersweet reunion. Nothing had changed, but I was overcome with emotion at having seen Mum and amazed by the bravery and determination she’d shown by actually coming to explain her reasons to us.
When Mum left I took David on tour of Harpenden, pointing out the wood where I had played as a boy and the house where I had grown up 21, Weybourne Close & 145, Crabtree Lane. How I cried when I realised that we were so very near, yet still so far. That afternoon we visited my dear Auntie Elsie who as always welcomed us with open arms. And poor David had to watch as the tears started to flow all over again.
As we drove back north I turned to David and said ‘I’m not going to give up, David. We’ll try again next year. We’ll come back and this time we’ll invite Mum, Dad and Auntie Elsie to tea at the Moat House. And though Dad definitely won’t come, who knows, Auntie Elsie and Mum might. Clinging doggedly to that I started writing little newsy letters to Mum and Dad. My firm belief that the maternal instinct was far, far stronger than anything else was rewarded when Mum began to write back.
Throughout 1989 and 1990 we continued working hard to expand our business interests. We set up a video production company in order to make our specialist videos and thus be less reliant on the ones we had to purchase from importers. We launched TMC printing and copying shops and copying shops and JWA, our own advertising agency and design studio and design studio; we expanded the supermarket chain and then immediately started making plans for our first Transformation branch overseas. The pace and the workload were killing. We scarcely ever went out because we rarely got home before nine or ten at night. And the harder we worked, the more I longed for a little place in the country.
The idea of having a weekend retreat appealed to us both so greatly that we resolved to turn our dream into reality. After several false starts we found the perfect place: an old farm cottage high in the hills of north Wales. The moment we set eyes without losing any of its charm, we were so struck by the sense of peace and tranquillity surrounding it that we knew it was the perfect place in which to recover from our increasingly stressful working week.
We found the ideal cottage built in 1295 AD with 2 acres of land. It needed a lot of work doing on it but the location in Llangar just a mile from the small town of Corwen was perfect.
We bought it shortly before my first autobiography was published and serialised in The News of the World over 4 consecutive weeks. nothing very much had happened in Corwen since the English had fought Owain Glyndwr whose statue graces the town square. Fortunately they seemed to like having a Z-list infamous celebrity in their midst and 25 years later I still enjoy the warmth of this small community
In the event, our cottage turned out to be one of the most timely purchases we have every made. For two months later, what initially seemed like a disaster struck us without any warning at all.
With Raiko working to open our latest Transformation shop in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for eight weeks and David’s recent acquisition of two more supermarkets, I had been left to cope single-handedly with a major computer crash which threw us into one of the biggest crises we’d ever had to deal with as the system stored the database of mail order business which by this stage was growing rapidly.
At the same time Domino, one of our beloved family of cats which by now numbered five, had ripped her stitches out following an operation and was in such a pitiful, distressed stated that I had to give her round the clock nursing. I’ve always looked upon Sheba and my cats as my children and thought I loved them all equally, as a kitten Domino was particularly special. What with all the worry of the computer crash and its potentially disastrous consequences and Domino, who cried piteously every time I tried to put her on the ground, I’d managed only three hours sleep in three days. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Id been suffering a debilitating viral infection for several weeks.
‘Thank God that weeks over,’ I said to David as I crawled to thankfully into bed on Sunday night. Ten minutes later I began to feel extremely hot. I started to get out of bed and then apparently crumpled to the floor in an unconscious heap.
When I regained consciousness some time later it was to find myself strapped to an ECG machine, surrounded by an ambulance crew and without any feeling at all in the right side of my body. David was hovering at my side. I thought I was going to die.
‘Don’t let them take me away,’ I begged. ‘If I’m going to die, let me die at home with you and the animals around me.’
Though nobody voiced their opinion, all thought I had suffered a stroke. In fact by the time I left Crumpsall Hospital ten days later everyone was convinced that I’d had a stroke but after tests it was diagnosed as a stress induced SIA, which apparently presents exactly the same symptoms as a stroke but does not have the same lasting disastrous after effects and apart from some residual weakness in my right side I made a slow recovery.
For the first three or four days in hospital I was so weak I could hardly do anything for myself. But the one thing I was absolutely determined not to do was to suffer the indignity of using a bedpan. Because I insisted on going to the loo alone while in such a weak state of health my frequent pauses for rest on the other patients beds along the way at least ensured I go to know everybody well. If I had any concern about reactions of the patients and staff when they discovered who I was, they were soon dispelled. Every single member of the staff and all my fellow patients were wonderful to me.
When such things happen, one is always tempted to feel sorry for one self and ask, ‘Why me?’ If any such self centred thoughts occurred to me, they were very speedily dealt with when I came to know Winnie, the sweet seventy four year old lady who occupied the bed next to mine. Winnie had motor neurone disease. In just 13 months she went from being a lively old lady who still loved to dance to a frail, wheelchair-bound shadow of her former self who can no longer walk or talk, move or swallow and has to be fed through a tube that was permanently taped to her nose. An electronic typewriter with a visual display unit was Winnie’s only means of communication and even that was a slow,
tedious and painstaking process for her weak, shrunken frame. Just a few moments with Winnie were enough to teach me the sheer folly of self-pity when there are so many other people in the world are so much worse off .. It’s Winnie I have to thank for making me realise that love, affection and time are far more valuable and important gifts than anything else in life. She also taught me that you should voice your love while you can, for who knows what tomorrow brings?
The second and most amazing thing that occurred, as a direct result of my illness was that at long last finally saw both my Mum and my Dad! Having waited until he knew that I was going to be all right, David had telephoned my parents to tell them I was in hospital When he told me that the first thing they had said was that they wanted to come to Manchester to see me I could hardly believe my ears. David had arranged to drive down to collect them, but an unexpected snowstorm blocked the motorways and the journey had to be postponed. I shed tears when Mum spoke to me on the phone and when I heard Dad’s voice for the first time in so many years the lump in my throat was so huge I thought I would choke. ‘Don’t’ worry,’ David told me. ‘Now they’ve actually said they want to see you, I can’t imagine anything keeping them away.’
On the day of their arrival, David was up at four-thirty in the morning and on the road by five. I was still weak, so I couldn’t bustle around like I might ordinarily have been tempted to do in my nervousness. Throughout the morning I kept wondering whether this was really such a good idea after all, reminding myself that it could quite easily go horribly wrong just as it had before. By the time they arrived, an hour earlier than expected and with me still unprepared, I felt like a nervous wreck.
The moment I opened the front door, Mum threw her arms around me and hugged me tight. For several seconds I looked at Dad. Physically he had hardly changed at all. Naturally he was a little bit older and a little more stooped, but I would have recognised him anywhere. Having no wish to embarrass Dad, I shook him by the hand. It took time for us all to relax, but gradually the conversation became less hesitant and stilted and by the time we sat down to dinner that evening I knew that it was going to better than our last encounter.
There was one awkward moment at dinner when David started eating, only to be pulled up short by my father’s voice calmly saying ‘Shall we just ask a blessing?’ If ever a grown man could contrive to look like a naughty, scolded schoolboy, David did then.
The following morning Mum and I went for a walk alone together across the fields.
“I’ve been so afraid something might happen to you or Dad and I would never see you again.
‘Stephanie,’ Mum said. ‘We both love you. It’s only because you’ve been excommunicated that we find it so difficult to see you now.’
‘But if I had done something terribly wrong I could understand that,’ I pleaded.
Mum could only shake her head sadly and sigh. No matter how much I tried to explain that mine was recognised medical condition and I had merely had the recommended from of treatment, I knew she would never truly understand. And yet I knew that she did love me and I understood what she was going through. For forty years my parent’s entire life had revolved around their faith – a faith they believed was being put to the ultimate test
by their very own child! If my parents gave in now, they would be failing God. If they didn’t give in, they would be failing me. What a terrible conflict they have had to face!
We turned our backs towards the house and Mum took my hand in hers. ‘You know, it does our hearts good to see how happy you are.’
‘I couldn’t’ have a better husband than David,’ I answered simply.
Although we tried to delay their departure as long as possible by taking them for a drive through some of the most spectacular scenery in Wales, eventually they had to leave. Mum and I clung on to one another in tears. Then I helped Dad into the car. When I had handed his sticks in to him and made sure he was comfortable, I was seized by an impulse to hug him and kiss him on the cheek. As I did so, Dad’s hand gripped mine and looking up at me, he said: We’ve really enjoyed seeing you, dear. Stay well.’
As David drove my parents away, I smiled despite the tears because for the first time in my life I understood what my father was trying to say. As a man who had been schooled to hide his emotions Dad couldn’t possibly bring himself to say the words but I heard them anyway. My parents and I have made our peace and sadly for the last time as they died at the age of eighty within days of each other. Although I do not believe in any afterlife my mum truly deserved to be an angel but whatever I know I will we will never see her again.
It was now seven years since I last saw Stephen, Andrew and Rebecca and I never gave up hope that I might see them again one day.
Although it has always been my dearest wish that we could all be re-united one day. I have to accept that this may never happen. Something I wonder whether they ever think of me, but now knowing what they think about me is hard for me to cope with. I know their lives must have been difficult and when I re –read Stephen’s and Andrew’s old letters I can only begin to imagine what they must have suffered because of who and what their father is: Phrases like: Rebecca told us that when Nanny found some of Mum’s underwear in the wash, Great Nanny accused me and Andrew of having been wearing it… in one of Stephen’s letters to me still have the power to make me weep. Have their minds and lives been blighted forever by the prejudices of other people?’ Or have they found a way to come to terms with what was thrust upon them? If only they could know how I feel about them and how very much I want to reach out to them and hold them in my arms again.
But I couldn’t I was wise enough to acknowledge that it was not for me to thrust myself into my children’s lives – I could only wait and hope and pray that one-day they might find their way back to me.
Marilyn and I had been in contact for some years now and thought it unlikely we will ever meet, we spend long hours chatting on the telephone every few months or so. In the last few years I have been able to demonstrate to her that, if ever she or the children are in financial need I will always be here for them.
I have no illusions about myself. I know that for the rest of my life I will be rejected, ridiculed and persecuted as a freak. To be a Transsexual is not a solution- it is a last
resort. If I had a choice I would far rather have been a complete husband to Marylyn and a father to my own children – or a complete wife to David and the mother of his children. As it is, I never have been and never will be capable of totally fulfilling either role. I can be a stepmother to David’s children – but dearly as I love them they will never be able to replace my own.
And yet, despite everything I would not wish the past undone, because the single – and the most brilliant – achievement of my life will for me, always be that I fathered three children who are credit to the world. I would never want to deny the love I feel for them, or the love I felt for Marilyn. Perhaps that’s why, if I have one regret, it is those two years of hell I put my family through at the end. If I had had the courage to walk away from them before that point I might have been able to spare them the worst of the heartache and pain. But I can never undo what has been done and if they could not forgive me for what I have done, then I had to accept that.
When one is young, life is either black or white – it’s only when you grow older that you become aware of shades of grey. To my children I am a memory that has possibly been over shadowed by other people’s attitudes and prejudices. The only way I can ever hope to counteract that is by telling the truth and that is what I have done. In the meantime, I have found happiness and contentment, and that probably makes me unique and amongst transsexuals, as so few of us have been fortunate enough to achieve fulfilment in every area of our lives.
So whilst my driving licence, my bank account and my credit cards were all in the name of Stephanie Anne Lloyd- and whilst I could register myself as Miss Lloyd, Ms Lloyd and even Stephanie Booth on my passport, I am forbidden to use the title ‘Mrs’ because my marriage to David is not legally recognised in Britain. That, in itself, highlights a ridiculous situation: because I was still legally considered a male so there is nothing to prevent me from marrying another female. On the other hand, if I did, the moment I stepped outside the UK I could theoretically be prosecuted for bigamy as I was legally married to David abroad.
A local MP stated during a Granada live TV debate that I ‘couldn’t be a true woman because I cant have children’. does this mean that all women who are infertile or post –menopausal are not women either? If I can’t be a woman ‘because I do not have a womb’. does this bar all women who had had hysterectomies from being a women? Of one thing I can be certain, I am most definitely not a man either, so what was I then? A non-person?
I was in the vanguard of gender reassignment, (the tabloids insist on calling it a sex-change) so it was still big news & due to the position I had held and the massive publicity around my case, invitations abounded to appear in television shows. I had a phone call from Ruby Wax’s researcher and declined fearing her quick wit on a live show would just be a Mickey take”. Then I received a call form Ruby herself who invited me to have lunch together lunch which we did and got on like the proverbial “house-on-fire”. Like most stars Ruby turned out to be is a really nice ordinary person, we finally agreed that if she wouldn’t take the Mickey and I wouldn’t call her a lesbian on air which of course she isn’t. David was in the audience and seemed afterwards to only remember the piece
where 2 scantily clad girls wrestled in a pool of jelly. Kilroy was another live show and owns a home near us in Spain. Richard & Judy, was memorable as not only was it live but encouraged the viewers to ring in with questions most of which were directed towards David. How does a red-blooded heterosexual male end up with someone like me was the underlying commonality to most. His answer was simple ” I met her as a beautiful, intelligent and humorous woman, I love her as a woman and I can’t even imagine her being anything else and I am proud to be her husband.” Needless to say even 30 years later I keep reminding him of this even though at times I must try his patience.
One other television appearance would lead me to change my long held view on Capital Punishment. I had always thought that a “life for a life” for pre-meditated murder was a sensible view point. This show again was live but in Belfast, Northern Ireland and the other guest appearing alongside me was Judge James Pickles. Because of his involvement in it’s “troubles” he had a personal protection squad so as soon as I presented myself at Manchester Airport I was whisked away to meet him in a private secure area. When everyone else had boarded we were driven out in an armoured car surrounded by gun-toting guards. As soon as we landed we were escorted off of the plane and into the middle of an armed convoy and taken to a hotel which boasted double security fences, guard dogs and armed sentries. ‘Do you feel safe now?’ the learned judge asked me???? I had been to Northern Ireland many times even staying in the Europa Hotel, which has the unsavoury claim to be the most frequently bombed hotel in the world and found the Irish warm and welcoming but now I was with a High Court Judge who had a price on his head so no I didn’t feel safe, I was terrified. As we were the only guests in this floodlit oasis I determined to only drink and eat exactly what he ordered and wait for 5 minutes after he had consumed it just in case it was laced with poison.
Judge Pickles turned out to be an entertaining companion and with all the time in which to talk we covered a wide range of subjects. When I bought up the death penalty he said he disagreed with it. what he said profoundly altered my view as he told me that many murderers went free. When a jury was faced with a case in which there was only a choice between guilty which they knew would mean a death sentence, or innocent, they would often go with the latter despite overwhelming evidence. A wise man who changed my view on the death penalty but I still believe that paedophiles should be castrated. The live television show went smoothly despite the number of armed guards strategically placed to shoot anyone, even the presenter.
In all I appeared in 68 television shows which allowed me to obtain media coverage for Transformation and The Albany Gender Identity Clinic.
Wales drew us like a magnet and instead of just coming down with David on Friday nights I arrived a day before with Sheba and the cats, this progressed with us both wanting to spend more time there so we made it our main residence and David left at 4-30am to spend 2 days in our Manchester offices and I did the same alternately. Eventually I stayed in Wales for 3 weeks out of four as I could do my job using phone and fax to liaise with head office and David would stay in our Manchester home, spending time with Lisa and Dawn in the evenings
One morning the receptionist called to say my daughter had rung from New Zealand. I was stunned and rung the number provided to hear after so many years the voice of my baby girl Rebecca (or Becs as she insists on being called) We spoke for over 2 hours during which time I learnt that she had married young to a native New Zealander and moved there to live. She had just left her husband and was seeking a divorce. Apparently she had never received my letter which was intercepted by one of the twins and thought I didn’t want her, whilst I had thought the reverse. From then on we were in regular contact and it was not long before she arrived with her new boyfriend and we met in Dublin taking Clare & Dawn with us.
We sat in the restaurant of The Gresham Hotel in O’Connell Street just up from The River Liffey (they serve the best tasting Guinness in the world) and over a very long lunch we all got acquainted, thankfully the 3 girls all got on so well and David proudly presided over his ever expanding family.
Becs went on to meet another man who she would go on to marry and in the family tradition give birth to beautiful twin girls, Gemma & Amelia. He owns a haulage business and she having qualified as a chartered accountant has built a large practice from scratch. The daughter I had so desperately always wanted is all grown-up and although so far away we keep in regular touch and meet up for a week every other year.
Then out-of- the blue my other son Andy made contact and when I spoke to him I knew immediately that something was very badly wrong. He had joined the police force and had made it to sergeant. Stupidly he had gone out with other lads on the force for a drink or three and had returned to the station and driven his car heading home. He never made it because he was stopped by a patrol car, breathalysed, arrested and put in a cell. It sounded the end of his career and he was desperate at the thought of losing his job, house and the respect of his mum and in-laws. Fortunately we were able to offer him a job and he moved home from Devon to Manchester working for us for 10 years until moving on to a an even better job in Liverpool. He too has children with his wife Elaine, one daughter Phoebe and a son named Toby.
Just one of the fold missing, Stephen had disappeared after our refusal to fund his girlfriends engagement ring and hasn’t ever made contact at all, although I know he married had 2 daughters and has emigrated to Australia. I hope one day that he puts our blood tie before his pride for he will be so warmly welcomed back and I will cook the “fatted calf” to celebrate.
When the hardcover version of my autobiography was published in June of 1991 I knew then that, despite all the many problems I had conquered in my life, undoubtedly there would be many more yet to come. The prospect of one major, trial, in particular, had already been looming over me for at least eighteen months prior to publication but, because the matter was subjudice, I was forced to keep my own counsel and not reveal any details about the matter.
In case you’re wondering why I chose to use the words ‘trial’ and ‘counsel’, it’s because these two words were particularly relevant at the time. The ‘trial’ I yet had to face was, quite literally, a court trial, and the counsel was a QC!
Before I go any further, however, I first must go back to 19th October 1989, and even beyond that, to tell you why, and how, the events that occurred on that nightmarish day came about.
Some time previously, we had decided that, as so many of our competitors were selling videos, we should establish our own film division which would be responsible for writing and producing TV/TS videos under the TMC brand. Meanwhile, as steps were being taken to get this new side of our business off the ground, Raiko received an approach from a distributor of ours who was already taking our books and magazines.
“Our distributor tells me he has got a contact called Paul Scott who can supply TV/TS videos” Raiko said. He has offered to send over a sample tape and a list of the films they have available. “What do you think ?”
Sounds reasonable I replied. “Why don’t you take a look at what he’s got and then decide?”
A few days later, Raiko came into my office and said. ” They’re not as good quality as we shall produce, but I think they will do until we get our own.”
Having no particular interest in seeing them for myself, I still haven’t seen one to this day as a matter of fact, I told Raiko to go ahead with the deal. Shortly afterwards we quite openly began to advertise and promote the American films. There was nothing underhand about what we were doing. Our name and address was printed on all the promotional literature and we had no reason at all to assume that we were doing anything wrong until we discovered one day that someone had been taking photographs of our Manchester shop.
Not surprisingly, with all my past experiences we were more than a little wary of the kind of tricks the tabloids get up to, and because we counted a fair number of rich, famous, and important people amongst our regular customers, we began to feel uneasy.
At about the same time the manageress of our London shop reported to us that two suspicious characters had been into her branch one day, and as she had felt rather uncomfortable about their sudden appearance and their behaviour, she had asked one of her assistants to follow them as they left. As the girl had rounded the corner she had seen both men climbing into the back of a police car.
Not too happy with these two incidents, I made phone calls to both branches of Bury and Camden CID, to report what had occurred and ask if they knew what was going on.
“Look,” I said. “If we’re under surveillance for any reason, I’d like to know about it. After all, we’ve always been co operative with you. I then reminded the officer of the occasion when two of their officers had complained about two particular publications (not our own, I hasten to add) that had been on sale at our Birmingham branch, to which we had responded by immediately destroying every single copy from our stock.
“No” the officer assured me. “You re not under surveillance. I can only assume that the men who visited your shop must simply have been two officers whiling away their time.”
“Look” I said, “If there’s a problem, for God’s sake let me know. If we’re selling something that you don’t approve of, I’ll remove it from the shelves and immediately take it out of our catalogues”. But again I was reassured that we definitely were not being watched.
Fortunately, I had the sense to make sure that both conversations were taped!
When that fateful day, October 19th 1989, dawned David was in Newcastle making a final decision on which of the three sites we had short listed would be right for our new Transformation shop, I was at the office, and Raiko and Clare (my surrogate daughter) were both at our house shooting the very first of our own brand of TMC videos.
We had chosen my home as the location in order to save costs. It was all quite innocent, all that was happening at that precise moment was that they were getting ready to film a couple arriving at my front door. Inside the house, Raiko and Clare were still in the middle of setting the lighting for a sequence in which the bell would ring, and the front door would open to reveal the couple standing on the doorstep.
Suddenly, the bell rang.
“Not yet!” Clare shouted from the inside. “We’re not ready. Don’t ring the bell yet.”
As she opened the door to tell the couple to go back to their positions and wait a few more moments, she was suddenly confronted with the sight of three male detectives brandishing search warrants.
Although we weren’t aware of it until much later, we were simultaneously being hit everywhere else. Homes, shops, offices, you name it, and we were being raided by a team of 250 police at every single one of our establishments throughout the country, 80 of which were meantime making their presence felt at our head office.
As you will recall, the last time I’d been raided I’d had no clothes on. By sheer coincidence, on this occasion, once again all I was clad in was a pair of knickers. Not that I make a practice of working in so little you understand. It was just that I was planning to take a break at Champneys Health Farm the following week, and in preparation for my stay there, I’d taken the opportunity during a quiet period to have Sandra wax my legs for me.
Inspector Wood who was the guy in charge, and his sidekick, Sergeant Ashley who ultimately saw the case through , had obviously been well hyped up before the raid took place, because the whole thing was just like you see on police movies. With policeman bursting through every doorway yelling, “Don’t move! Don’t touch anything!” I couldn’t help
thinking I’m glad the British police aren’t armed as I am convinced that if they had been someone could easily have been shot.
I wouldn’t mind but if it hadn’t been serious, it could have been highly comical. Just imagine 80 policeman running around like maniacs, yelling and screaming, while my poor bewildered staff, most of whom are middle aged wives and mothers, stood frozen in their tracks, never having experienced anything like it, and not having a clue as to what was going on.
Fortunately they hadn’t got to me yet, so by the time my secretary came bursting in, shouting, “We’re being raided!” , I’d already been alerted by the commotion, and having had sufficient time to button up my skirt, otherwise I can just imagine what thoughts would have been going through those policemen’s heads!
“What’s this all about?” I demanded, as I entered the main office to be confronted by the officers telling me they had a warrant to search the place.
“Well if you don’t mind, I’d like a few moments to calm down and reassure my staff” I replied. Then I gathered everyone together in the conference room, and organized strong, sweet coffee and tea for them all, after which I went back downstairs and said to Inspector Wood, “Look, your argument is with me, not my staff, and I would prefer it if you allowed them all to go home”.
Once everyone but my senior staff and I had been sent home, the police went to turning the whole place upside down. They were determined not to let anything get in their way, and if they came across a locked office, they simply broke the door down. Eventually, after they had filled up ten lorries with around £300,000 million worth of books, magazines, videos, and other stock. They were totally indiscriminate about what they impounded, they even confiscated items that had nothing to do with my part of business, stuff that was to do with David’s supermarkets.
Afterwards, I discovered that one policeman had said to one of my girls, “When all this is over, you won’t have a job because we’re going to put you out of business”.
One of the officers turned to me with an odd look on his face.
“All right, then. Where is it?” he demanded.
“Where is what ?” I asked, perplexed.
“The manuscript” he said.
For a moment, I wondered whether the shock of the raid had affected my hearing. Did he really say what I thought I heard? 80 policemen had just stormed my offices. They’d spent five hours taking the entire place apart. They’d confiscated lorry loads of stock, some of which was already packaged and labelled ready to be mailed out to my customers, and most of which was totally innocuous, and this guy was asking “Where’s the manuscript?”
It didn’t take much brainpower to work out what they were referring to. After all, I’d mentioned publicly the fact that I was writing my autobiography several times over the
past few years. But what on earth did that have to do with the police? I mean I know there would be a few x-rated scenes in there, but that wasn’t a criminal offence, and they hardly warranted police intervention on this scale!
But, obviously, someone, somewhere, thought it did warrant such a huge police effort. And to able to instigate such a massive operation, I could only conclude that that someone had to be a very powerful, very influential, and very frightened person indeed!
Outwardly cool, but inwardly intrigued, I asked “Why do you want it?” His answer was … no reply!
When they left. And we were left to pick up the pieces and count the cost. Somehow, with most of our records, computer disks, and ledgers missing, we had to find a way to refund all the customers who now would not be receiving their ordered goods. We were forced to draft in PKF, a large firm of accountants, to help us sort out our accounts because so much of our data was missing. The bill for the four months they spent trying to reconstruct our books came to £25,000. We couldn’t make our VAT return because all our invoices had been seized. But when we contacted the Customs and Excise to tell them why, we were told that was no excuse!
To top it all, shortly afterwards, the police came to us with one of our computer disks that was password protected and asked us to help them read it. Clearly, they thought it contained the manuscript, and, in a way, they were right, because it did contain a version of it, but in trying to break the password they had managed to corrupt it.
You didn’t have to be an Einstein, or even a detective to figure out that something very strange indeed was going on. None of our competitors who were selling exactly the same videos had been touched. Then there was the tip¬ off we had received via our London shop from the manager of a club which featured lots of MPs amongst its clientele, telling us to be careful because this “was coming from the very top”. And, of course there was the odd comment Sergeant Wood had made to me and Clare as we had been watching the last of our goods being loaded into a car. “I have to tell, you, Stephanie” he said, “I’m ashamed to be connected with this case.”
To be fair, I think many of the lower ranking officers were disgusted at what they saw happening. And I don’t for one moment believe the raid had anything to do with deviant, or obscene, material which was the charge that was being levied at us.
As I understand it, the argument was that our videos were deviant, because, despite the fact that no act of sexual intercourse featured in them, what they portrayed was transvestism, transsexualism, or female domination, all of which is mostly fantasy anyway. Of course, it’s okay for two lesbians to be filmed making love, because men like watching two women making love, and as it’s men who make the rules, that’s okay. But as soon as it’s something that isn’t their bag, then it’s considered deviant.
And the most ridiculous part of it was, the very man who signed our committal papers was the Director of Public Prosecutions who himself got into trouble for kerb crawling and picking up prostitutes around Kings Cross.
How hypocritical the law is!
The pressure and strain over next year and a half was tremendous.
I had several interviews with the police, and as time went on, I noticed that their attitude towards us began to change. Once they got to know us, and our company, and the way we did business, I think they realized that the impression they had been given beforehand was totally different to the reality of what we were and how we worked.
At one stage, I even confronted the police with my suspicions, telling them that I believed the ‘obscene material’ charges were just a smokescreen for someone who had a vested interest in ensuring my autobiography never saw the light of day. And because that person and, to my mind there was only one person who could be behind the raid knew we published our own material and therefore, assumed we would also publish my autobiography. The only way he could prevent its publication (and the revelations he wrongly assumed I would make about him) was to put us out of business.
When we finally received the official summonses early in 1991, we were shocked and appalled to learn that a total of 158 charges were being brought against the company, and precisely the same number were being levied individually against Raiko and I.
Not knowing who else to contact. and in spite of all the problems I’d experienced with him the last time I’d been in court, I thought that perhaps Ian Burton would be the best person to once again represent me. So I parcelled up all the tape recordings we had made of every phone call we’d had with the police, and every other piece of evidence I could lay my hands on, and sent them of to Ian.
And here’s where we really get into the realms of the unbelievable, because, would you credit it, somehow, around half of everything I sent to Ian strangely ‘disappeared’. His company’s excuse? They’d discovered the loss of a number of items after an office Christmas party! I was furious. In fact, I was all for suing them. But you know what solicitors are like about suing members of their own. In the end, we hired a firm called Offenbach’s to represent us, and believe me, when you spend the best part of £50,000 on legal advice and representation, including something silly like £8,000 or so a day for the QC, Geoffrey Robertson, and you still end up getting locked up for a year, it makes you realize how greedy & biased the British legal system is.
The only thing I can say about this whole experience, is that the only organization I now have any respect for is the prison service as I certainly don’t have any respect for solicitors or the police. In fact, I’d be hard pushed to decide which of them are the biggest crooks. I wasn’t it all impressed by their performance, in fact, I’d go so far as to say it was downright pathetic.
The only people who I believe truly try to do a good job in difficult circumstances are the prison officers, and I can’t speak highly enough of them. They were all fabulous to me all the way through. And I say that, without exception, about all of those I met during my time at Risley and at Askham Grange.
David, thank goodness, wasn’t charged with any offence., and quite rightly too, because he hadn’t been involved in the decision to sell those videos. Now, I have to point out, everyone accepts that I had not viewed the tape myself. Everyone also accepts that none of us thought we were doing anything wrong. Likewise, everyone accepts that from the day of the raid, we never sold another uncertified tape. And every single person involved in the case accepts that the whole thing cost our company £300,000. We even hired professional accounts to establish that we only made a nominal profit of something like £7,000 out of them, and that had to be set against the loss of £300,000. So, in the circumstances, you might think that we had already been punished enough, especially as we subsequently had them certified by The British Board of Film Classification and they still on sale albeit as DVD’s.
Time went by, the hardcover edition of my autobiography came out in June 1991 and received a great deal of media attention. Meanwhile, the political climate changed drastically and the person whom I believe had been so worried about the revelations I would make in my book disappeared for a time from the political scene. Unfortunately for me, by that time this whole affair with the police had taken on a life of its own.
At one stage, we were told that prosecuting us had cost the public £250,000, and that was without including the cost of the court case itself. Certainly, as things dragged on and on, we got the feeling that many people especially the police officers, just wished it would all go away.
Naturally our initial plea was not guilty. We had hired a man called Guy Cumberbatch, who is acknowledged to be this country’s leading expert on pornography to watch the videos and he testified that they were not obscene. “If you are not interested in that subject” he said in court, “you are liable to go to sleep. In my opinion, these certainly would not corrupt anybody at all.”
So there we were, being prosecuted for selling transvestite and transsexual films, which we now legally sell with an 18 certificate, which means that they could openly be shown in your local cinema and surprise surprise suddenly, something rather strange happened.
We were approached with an offer: “Convert your not guilty plea to one of guilty,” we were told, “and we will drop 152 of the charges against you and Raiko, and every one of the charges against the company, all you’re likely to get is a £500 fine”.
“This is too good an offer to turn down,” my delighted solicitor advised me.
to change our plea. What worried us most, was that if we didn’t, they might really go for the company, and that’s where all the money was. But in the back of my mind, there was a niggling worry: What will happen when we plead guilty?
Against our better judgement, Raiko and I were persuaded. to six charges apiece, each of which was brought under the Obscene Publications Act. Now this is very important, the charge was not ‘pornography’, which is a more serious offence, but ‘obscenity’. And the reason they were considered ‘Obscene’, is because they were supposed to be ‘deviant’.
Prior to our own trial our supplier, Paul Scott, who also happened to have supplied the same videos to eleven other companies, and sold them direct to the public, was convicted of his twenty seventh offence of illegally importing obscene material into the country. His sentence? Six months imprisonment.
“Don’t worry,” we were advised. ”In previous cases of this nature, where it’s been a first conviction, the maximum penalty imposed has been a £500 fine. You won’t get more than that.” But I was worried. In fact I was very worried indeed, because I was absolutely convinced that when I left that court, I would be on my way to prison.
Nobody believed me. Not David. Not Raiko. And not Clare They all thought I was exaggerating. Especially as even the police had said I wouldn’t go down. But something inside me kept warning me otherwise, and just before the trial I gathered all my staff together and told them what I felt.
“Everyone tells me that this is not that serious” I told them. “So, because it’s not that serious, we will either get a slap on the wrist, or ….” I paused before continuing, “…or, this offer is a trick to get me to plead guilty, because a guilty plea puts me at the mercy of the courts.”
I am not particularly superstitious, but something kept nagging away at me. Somehow, I couldn’t see anything beyond that trial. That’s why I had taken Clare, whom I had now ‘adopted’ as my daughter, to New York, so that we could have a week’s holiday together seeing all the sights and doing all the touristy things one is supposed to do. I’d made Clare take lots of photographs, and asked her to get together a whole collection of these and others. So that I can take them inside with me I explained.
“Don’t be silly,” she kept saying, “You’re not going anywhere”. But I felt that I was.
The hearing was set for ten in the morning, but we didn’t get called in until 11.30 AM. Within a few minutes, the judge said that he had to go off to hear a jury in another court room, so the hearing was abandoned for a while. When he returned he adjourned till after lunch. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Off we all went to a pub across the road for a sandwich lunch, and then Dawn, David’s daughter turned up, so I give her a big hug before we went back into the court, and told Clare to look after everything for me until returned. And back we went.
The judgement didn’t take long as we had both pleaded guilty but the prosecution summed up their case by saying: “And we would remind you, your honour that these six are just sample charges of the 158 that are being brought against these people.”
To say I was shocked and appalled is an understatement. “The bastards!” I kept repeating to myself over and over again, all the time thinking, Stephanie you were right it was just one very big con trick.
Then Judge Carter spoke looking straight at Raiko & me, he said, “I’m going to make an example of you.”
Oh hell! I thought. Here it comes and it doesn’t sound like justice.
“I am sentencing you both to twelve months in prison, a £6,000 fine apiece and ordering that all material seized (all £300,000 worth) shall be destroyed.
Now, if I had just received a severe fine, or a suspended sentence, people might have thought I deserved it and nobody would have had any sympathy for me. As it was, everybody was totally stunned. This was a harsher sentence than people had got for killing someone when under the influence of drink or rape.
Even the prison officer who took me down (who just happened to be the father of a girl who once was PA to me), said: ”I don’t believe I am taking you down for this. In this very dock, there’s a twenty nine year old guy who raped a nine year old girl, and all he got was a suspended sentence. And a guy who was tried for killing his girlfriend has just got a two year suspended sentence. it just doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s stupid. It just makes a nonsense out of everything.”
Even the famous Judge Pickles, whom I once had the pleasure of meeting, headlined his column in The Sun newspaper with the words, “Free Steph now!”
In the UK you do not pass ‘GO’, you do not collect £200 you go straight down to the cells until the last case in heard. The filth and squalor of the cells beneath the court was a stark contrast to the splendour of the courtroom above. There were dirty lavatories, all with their seats missing, and there wasn’t a toilet roll to be seen anywhere. To be fair, the prison officers, who obviously felt rather sorry for me, treated me very kindly. They didn’t lock me up in a cell, and they made me a cup of strong, sweet tea. But they did take my jewellery, my handbag, and all my possessions away from me.
I was allowed to see join Raiko briefly in a room where we were seated behind a glass panel through which we looked at David, Clare and our solicitor, all of whom appeared to be in shock.
”Raiko,” I said, “this is the time when we have to be brave because everyone else is going to be absolutely devastated by this.”
For the first time in all the years I’ve known him, David broke down and wept. Clare was distraught, and as for poor Raiko’s parents, well nobody but me had anticipated this! And although I did have a previous conviction for ‘keeping a bawdy house’ poor Raiko had no previous record whatsoever, so no one could believe what had just occurred. But Raiko was very brave, and although I could see he was choked up, he didn’t break down once throughout our emotional parting.
When I arrived at Risley, I made an attempt at being flippant and humorous, saying to the officers who greeted me, “I bet you had a shock when you heard the news, didn’t you?” never dreaming how very revealing their response would be.
“No”, they said. “We knew you were coming this morning”.
That struck me as very strange, as the case didn’t even start until the afternoon!
The words ‘British’ and ‘Justice’ should not be allowed in the same sentence, making an example of someone instead of consistent sentencing makes a mockery of the evenly balanced scales that hang over the Law Courts. Well, now they’d finally got me, it would be interesting to see what they would do with me. After all, if, legally I was still considered to be male, then by rights I ought to be in locked up with other men. On the other hand, however, as I obviously looked and functioned just like any other female, (minus the periods) the potential consequences of such a step didn’t bear thinking about. So, in this particular (curious) circumstance, they did the only thing they felt they could do: they put me in a single cell in the psychiatric wing home to all the psychopaths and mentally ill prisoners. That’s when I discovered for myself why and how Risley earned its nickname ‘Grisly’ Risley. Everything that could be used for self-harm was removed including my under wired bra.
If I hadn’t already been in shock, conditions in that psychiatric wing would have been enough to put me there. As it was, the horror that had swamped me when my sentence, had been passed, was compounded ten fold by everything I witnessed in the few days I spent in that awful establishment while the authorities debated my eventual destination.
To try and paint a picture of what Risley was like is virtually impossible. No one who hasn’t experienced for themselves the awful degradation of the place can possibly imagine what it could be like. The only adequate description I can offer is that it must be similar to what one imagines a prison in the third world to be like even the officers referred to it as the cess pit!
I was led through a seemingly endless number of locked doors until we arrived in the basement psychiatric holding cell block.
The cells were infested with cockroaches. I was placed in a single cell with just a dirty mattress on the concrete floor and a couple of army blankets. There was a plastic bowl for a toilet, no lid or toilet roll. Many of the women held in adjacent cells had serious mental and were dressed in only paper clothes for their own safety. Meals were supplied served on paper plates and in our cells and apart from an hour in the exercise yard where we had to walk round in circles without talking we were locked up for 23 hours a day. When we’d finished eating, plastic knives and fork were passed back through the grille, We weren’t even allowed to see a magazine until every staple had been removed because, I was told, prisoners had used staples either to gouge out the eyes of their warders, or to slash their own wrists. The only reason mental prisoners are kept in these conditions was that the government shut down most of the mental hospitals with their large grounds for house building and we call ourselves an advanced caring society
I couldn’t believe that such conditions could possibly exist in this country, and I still don’t believe that anything can justify treating human beings like that. Even the prison warders were disgusted that I should be held in such conditions and ultimately it was only due to their lobbying on my behalf that I was moved three days later to Askham Grange Open Prison at York where in comparison, it was like moving from hell to heaven.
I set off with 2 other girls in a prison vehicle to cross the Pennines and eventually to Askham Grange. The prison officers there treated every inmate equally, and my admiration and respect for them is immense. Sometimes they were provoked beyond endurance by girls who would insult them, and spit and swear at them, but their patience was boundless. They knew they couldn’t touch or retaliate in any way and, to their credit, they never once tried. The only recourse they resorted to when someone was behaving particularly obnoxiously was to put them into a secure unit that contained just three or four cells. As a newbie I was assigned to cleaning all of the toilets for my first 2 weeks of incarceration but then was permanently designated in reception. My duties under supervision was to process incoming prisoners belongings, you were allowed two outfits at anyone time but the other were itemised and stored until you wished to rotate them. Saturday was cleaning day, with an officer first inspecting your bed and storage locker and then we mopped, polished and dusted every inch of the building.
Unlike men’s prisons, the women at Askham were allowed to wear their own clothes. We were totally on trust. There were no bars, doors weren’t locked the building itself was lovely, and the gates weren’t manned, so if someone really wanted to, they could just walk out and they did. On average, we lost one a week, sometimes more. But if you did go AWOL, once you were caught you’d be locked up and moved to a closed prison. There was no getting away from it, it was still a prison, because prison means loosing your freedom, not being able to do what you want when you want, and if you’re two minutes late for a meal, you’d be on report. Everything was rules and orders, and we had no choice but to do as we were told. For anyone who thinks going to prison is too soft an option all I can say is just try it yourself.
If I’d thought during my short time at Risley that being locked up in a little cell wasn’t a good thing, sharing a dormitory with eight other women at Askham helped change my mind. You are at least from other prisoners in your own cell but in a dormitory you witness bullying. As soon as lights out at 10pm the drugs and alcohol came out. They make alcohol using potato peelings on the roof and drugs were hidden in bed frames and other ingenious places. Drugs were thrown over the prison walls by partners none of us could get away from it. This was despite Methadone being handed out every night by the pharmacy. Out of 86 prisoners there were just 8 of us who didn’t use drugs Then there were the lesbians, one butch one in particular, who became jealous when her ‘girlfriend’ wanted to talk to me. Having newspapers in the prison library they all knew what you were ‘banged up’ for.
I had heard that people who are famous, and those who are sexually different have a hard time in prison. And if you happen to be both, then God help you, so obviously I had anticipated that I’d experience one or two problems. That did turn out to be the case, at
least in the beginning but I was big and strong enough to defend myself and as a paedophile arrived with me it was her that attracted the real venomous treatment. No-one was allowed to speak to her and the things they put in her drinks and food was unbelievable. Raiko later confirmed to me that apart from child molesters (who were kept in isolation for their own safety) male prisoners tend to band together in a ‘you and me against the screws’ attitude. If they happen to fall out, they simply bop one another and that quick punch resolves the issue. But women aren’t like that. Firstly, women are very, very bitchy, and they don’t club together but form tight little cliques instead. And secondly, they’re unpredictable. Instead of issues being resolved with a quick punch up out in the open, there would be strange.incidents, prisoners suddenly appearing with bandages on their arms, saying they’d been scalded accidentally, and other suspicious injuries.
I didn’t like the way Y0s (young offenders) behaved, most of them off them off their heads with drugs. The ‘lifers’ who were serving the last 2 years of their sentences for killing abusive partners were amongst some of the nicest people I was incarcerated with I suppose that was probably because they’d been inside for a long time, and now they were coming to the end of their sentences, they’d learned a lot. They all helped each other out and looked after each other, whereas many of the younger ones were simply wild.
Drugs were everywhere. Visitors brought them in, the girls brought them back with them whenever they’d been out, the place was full of drugs. And because the staff weren’t allowed to search anyone internally, it was ridiculously easy to hide them. All they had to do was wrap them up in cling film and put the stuff inside their bodies.
On my first night, after lights out, everybody in my dorm lit up, just inhaling the dense smoke made me high, and the next day I woke up with the biggest headache I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t touch them myself, I kept a diary the whole time I was there, and one of the ringleaders a girl called Karen Searle was always trying to get a peek at what I was writing, so I made sure I always wrote something nice about her, and then crossed it out afterwards, you learn to be devious for your own protection.
There were only two people I really had a problem with, well, three really, but the third one was different. One was Karen Searle, the other was Wendy Bull. The other lady, Maggie Chapman, had done about fourteen years for beating her husband to death with a spade after coming home one night to find him dressing up in her clothes!
As you can imagine, knowing my history, and the business I was involved in, Maggie wasn’t inclined to be friendly to me.
I had been detailed to run the library which was open in the evenings and whenever she’d come in I’d be nice to her. One day she said, “Why are you always so bloody nice to me?”
” Well, actually, I don’t think I’ve treated you any different to anyone else,” I said.
“But that’s the point,” Maggie said. “I’ve been so bloody foul to you, and you’ve still been nice.”
“Look, Maggie,” I explained. “I know what you’re in for, and I can imagine how you must feel about me. If the situation was reversed, I’d probably see it as blatant provocation so I know how difficult it must be for you to have me here, and I can appreciate what you must be going through.”
She didn’t say a word. But the next time she came in she said, “You know, I’ve never had any regrets about what I did because I always thought men who dressed up in women’s clothes were bloody queers, but now I’ve met you, and you seem so normal.”
So I explained to Maggie what most of our customers are like, and how the majority of them are just nice ordinary, happily married, heterosexual guys who, while devoted to their wives and kids, just feel a need to dress in woman’s clothes occasionally. After that, I had no more problems with Maggie, and we managed to get on pretty well.
Although I tried to make the best of things during my time at Askham, and did, in fact, become good friends with some of the women in there, the first four weeks were definitely the worst. Now, I firmly believe that if you want to use prison as a deterrent, you should lock people up for two weeks and then let go, because after the third or fourth week, you do begin to become acclimatised and institutionalised. If I’d been locked up for a fortnight and then released, I would have thought, there’s no way I could ever go back there because I was simply terrified. But after a month of learning the system, and how to cope, it no longer holds any terror for me.
Visiting day (Sunday) was one of the worst things of all. I found it so hard to cope with seeing all my loved ones and friends for an hour and a half and then having to watch them walk away and leave me in there. That, more than anything, nearly destroyed me, and I missed my animals dreadfully one day, after my best friends, Sheila and Kevin had travelled all the way from West Sussex to York see me, I broke down and told David I didn’t want any more visitors, including him. Of course, he totally ignored my wishes, and so did Clare.
One day the Governor called me into his office.
”Stephanie, ” he said. “You are allowed one meeting per sentence to put all your business affairs into order, so I suggest you think long and hard about when you want it. Naturally, we would prefer it if you were to hold any meetings here, but if that’s impossible then we’ll issue a one day pass.”
I didn’t think my bank, Natwest would be too impressed with having to attend a business meeting inside jail, particularly with the by now famous Blue Arrow trial still going on, so they agreed to issue a pass and David duly arrived to take me over to Manchester.
We had the meeting and ate lunch at a local Italian restaurant only for The Manchester Evening News to run the front page headline “Sex-change Jailbird let out to Party” The prison had several phones calls informing that I had “escaped”
They had some very odd rules at Askham. For example, we were allowed out one day a month to go into town, or anywhere within a twenty five mile radius. But someone had to collect us, and they had to park their car right outside the door so that the warders could see you getting into the car. But when we were allowed out on our one day to settle business matters, the car was banned from coming into the grounds, and the staff had to accompany us all the way down the drive to where it was parked outside. I never could work out the reasoning behind that rule.
I volunteered for everything going so on a Tuesday I went in the prison minibus with a few other prisoners and worked with youngsters with mental problems to help them via play, exercise and sports. One evening I went to Leeds to swim with the physically disabled while the pool was closed to the public. Getting dressed after one such session a ‘posh’ lady who was changing before swimming asked if I was new to the area “Yes” I stated. “Where do you live?” she enquired. “I am a prisoner at Askham Grange I replied. The look on her face was pure horror.
After a while, I was encouraged to apply for a place in the hostel (which was like a halfway house between prison and the outside) within the grounds. The hostel idea was conceived to help people get acclimatized to living on the outside. A lot of prisoners. are people who simply don’t know how to manage. They can’t handle their own finances, very well and they’re not very good at organizing their lives. Because of that, they often end up in some kind of trouble because they get into debt and resort to shoplifting as a way out, which, of course, it never is. It’s a good idea, and one that the prison service are trying hard to foster and expand.
The criteria applying to hostel applicants was that you had to have been given a minimum sentence of eighteen months, and be within six months of the end of it. However, because they were running short of candidates, they reduced the minimum sentence requirement to twelve months which meant that I became eligible.
Everyone who lived in the hostel had to have either a day or evening job outside, which, of course, had to be approved by the prison, and which you were given only four weeks to find. Most of the girls ended up in a local sack factory, but I had higher hopes. After all, I had considerable marketing experience behind me which, I felt, many company would appreciate getting on the cheap.
If you were successful in getting and keeping a job, after four weeks at the hostel you would be allowed to go home at weekends.
So I applied for the hostel, and duly sat my interview in front of the selection board which included prison officers, and a prison visitor.
One of the standard questions they asked was why we wanted to live at the hostel, to which the usual reply would be: so that you could get a job and save up some money. However, everyone knew that I didn’t really need the money, so I simply said that I thought it would help me lead a more normal life, and that my main objective was to have an opportunity to go home at weekends to see my animals and my family. I fortunately got the place.
David came over every day for a week to take me job hunting. Our first stop was the local job centre, which proved to be a complete waste of time because, obviously, they considered me to be ‘unsuitable’ for most jobs they had on their books. In the end I got so desperate, I said to them “Look, I can hardly apply for a job that would suit my experience and qualifications, because I’m not going to be in prison for much longer, so I don’t mind what I do, I’ll scrub floors, anything, just so long as it’s work.”
After a whole week of that I was so frustrated, I asked David to call up every contact he had to find someone who was willing to employ me in York. Eventually, one of his friends said he had a brother who ran a pub in York who was willing to take me on. So back I went to prison, and told them I had a job.
“What’s the name of the pub?” they asked.
“Well, actually, it’s, a hotel” I said.
I gave them the name. “Oh, well don’t think you’ll be allowed to work there.”
“Why ever not?”
”It’s a well known hotel for gays.”
Christ! I thought. I can just imagine what a field day the press would have had with that!
Since I had been inside, the press had spent a lot of time hanging about at the gates, trying to bribe anyone they could (which, under the circumstances, wasn’t difficult) to give them a story about me. In the event, their attempts to cook up something, anything, were really laughable. The Sun Newspaper even had the cheek to send a fax to the Governor’s office with a list of questions they wanted answers to. When the Governor called me in to his office and showed them to me I was totally nonplussed. This is what ‘they asked:
Is it true that Stephanie Anne Lloyd had an affair with an officer?
Is it true that the officer concerned has now been suspended?
Is it true that Stephanie has now ‘been moved to a hostel as punishment?
Well, for a start, being offered a place at the hostel was a privilege, not a punishment. And as for having an affair with an officer, there were hardly any male officers at Askham.
“The only male I’ve spoken to has been you,” I said to the Governor.
“No, Stephanie,” he replied, coughing delicately. “I think they mean, have you had an affair with an officer in a skirt!”
It didn’t take much to figure out that because I had got on reasonably well with one of the officers, who just happened to be a lesbian, and who just happened to have now gone away on holiday, they’d put those two facts (which they must have got from one of the prisoners) together, added them to the information about my move to the hostel, and in typical Sun newspaper style, thought they’d got a story.
“If we don’t make an official response denying these allegations,” the Governor said, “I suspect they’ll run them anyway and just print a line saying something like, ‘the prison have refused to comment”.
Thank goodness the Home Office took the unprecedented step of issuing an official denial, otherwise all sorts of lies could have been printed about me, at a time when it would have been difficult for me to defend myself.
There also was another reason why I didn’t particularly want the newspapers nosing around. One of the friends I had made at Askham happened to be none other than Baroness Cecilia de Stempal, the subject of a book called, Blood Money which had recently been published amidst a flurry of publicity and the last thing either of us needed was to have the press making all sorts of sleazy, untrue allegations about a perfectly ordinary, innocent friendship.
When people ask me now what life in prison was like, I find it very difficult to answer them. How can you possibly make someone understand something they never have and probably never will experience for themselves? The emotions I experienced, the pain, the fear, the indignity, the horror, the loneliness, and the sheer hopelessness I felt are not something that can be conveyed adequately or easily in words, and, to be honest, now that it is behind me, all I want to do is bury that period of my past and simply look to the future. But there are moments, such as now, when I am forced to remember and relive the experience, and the tears and the pain are as fresh as if it were yesterday.
There is a saying that goes, ‘If I hadn’t laughed I would have cried’ . I did both. Though private moments were scarce, I shed many, many tears. But, in public, I kept my sense of humour. The frustrations were immense, and many of the rules and situations I encountered so ludicrous, that the ‘only way to cope with them was to laugh at them.
For example, we were allowed to have personal walkman radios, but we weren’t allowed Duracell batteries because, I was told, you could make bombs out of them! Ryvita crisp breads were banned because, apparently, you could grow a culture on them which, if added to a bucket of potato or apple peelings could be converted into alcohol.
As someone who was used to running a business, I found it frustrating not being able to use my marketing and organizational talents, so I channelled my energies into re-organizing many of the prison systems. In my job as reception orderly I changed the way prisoners property was recorded. I redesigning the sheets and sending them out to Clare to be reset on our office DTP, and I completely re-organized the OPA rooms where clothes were stored and issued to women who had no decent clothes of their own. I threw out about fifteen sacks of clothes that were stained or torn, and instituted a system whereby, instead of them just being issued willy nilly without regard for size, colour, or fit, the women were allowed to come down and select their own. By the time I had finished the OPA room had been christened Miss Selfridge.
But one of the funniest, and the most ironical, things that happened was when the prison put on a fashion show by the inmates for the public and press. The show was video taped, and they wanted to duplicate copies and sell them to prisoners who had taken part for £7.50. Now, bearing in mind that the reason I’d been imprisoned in the first place was for selling uncertified films (albeit ones that were considered to be obscene), and here I was being asked, by the prison officers, to take part in what essentially was a criminal act.
“I can’t be a party to this,” I protested.
“Why ever not?” they asked.
“Because you are about to sell an uncertified video, and that’s precisely what I am in this prison for. Can you imagine what will be made of this if it comes out? If you sell an uncertified video from inside a jail in which I also happen to be serving a sentence, everyone will, think I have had something to do with it. I’ve a good mind to telephone the British Board of Film Censors, and report you all.”
“But Stephanie,” one of the officers said, “it’s only a video of the fashion show.”
“I don’t care!” I cried, trying hard to keep my face straight. “It doesn’t make any difference what video it is. It could be a wedding video, for all the difference it makes. The fact is, if you duplicate it, and then sell it. it has to be certified. And if it isn’t, could be fined £20,000 and all be sent to Jail!”
The knowledge that they could have sold that video quite innocently, and yet totally illegally, made them realize the point I had been making all along: because if prison officers could unwittingly break the law, then obviously anyone else could do the same too!
On Friday, 1st February, 1992 the Principal Officer, Miss Winspear, informed me that a date for my appeal hearing had finally been set it would take place the following Monday at the Central Court of Appeal in London.
The procedure laid down for appeals was that every prisoner had to pack up all their belongings and take them to the Appeal Court with them so that if they won their appeal they could be immediately released. David and Clare were informed, and Sheila and Kevin, too. Immediately, they went into action making phone calls and organizing things so that if Raiko and, I were released we could be whisked home with the minimum amount of fuss and publicity.
I was so excited, I could hardly contain myself as I said my goodbyes to the friends I had made in the main building and at the hostel. When I took what I fervently prayed was my final leave of Miss Winspear, she stunned and pleased me by saying, ”Stephanie, I can honestly say we have never had a more inspirational prisoner here at Askham Grange”.
Once again, my inner feelings and intuition were totally at odds with everyone else’s on that occasion I had been the only one .who believed Raiko and I would be imprisoned, and on this occasion, I was the only one who was confident we would be freed.
When I left Askham the following Monday morning in company with the escorting officer, Mrs. Walker, I felt a profound sense of relief.
Whilst I was sure I would be freed, part of me could hardly believe that I would soon be back at home with David, Clare, all my beloved animals, and my family and friends.
When we arrived at the Central Appeal Court, I was immediately locked up in a downstairs cell. Just before the hearing began, I was taken up a flight of stairs that lead directly into the dock and, to my joy, there was Raiko. It was the first time I had seen him
in over 3 months, and immediately I could tell that prison had been a harrowing experience for him. One look at his face confirmed that there really is such a thing as a ‘prison pallor’, and my heart went out to him. I couldn’t help myself, I just threw my arms around Raiko and hugged him for what seemed like a long, long time, and throughout the entire hearing I clung on so tightly to his hands with both of mine, that my nails left deep marks in his skin.
I was so nervous and excited I hardly heard what our QC was saying to the three judges who were hearing our appeal. But when one of them stopped him in mid-flow and leaned forward to intervene, my heart jumped into my mouth.
“Mr. Robertson,” he began. “We have heard enough. We have considered this matter very carefully, and we are of the unanimous opinion that….” then he introduced one of his ‘learned colleagues’, who commenced reading out a statement which ran to six whole pages which listed six main reasons why they felt our sentence had, not only been unreasonable but “entirely inappropriate”.
And when he actually said the wonderful words. “We commute the sentence to time served, so you are now free to go”, I could have jumped for joy. Instead, I, wept tears of joy and relief; joy at finally being free, and also at what I considered to be our vindication, and relief.
The irony was, though we had been declared free, we were immediately taken back downstairs and once again locked up in a cell while our release papers were put in order and signed. The moment that was done, however, the ‘escape’ plan that David, Sheila and Kevin had worked so hard to organize was put into action. Three of Raiko’s sisters who had travelled to London for the Appeal whisked him away, while Kevin and Sheila rushed me into a taxi which was waiting to take me straight to Heathrow where, in order to avoid the prying cameras of the pressmen who had seen me being issued with a travel warrant for the train journey from Euston, they had booked me a seat in a fictitious name on a shuttle to Manchester.
I walked off the plane and straight into David’s waiting arms. I was so choked up. I could hardly speak, so we just sat in the Daimler which was parked on double yellow lines, and held each other for a full five minutes. We had so much to talk about, and there was so very much I desperately wanted and planned to say, but now that the moment was finally here, the only thing that seemed important was to tell David how very much I loved him.
The moment we got home, after greeting all our animals, the first thing I did was take a long relaxing soak in a steaming hot bath. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and I consistently refused every request for an interview. All I wanted right then was to recuperate at home, and try to put those awful months in prison behind me.
Later that week, I ordered the office to be closed at lunchtime and David, Raiko and I took every member of our head office staff out for a meal to thank them for all their support, and for keeping everything running so smoothly in our absence. Then Raiko and I went off for a week to get ourselves back into physical and mental shape at Henlow
Grange health farm. We exercised, we swam, we went for long walks in the fresh air, had several sessions on the sunbeds, and plenty of massages, and generally relaxed and recuperated after our ordeal. And throughout it all, we never stopped talking. My head was brimming with plans, decisions, and new ideas, and one, in particular, needed a great deal of organization before it could take effect.
Soon after our return, I scheduled a series of meetings with all our senior staff, at which I broke the news to them that I had decided to relocate permanently.
“I’m going to live full time in Wales,” I announced. “From now on, I will concentrate most of my energies on doing what I am best at: marketing, development, and implementing all the new ideas and changes I have been planning while I have been away.”
That accomplished, David, Kevin, Sheila and myself went off on holiday to Goa in India, so that we could all spend some much needed time together, and to enable me to complete my recovery.
Over the following months we accomplished an enormous amount. We developed and expanded our information telephone lines and automatic credit card clearance system completely revamped our mail order operation and opened more shops with 2 in Ireland and 2 in Germany. We redesigned our entire clothing and underwear ranges, put together a massive new advertising campaign for our shops, axed some of our publications, and introduced new ones at the rate of two per month. Our video production company, which had already completed the production of 12 films by the time our case finally got to court, had by now released 36 titles to date all I must stress had been passed by The Film Classification board and awarded 15 certification!!!!!
The move to living full time and working from our home in Wales benefited me enormously. I love the peace and tranquillity of our beautiful surroundings, and our property, which we have enlarged by acquiring a further 50 acres, became more zoo like every day as I started to take in rescue animals. Our family of animals has now grown to number fifteen. For my last birthday, I received Boo Boo, a beautiful little chow-chow, and Honey a chubby Labrador. I still had my lovely Sheba, of course and my cat family has become extended with the addition of Katie, who shared life with me at the hostel at Askham, and Nicki, who is the offspring of one, of my former prison officers. And we now have thirty peacocks, goats, pigs, sheep, llamas as well to share our land, our home and our life, with an eventual total of 300 rescue animals plus I did voluntary work at our local Riding Centre for the Disabled one day a week which I found rewarding.
My love for animals, and my appreciation of their immense loyalty, grew daily and having to ‘muck out’ the stables certainly keeps away any illusion of grandeur.
But if I had thought that my release from prison, my decision to step back a little from the business, and my move to Wales signalled, if not the end, then at least a long respite, in the chain of bizarre adventures and odd events that have constituted my life so far, I have since been proved to be sadly over optimistic. For I can now reveal another strange event that befell me.
Not long after my release, and only a few days after returning from India, we received a letter at our head Prestwich head office. It contained a threat to burn down our premises if a ransom of £150,000 was not paid.
At first, we took it to be an empty threat; the kind of thing that occasionally happens to high profile people and companies at the hands of cranks. But because of our insurance, we thought we should at least hand the letter over to the police, and they took it very seriously indeed.
Shortly afterwards, when the original deadline for coughing up with the cash had expired, we received a second letter, only this time the threat had been increased to include a threat on my life, and a strong warning not to contact the police as their wavebands were being monitored.
A third letter gave us notice to obtain the cash within a few days, and then came the fourth and final communication, containing the date, time (between 2 and 10 pm), and a map detailing precise instructions as to how to get to the venue, which was on the other side of the Tyne Tunnel north of Newcastle, near a large roundabout which was surrounded by flat, open land.
And, yes, you’ve guessed it, the person they had chosen to make the drop was … me!
“You don’t have to do this, Stephanie,” the police told me. “After all there is no doubt ‘that there’s more than an element of danger here.”
Despite their protests, and their warnings, however, I insisted on going ahead. Firstly, because it was my business and my life that was being threatened. Secondly, because it my staff were in danger. And thirdly, because I wanted to see the criminals caught.
When the big day arrived, three senior officers arrived in unmarked cars at our Prestwich office, carrying a blue holdall which contained £150,000 in cash and a concealed tracking device. With me at the wheel of our Daimler, David beside me, and a WPC crouched down on the floor in back, we drove off, with the unmarked cars following a discreet distance behind, to a rendezvous point at Washington Services where officers from the Northern Regional crime squad were waiting with a clutch of colour photographs of the spot where the money was to be dropped off.
As we left the service station, I couldn’t help noticing that there were an awful lot of people just sitting in their cars seemingly, idling their day away at the service station. When I turned to David to comment on the fact, the police woman accompanying us gave me a funny look and said, “Stephanie, they are all undercover police.”
I couldn’t believe it. The police had deployed at least 25 cars, and a helicopter, which was conducting perimeter surveillance of an area which had a three mile radius around the road leading to the drop off point. As we pulled out of the service area, with David now behind the wheel, and me apparently map reading, my nerves were so keyed up it was
just as well my map reading was only for effect in case we were being watched, and that another local WPC was hiding on the floor in back directing us, otherwise goodness knows where we would have ended up.
When we arrived at the designated drop off point, David parked the car and handed me the holdall containing the money. Outwardly calm and composed, but inwardly shaking, I climbed out of the car and, clutching the holdall tightly in my hand, began what felt like a mile long trek across the open land towards the log by which we had been instructed to leave the cash. The temptation to look around to see if I could spot anyone watching me from a distance proved almost too great to resist, but I knew I mustn’t give in to it.
When I had made the drop, I felt like running all the way back to David, the car and safety, and I had to fight hard to control both the impulse and my pace. But eventually, I was there, and as I collapsed into the front seat, I felt myself go weak with relief.
Phew! I said. “That has got to be the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life.”
From the back, where the WPC still crouched on the floor, a voice which was full of sympathy agreed: “That walk must have been absolutely nerve wracking.”
“Oh no it wasn’t the walk, that was hard,” I said. “It was having to leave that bag with £150,000 in it. What a waste!”
Following the police’s instructions, we then drove off until we were then contacted again and advised that, as they were now certain we were not being followed we should proceed straight to the nearest police station. Fifteen minutes after our arrival there, we received the news that two men had been apprehended and David and I were now free to return to Manchester. We later learned that the criminals had made their pick up almost immediately, and following a high speed chase had been caught.
The men were duly charged with extortion and conspiracy to murder, bailed, and remanded to appear before Bury Magistrate’s Court at a later date for referral to Crown Court.
“Don’t worry, Stephanie,” the police said, “these men are professionals, and they will get at least seven years for this.”
Well, surprise, surprise. Not only did those two men not get seven years, they didn’t even get a rap over the knuckles! Because when their case finally came to court, it was thrown out due to ‘lack of evidence’! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, after all I had been through, the police didn’t have the courtesy to tell me themselves, because the first I heard about it was when a reporter rang me to ask what I thought about the charges being thrown out!
Frankly, I was so stunned, and so disgusted by the whole affair, that my first reaction was: “Why am I not surprised?”
“Can I quote you on that?” the reporter asked, which was nice of him, considering that I’ve never been asked permission for all the fictitious quotes and made up stories they had previously printed about me.
“You can, indeed,” I replied. “And what’s more you can also say that I think it’s a total travesty. As far as I’m concerned the words ‘British’ and ‘justice’ are mutually exclusive.” To think that I have been hounded for far less, and these guys actually got off! My faith in British law and justice is now so low, that if a policeman said good morning to me, I’d feel compelled to go outside and check.
So, whoever was behind the attempt to extort money from me, is obviously still at large. As far as those two men are concerned, I think they were merely hired to do a job for somebody else. I also believe that whoever was behind the plot and I have good reason to believe I know their identity still has not finished with me. Because only two weeks ago, a call was received at our Newcastle shop from a man who identified himself as Chief Inspector Brodie, asking for my home telephone number and address.
Naturally, my staff treat any such request with extreme caution, and so they refused, suggesting instead that ‘Chief Inspector Brodie’ ring our new Bristol shop and speak to Raiko.
According to Raiko, the ‘Chief Inspector’ told him that they had arrested a transvestite called Sarah in Glasgow for a serious offence. Apparently, Sarah had told them that she was a patient at the Albany Gender Identity Clinic, and that if they got in touch with me I would personally vouch for her.
Having good reason to be suspicious, Raiko told the ‘Chief Inspector’ that he couldn’t give him my number, but if he was prepared to give Raiko his, it would be passed on to me immediately and I would contact him.
“it seems a bit strange to me, Stephanie,” Raiko said to me on the telephone. “I mean, firstly, it’s a Saturday. And secondly, why would a Chief Inspector involve himself personally in a small case like this? Wouldn’t he be more likely to delegate the donkey work to one of his subordinates?”
Like Raiko, I too was somewhat baffled. And when I dialled the number the Chief Inspector had given him, got the number unobtainable tone, and then discovered through our own Telecom Company that the line was unallocated, my uneasiness grew.
I immediately phoned Glasgow police headquarters who promised they would look into the matter and get back to me shortly. Twenty minutes later, a senior officer called back to inform me that the number I had been given did hot resemble any police line in their area.
“I think you ought to inform Newcastle police,” the officer advised. And also your local police station, because if anything happens locally, they will be the ones to conduct any investigation.” The police subsequently had our names changed on the electoral register
to frustrate anyone from locating my new Welsh address. Eventually it was traced back to the original blackmailers so they were arrested (one was an ex-copper) and retried but once again walked free. From that day to this personal protection whenever needed is hired from the private sector.
Meanwhile we expanded into the manufacture, wholesaling and retail supply of herbal remedies. We bought our “Herbs of Grace” but after becoming the leading supplier I fell out with the then Medicines Control Agency” who refused to let us make any claims as to the efficacy of our products despite thousands of years of use. In frustration we disposed of the entire business as legislation constantly moving the goalposts I did not have patience with.
After receiving an offer for 50% of our supermarkets at a silly price we sold and licensed the remainder leaving us with cash looking for a business investment.
The answer when it came was purely coincidental. We used to hold directors meetings at Bodidris Hall as there was never anyone there. Owned by a wealthy American who published America’s leading shooting magazine who had bought it as a destination to bring his valued clients. During his 7 years of ownership it had racked up losses of £750,000. Whilst there one day, Ken the manager mentioned that Bill Farden was flying in that very evening and intended to put it up for sale. As a throwaway remark I said “If he’s serious get him to ring me” At 10 minutes past 10 the very same evening he did and we arranged to meet over breakfast the following morning. Over a full Welsh breakfast (think English and then add some) we agreed the sale with a shake of hands. I had bought a loss making hotel that had made a rich American less so and had bankrupted the previous owners. With £750k of accumulated tax losses it was a sound reason to buy but I then fell in love with it and personally oversaw the complete £250,000 refurbishment, upgrading the 9 suites and creating a romantic candlelit wedding chapel. After huge losses year one, we broke-even year 2 and from on it yielded £150,000 of profits annually as it’s popularity as a wedding venue grew.
David and I returning from a long day in Manchester used to stop for dinner at The Plough Inn, Llandegla operated by John Dook and his partner, now his wife Wendy. The atmosphere was great especially close to the log fire and served good food. They eventually moved on and a succession of tenants offering only “ping” food followed. Eventually it closed and we were tempted to take it on. We commenced on a major refurbishment including a new kitchen, new toilets. During these long winter days we had put a small notice out stating ‘Closed for refurbishment – reopens February” Call us naive but on a cold, wet evening on Llandegla moors we expected for a brave few souls to turn up. How wrong we were!!! 120 people came and not fully understanding that the kitchen could not cope with this influx, David and I worsened the problem by bringing in more chairs and tables from storage. Then the Calor gas supply failed, without the knowledge that ones of the chefs had lent on the emergency gas trip, I ventured outside tinkering with the valve system with David holding an umbrella over me. Once the ‘fault’ was found we were now even further behind. We did the only think we could think of that was cracking open dozens of bottles of bubbly plus red and white wine and dish it out free promising that anyone who didn’t receive their food before midnight would not
have to pay for their meals. It turned into a sort of party and it was 2am before the last stragglers left. that evening became a legend with people expressing regret at missing out. We couldn’t have a drink until we had driven home but then David had a very large whisky and made a mega Jacky Dee for me. We got to bed at 4am only to have to repeat the performance every evening plus Sunday lunch. It became our very own “Groundhog Day” until we could hand over to the staff to run from the following Monday. We learnt the golden rule, never book in anymore than the kitchen can comfortably cope with and it has been a strict rule as we rapidly expanded to become the largest hotel group in Wales.
There are so many varied experiences and instances that could easily fill another book as our hotel provided hilarious episodes that even make “Fawlty Towers” look tame, including a couple of corpses. Mix men, women, alcohol and bedrooms and you have the mix that guarantees unbelievable incidents. Space limits those that I can include and if some publisher asks I might write another book entitled “The Accidental Hotelier” and believe me the two television series of programmes made and screened by the BBC only scratched the surface!!!
The BBC series came via Sioned Moyes who heads up an independent production. For 18 months I prevaricated worried that it would use my background for a sensational “Mickey taking”. Sioned, who I am now proud to count as a friend gradually persuaded me to trust her and thus “Hotel Stephanie” came to be with 240 hours of filming over 14 weeks condensed into 4 programmes documenting my work supervising the hospitality division of the company (mail order, retail shops, medical and telecoms companies were not included). They filmed good & bad and I only got to see it the day before it was screened. With no editorial control it was left to Sioned to select the 1% of film that finally was broadcast and obviously her judgement must have been correct as it achieved good viewing figures with the BBC commissioning a second series centred on our latest acquisition of the large Wynnstay Hotel in the heart of Wrexham creatively entitled “New Hotel Stephanie”.
This hotel was a challenge as it needed total refurbishment including the 70 bedrooms, the restaurants, kitchen, 2 new huge boilers, 2 x massive TV screens, menus, computer systems and we did it all with the hotel open and trading and with beer at £1 a pint and spirits all at £1 we were busy from 6am when we started breakfast until we closed at midnight when a night porter was on duty. The bar was huge and it needed to be as we needed 4 staff serving drinks. The offer a full cooked breakfast for £2-95 and Roast Sunday Carvery for £4-95 we were soon serving 400 meals a day. Too much for the head chef who quickly departed followed by a succession of idiots so I took over the kitchen brigade, which meant I was on my feet for 12 hours a days (I didn’t do the breakfasts) I was waddling around with bare feet as my feet and ankles swollen so much that I couldn’t wear shoes. I got home at 1pm when Boothy would make a really large Jacky Dee and a bowl to soak my feet in. When I went to bed I had to have my legs elevated so that by morning they were good to go. Seven days a week, working 12 hours a day is not ideal when you are 65 but I managed for weeks until we at last found a good head chef whom I gladly handed over to.
The part I liked best was “waiting on” as I got to see each meal was perfectly presented before I went out to interact with the diners. I wore the same black outfit as all of the other staff and my name badge simply said “Stephanie” so most guests were unaware that I was the owner, in fact one very snobby woman who has pre-ordered a cake and champagne and whom I had served retorted when I asked after the dessert if she wanted them serving now “Yes, but I would prefer the manager to do it” I immediately responded by saying “Yes madam, I will fetch him straight away”.
My staff all knew that I would support them if a customer behaved in an inappropriate was. We had a very nice polite Polish girl manning the reception desk at The Wild Pheasant Hotel & Spa, I was in the back reception office when I heard a man arrive and ask a question only to continue saying “You don’t understand because you’re a f***ing foreigner”. I shot out to reception and said “Fortunately for you sir I speak perfect English so now f*** off and never come back”. Word spread across the estate so that all staff whether Welsh, English, French, Spanish or Eastern European knew we would never stand for customers being abusive. We are all human and if we made mistakes we would always do more than any guest would reasonably expect to compensate.
We gradually bought more restaurants and hotels, later disposing of the standalone restaurants leaving us with 9 hotels, 3 children’s play centres and an activity company that staged The WreX Factor talent competition and The Great Llangollen Show at Llangollen’s Royal Pavilion with the star attraction of numerous hot air balloons and a spectacular night light display to music followed by a dazzling firework display. There was entertainment outside with rides and a stage with exhibitors and stage shows inside.
The banking crisis which our lovely bankers caused hit the country and suddenly the very banks responsible suddenly decided to go totally risk adverse and called in overdrafts especially from builders, property companies, retailers and the hospitality sector. Our overdraft was reduced from £1 million down to £250,000 squeezing our cashflow. We borrowed £1.6 million personally to keep everything going and accepted an offer from Barclays Bank to loan us £1million to convert huge ex-railway buildings which was the cost of the project. We duly handed the deeds to Bodidris Hall valued at £1.5 million only to be subsequently that they would neither loan us the promised money, nor hand the hotel back stating that all our hotels were going down in value as the result of the recession that they caused.
We have never ever given to blackmail, we didn’t when the IRA threatened to bomb our Belfast shop if we did not pay protection money, we simply closed it. Here we were with a hospitality division with all of the hotels trading profitably facing a £1 million VAT payment. The bank offered to loan us the money secured on our pension scheme, but that was not acceptable to The Pension Regulator or HMRC besides we would be working primarily for the bank and with David 68 and me at 65 we decided that we would walk away from it.
I rang KPMG on Tuesday and advised them that we were calling them in as administrators on Thursday when we would default on the VAT payment. At first they didn’t believe me saying “but you will lose all of your £7.5 million of equity” Neither
accountants or bankers can believe that you would rather walk away than give in to blackmail when money is at stake. The law is clear, directors must not trade once they know that a company is technically insolvent so at midnight we cut all of out ties with the hotels and play centres. KPMG couldn’t get a team in before Friday so there was a hiatus with us not able to inform anyone what was happening. This unfortunately led to intense speculation by the local press and uncertainty amongst our staff until KPMG issued their official statement.
Was it easy to see 12 years really hard work all undone as the hotels were split up and sold off at “fire sale” prices. The end of an era and a brutal process in the handling of staff who had been loyal and hardworking. The divisional director and divisional manager stayed at their posts and worked to make the process as smooth as possible.
KPMG actually stated “that they had exemplary cooperation from all involved” and the DTI (Department of Industry) gave us a perfect score for our handling of the process.
3 years later, we still made the right decision given the bank’s behaviour, they broke one promise so what’s to say they wouldn’t do it again. We then started to hear of similar stories from company owners and Barclays didn’t behave any worse than RBS/Natwest, HSBC, Lloyd’s or any other banker.
We resolved never ever to borrow any money from any bank again, so now our companies all operate without overdrafts or loans located in buildings that we own. We are still working a 5-day week and gradually repaying off the £1.6 million of personal debt we incurred that was injected into the company and all of which we lost.
So what of the future? I now spend time abroad both in Spain and New Zealand, where my daughter, Rebecca, lives with her husband and her twin girls. I will continue as editor of Yattar Yattar our free bi-monthly 148 page magazine that distributes 48,000 copies via Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda & Morrisons which will gradually expand the geographical area it covers with regional editions. I now have 6 rescue dogs for company and with large grounds both in North Wales and Spain am doing a fair bit of gardening.
I also continue to do all of the marketing and promotions for our mail order companies but fortunately as long as I have access to the internet, I can work from anywhere in the world. I intend to write 2 more books, the first as previously stated entitled “The Accidental Hotelier” and another which I believe will give a greater insight into the differences between the sexes. “Men are from Mars & Women are from Venus” was a good attempt but having actually lived as both for a roughly equal parts of my time on this planet, I think I am in a much better position to truthfully analyse how although both human beings the gender difference affects absolutely everything men and women do and think.
My greatest wish for the future is to be reconciled with my twin son, Stephen and his family who live in Australia and also to become good friends with Marylin who loved me so deeply and who so did not deserve to suffer the consequences of my transsexuality.
In reflection I could have handled many things better than I did. I am grateful to both Marylin and David who have loved me unreservedly and I hope that both have happy memories of our times together as well as the many times I must have tried their patience.
“People can say all sorts of things about me and probably do but no-one can ever accuse me of leading a boring life!”