Stephanie – A Girl In A Million – Chapter 9

Chapter 9
Transformation is Born

Following all the publicity, I had received several letters from complete strangers. One of these came form a transsexual called Caroline who lived in Chester. Caroline told me she was a qualified accountant, and offered to use her knowledge and expertise to help me with my financial affairs. By this time I was in debt up to my ears and being threatened with bankruptcy demands on all sides. The only reason it didn’t happen was because it would have cost my creditors at least £700 to issue a writ, and as they knew it would be impossible to recoup even this small amount the whole exercise would have been like flogging a dead horse. It was to be several years before I was in a position to pay them all off.

By now things were just about as bad as they could get. Apart from the fact that I had a roof over my head and Bob and Sheba for company, my only real consolation was the feeling that things surely couldn’t get any worse. As so often it was not long before I was to be wrong. I opened my mail one morning to find this letter from the Elders of the Jehovah’s Witness Sect:

Dear Keith,
As indicated in reports and on television, the Elders believe that you have gone astray in a moral sense and displayed conduct contrary to good Christian behaviour. As you were baptised originally into the Christian congregation as Keith Hull, a male, you are, therefore, unacceptable to God as female.
You are hereby summoned to appear before a judicial committee of Elders to examine your behaviour and determine whether you have contravened the Jehovah’s Law.
Deuteronomy Chapter 22, Verse 5.

Although I had not been active in the religion of my parents for so long, I was, of course, aware of the very real consequences of being excommunicated (‘disfellowshipped as they call it), Being excommunicated wasn’t the problem; what worried me far more was the effect it would have on my parents as from the moment I was banished from the faith I would, to all intents and purposes, be considered ‘dead’ by every Jehovah’s Witness, and if that were to happen, I knew that because my parents’ devotion to the faith was absolute, any faint hope I might have of effecting a reconciliation in the future would be gone forever.

Reluctantly, I concluded I had no choice but to attend. I obtained statements from every doctor and specialist I had seen, some of whom were even prepared to attend personally and swear that mine was a true medical condition and therefore, had been treated in the only way known to the medical science. On that basis, the biblical verse in question (which forbids the wearing of male and female clothing by members of the opposite sex) simply was not relevant.

Immediately before the hearing I was informed that I could only take one companion into the hearing with me – and that person should be neither a doctor nor a legal representative. I was stumped. Clearly, the Elders of the faith saw only one way to deal with the bad publicity that they felt I had brought to their religion: dispose of me,

and the publicity would disappear too. So on the appointed day I found myself seated alone before what can only be described as a kangaroo court of four grimfaced, self-appointed male ‘judges’. What happened next can best be summed up by quoting the letter I subsequently sent to the committee:

“Although informed on several occasions of my current medical condition which calls for the complete avoidance of stress and emotional upset, you have shown a total lack of empathy and have, by your actions, induced such conditions, thereby adversely affecting my health. I was amazed at your statement that ‘as my problems are a result of my own actions I do not deserve any help’. Surely this is akin to refusing to give medical assistance to a child when it falls from a tree on the grounds that it should not have climbed it. I just cannot imagine that Jesus Christ would take such an attitude.

The charge that was formally read to me was that I ‘had gone astray in a moral sense and displayed conduct contrary to good Christian behaviour’, and yet you have been completely unable to provide a sound Biblical basis for such a judgement, rather, basing your argument on the fact that as I was baptised whilst legally male, I am unacceptable to God as a female.

From my own knowledge, both of the Bible’s teachings and Society’s, I am convinced that the way my case has been handled was fundamentally wrong and, therefore, is worthy of further investigation. Your religion teaches that Elders should show love, consideration and a desire to help the sick and needy back to full health, whether spiritually or physically. Yet your attitude towards me has been one of trying to dispose of a ‘problem’ as quickly and as quietly as possible. I believe it is obvious that I was tried and sentenced before the hearing actually took place.”

The actual letter I wrote was, of course, far longer than that, and showed all the emotional anxiety and frustration that their callous attitude caused me to feel. I was more than disappointed – I was devastated. To appeal would be futile. I just had to find a way of accepting my excommunication. Far worse than that, however, would be having to come to terms with the fact that as far as all Jehovah’s Witnesses including my parents, were concerned, I was now officially dead. This final blow of permanently being estranged from my mum was almost too much to bear. Part of me simply felt like going to bed and wallowing in self-pity, but from the very beginning of my unemployed period I had been aware that the biggest danger was that I might grow lazy and undisciplined, finding that the less I had to do the less I would want to do.

In order to combat this I imposed a very strict regimen upon myself, making sure that I got up early, took Sheba for her morning and afternoon walks, cleaned the house religiously and shopped whenever I needed to. The only people I saw or spoke to were Betty, Sandra, Richard Holman and Bob, who would pop over for a few hours every afternoon.

Although I had found a measure of inner peace and contentment, I was becoming more wary and insular, preferring to avoid all but the tried and tested few. Far better, I reasoned, not to get involved with strangers, who only seemed to want to indulge their prurient curiosity about me. However, when two gay lads, John and Martin, moved into

the house next door in West Houghton and appeared not to have any idea who I was, or show any curiosity about my strange lifestyle, I soon found I could relax in their company and warm to their friendly, easy-going ways. As I subsequently discovered gay men make the best male friends any woman can have.

I stepped up my efforts to find a job, applying for every single marketing and sales director position advertised. My c.v. was a problem in that as all my experience had been achieved as Keith Michael Hull. Should I write a covering letter explaining why I was now calling myself Stephanie Anne Lloyd? Or should I simply substitute Stephanie’s name for Keith’s and let the recipients assume that I’d held my previous positions as a woman? I opted for the latter course, on the basis that explanation would only prove necessary immediately before any interviews I might be offered.

Shortly afterwards, a job agency contacted me and asked me in for an interview.

Although at £17,000 the salary was far less than half of what I was either used to or worth, in my present position it seemed like a fortune.

The job was as a marketing controller for the Co-op and, despite the fact that I made no secret of my background, the interviewer thought my credentials were perfect.

‘As the position’s been vacant for around six months,’ said the interviewer, ‘I imagine they’ll want to see you as soon as possible. Why don’t I telephone them right now to fix an appointment?’ ‘That’s fine by me,’ I replied. ‘But I’d prefer you to make my identity and ircumstances known to them before am interview.’

He picked up the phone. From the way the conversation went, it soon became obvious that the Co-op were more than interested in me. That is until the interviewer added:
‘There’s just one thing. The applicant is with me now and she’s insisted that before any interviews are arranged I should inform you that she has recently been the subject of a great deal of publicity. Her name is Stephanie Anne Lloyd.’

I watched the expression on the interviewer’s face turn from a smile to a frown. My heart sank. ‘I see,’ he commented before putting the receiver down. Hardly able to look me in the eye, he quietly said: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but they simply don’t want a transsexual.’ As the Cooperative is renown as an ethical company who probably would be more likely to employ me, it rather sounded the death knell on any future as an employee of any company.

I went home alone to face the stark reality of my situation: despite my excellent track record, I wasn’t just unemployed – I was unemployable. For several hours I was miserable. Then my fighting spirit returned – from that moment on, I resolved I would never again work for anyone but myself. All I had to do now was find something that I could set up on my own. John, Martin and Bob were unfailingly kind and did their utmost to keep my spirits up while I thought hard about my professional future an my financial problems.

I received an invitation form the BBC to take part in the Midweek programme presented by Libby Purves. This would entail spending a night in London with all expenses paid courtesy of the BBC. I had nothing to lose, and nothing else in my diary, so I decided to go along.

When I arrived at the hotel I was amazed to discover that I had been allocated an entire suite. This was luxury indeed! After indulging in a long, hot bath I dressed for dinner and went upstairs to the restaurant, arming myself with a book which I hoped would deter any unwanted advances. By now, I was beginning to be aware of the dangers inherent in being a woman on your own. Men seem to view single women in hotels as easy pickings.

I was seated close to a table where two men were involved in what seemed to be a business discussion. To my surprise, as I finished my main course the waiter came over and relayed an invitation to join them in a glass of champagne. My first instinct was to say no, but a little voice in my head said: ‘This is probably the last opportunity you’ll have to drink champagne in the years to come. What harm can it do?’ So I accepted their invitation.

Shortly afterwards, on of the men excused himself while I continued my discussion with his friend. It soon became apparent that my companion was nothing less than an Middle Eastern multimillionaire who seemed to have business interests in just about every field of commerce that existed. Much of his wealth, he informed me, had been inherited, but he had contributed greatly to his riches by his own business acumen.

The conversation turned to me and, reluctant to reveal too much about myself, I talked a little about my background without going into any great detail.

As the evening wore on, the restaurant slowly emptied until finally there were just the two of us left behind. Omar (yes, that really was his name!) asked me what kind of music I liked best. Then he wandered over to the grand piano and, just like a scene in a romantic movie, began to play . His champagne, his charm and his exceedingly good looks were beginning to work their magic and I sat gazing at him with a mixture of pleasure, embarrassment and concern.

‘I’d like to see more of you. You’re not like any other woman I’ve ever known,’ he said when he returned to the table. Half of me was thrilled to pieces, the other half appalled – and the irony of his last statement was not lost on me either! I only knew one way to handle this delicate, uncomfortable moment, and that was to tell Omar the truth about myself, just as I had done with Bob.

‘I’m going to tell you something about myself,’ I began. ‘And when I’ve finished, I just want to say goodnight and leave. But first, let me thank you for a very enjoyable evening, for your hospitality, your kindness, and for the immense pleasure you have given me tonight.’ Then I told him. And when I’d finished, I gathered up my book and my handbag and rushed straight to my room. My last backward glance registered his handsome face composed in an expression of total shock as he sat there staring after me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

Tears were welling in my eyes as I sped upstairs and into my room where I lay on my bed weeping my heart out in the certain knowledge that this was a scenario I would surely have to face over and over again in my life. And yet I could not, would not

deceive anyone. How long I lay there I don’t know, but my weeping was ultimately interrupted by a knock on the door. Miserably I rose from my bed, not even bothering to clean my mascara-stained cheeks or straighten my rumpled clothes. What did it matter how I looked? I opened my door and stared in amazement, for standing in front of me was Omar with a tray, two glasses and a magnum of champagne in an ice bucket.

‘I’ve thought about it…and it doesn’t make any difference,’ was all he said in that husky, accented voice that was so sexy it reduced my knees to jelly. I cried again, but this time it was for an entirely different reason. Then we were lying on the couch together and my tears were forgotten as he began kissing an caressing me. When he had made love to me he carried me to the bed where we made love again – more slowly, tenderly and more satisfying than I had ever known. He stayed with me all night as we exchanged intimate confidences about ourselves and our lives. He wanted me to have breakfast with him, but my interview was scheduled so early that it was impossible. ‘Then meet me for lunch,’ he said imperiously. Had I just gone from virgin to slut, now I had slept with two different men?

The live interview went well, though I thought it rather odd that I should be sharing the slot with a vicar and an escapologist who performed what I believe to be the only escape live on radio (which was all the more strange as there were only five of us present in the studio to witness such a feat!).

The moment the interview was over I rushed straight back to the hotel, left my baggage with the porter and called Omar on the house phone to let him know I had returned. ‘Wait there,’ was all he said. Within seconds he was bounding down the stairs and, to my utter stupefaction, hugging and kissing me in front of a hotel full of startled guests.

I had feared that when the magic of the night and the champagne had worn off he might feel differently about me, but here he was, apparently just as keen.

We ate lunch in a small Italian restaurant, holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other. When we had finished, Omar looked deeply into my eyes and said: ‘Stephanie, will you marry me?’

I was astounded that I couldn’t think of anything rational or even appropriate to say. All I could think of was a number of reasons why marrying Omar would be the worst possible thing I could do. He was a Muslim; What would his parents say or do? It would be bad enough in their eyes for him to propose to someone he had known less than twenty-four hours, but how much worse would they feel knowing that I wasn’t even legally a female? And what about the all the other implications? Somehow I managed to garble out all the objections and protestations that presented themselves to me, but Omar refused to take no for an answer. Finally, I said, ‘Omar, I just can’t make a decision of this magnitude at such short notice. You have to give me more time to think.’

Reluctantly, he agreed. Then, brightening slightly, he asked the waiter to bring over a piece of string which he wound around my finger triumphantly before declaring:

‘Wait here. I’ll be gone just a few moments.’ Then he disappeared out into the street.

As I waited for Omar to return, I sipped my liqueur and gazed idly around me thinking, ‘I don’t believe this is happening to me.’ My thoughts were in such a jumble that I’d lost the ability to think objectively or rationally. The only possible thing I could do was to play for time. I gave no thought to where Omar had gone, or for what reason but, true to his word, he was back within fifteen minutes saying: ‘I know you’ve said you can’t answer my question yet, but I would like you to do one thing for me.’ Not wanting to commit myself to something I knew nothing about, I demurred, but the more I resisted the more he pressed. In the end, I caved in. Immediately he produced a small, square box form his jacket pocket and with a flourish presented me with the most extravagantly gorgeous ring I had ever seen. Twenty-five individual, sparkling diamonds winked at me as I gazed in awe at the beautiful sunburst-patterned ring. It must have cost an absolute fortune, and I was totally lost for words.

Omar took my hand and placed the ring on my engagement finger. ‘Please wear this ring – at least until you give me your decision.’ I was so taken aback that I couldn’t think of one single valid reason for either refusing or accepting, so I said nothing.

‘Now,’ he continued, ‘you’ve said we do not know each other well enough. What I would like to suggest is that we go away for a few days together.’ Without waiting for a reply (though, frankly, I was incapable of any coherent thought at all), Omar outlined his plan. We would fly to Geneva where he had some business to attend to, and then we would go anywhere in the world that I wanted to for a few days’ relaxation, during which time we would get to know each other better.

‘Omar!’ I protested. ‘That’s impossible! I can’t just disappear like that. I have a dog to take care of. I don’t have my passport with me. I don’t even have any suitable clothes with me!’

Like a man who considered such concerns a mere inconvenience, Omar brushed my protestations aside. ‘You can call someone who will look after your dog. We can buy whatever clothes you are in need of. And we can fly to Manchester to your home to collect your passport.’

Omar’s offer was sorely tempting after so many months of deprivation and loneliness, but somehow I knew that, if I accepted, I might well come to feel so obligated that things could get out of hand. Besides, while I was in his company I was patently unable to make rational decisions and in all probability would just be swept along by Omar’s whims. So with a supreme effort I summoned up the determination I didn’t really feel, I said no and insisted on returning home immediately. Despite being immensely disappointed, Omar insisted on taking me in his chauffeur-driven limousine to Heathrow and, after calling ahead for John to meet me at Manchester airport, saw me safely on to my plane.

Throughout the short flight I was in a state of profound shock. I just couldn’t believe what had happened to me! It must be every young woman’s dream to be swept off her feet by a dark, handsome, rich stranger – but that it should happen to me! If it wasn’t for the enormous, expensive ring sparkling merrily on my finger, I would have been convinced the whole episode had been nothing more than a fantastic dream. When I

told the tale to John he seemed just as stupefied as I, although he did tell me that I must be mad not to have gone. ‘How absolutely typical of a man!’ I thought.

Within days calls started arriving for me at John & Martin’s house from all over the world. Wherever Omar went he telephoned me, and on every occasion he repeated his proposal. But despite hours spent walking amongst the fields surrounding West Houghton. Discussing my dilemma with Sheba my closest friend, but incapable of replying I still couldn’t reach a decision.

My relationship with Bob had by this time settled into no more than platonic friendship. I’d been disillusioned and surprised when I had first discovered that he was married, but the hurt turned into outrage when he announced his objections to my spending so much time with John & Martin who were a committed gay couple so it wasn’t even as if they wanted anything from me that Bob might have felt was his. We still continued to be friends and to see each other in the afternoon, but I didn’t want to continue a sexual relationship with him anymore; and though I’m sure he wasn’t happy about that, he knew me well enough by now to realise that “no” was non-negotiable. Besides, I wasn’t particularly happy or impressed by the fact that, apart from our first date and the night when he’d seduced me, he never took me out. Like a lot of wealthy married men, Bob didn’t like parting with his money or being seen in public and though it simply didn’t occur to me to ask for financial help, the fact that it was never even offered spoke volumes. I had been providing free, easy daytime sex to someone who really didn’t want anymore from our relationship.

Bob’s extreme meanness was finally brought home to me on my birthday, when he came over for his usual afternoon game of backgammon and presented me with a package. Delighted that he had remembered, I tore the wrapping off to find that Bob had bought me a large wallet of coloured felt-tip pens! Convinced that this must be a joke and that his real present was to follow, I laughed. When I realised that this was my present, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the insult. I needed a set of felt tip pens like I needed a guided missile or another penis – either would have been about as much use to me in my present dire situation! Perhaps if I’d stayed with Bob until Christmas I’d have got the colouring book as well!

Still, it was my birthday, and John and Martin had very thoughtfully decided to make me out for a meal, so at least there was one bright event to look forward to. If only I’d known then just how memorable that birthday would prove to be! Before we left, two significant events occurred. The first was a whole vanload of flowers. The second was the arrival of a reporter from the Manchester Evening News. I had confided the details of my meeting with Omar to only about six trusted friends, and yet here was the Manchester Evening news begging for more details! Once again I had been betrayed by somebody whom I considered to be a trusted friend. Within days the national Sunday papers were on to the story and, as if to remind me of the fact that I would never be able to lead a normal life again, once more what seemed like the whole world was prying into my private life.

In the event, there were two good things that came out of that particular blaze of publicity. The first was that it forced me to concentrate my mind on the subject of marriage to Omar. Where would we live? Would his family reject me? What about his friends? If everyone in Omar’s world refused to accept our relationship, wouldn’t that make him resent me in time? The conclusion was staring me in the face. I must turn Omar’s proposal down. When I broke the news to him he pleaded with me to change my mind, offering me every possible reassurance that he could. But I was adamant.

The second benefit was that it made me realise how genuine John & Martin’s friendship was and I have consistently found that gay men make the best friends for women. (Sadly they both died of AIDS which is why I can now use their real names).

Until the moment I hadn’t really been sure that they knew who I really was, so when the publicity broke I had begun to avoid them in the mistaken belief that they might not want to be associated with me. But they refused to let me to do this, telling me in no uncertain terms: ‘When will you get it through your head that we love you for who you are’.

The absence of Omar’s phone calls proved more painful than I had imagined, and many times I cried over what I thought could well have been my most disastrous mistake. With hindsight, I can see clearly now that my decision was right. Granted, I would have enjoyed incredible wealth and a fantastic lifestyle, but I doubt whether I would have found the same degree of happiness and contentment that I now have.

The time had come for me to give immediate consideration to my future. I knew I had to do something on my own, but what? I knew it had to be some venture in which my past and my background would not prove to be a major liability. Unfortunately, this ruled out most of the things I could think of. And even if I did come up with a suitable venture, what would I use for capital? I considered setting up a marketing constancy business, but then the thought occurred to me that I might be boycotted by any reputable companies because of my notoriety.

It was whilst I was running through every possibility that I began to wonder where people like myself who were tall, or larger than ‘normal’ size, bought their clothes.

This led me to pondering the problem of where transvestites – or cross dressers or TVs, as they are often known – got their female clothes, which in turn led to wondering about how many transvestites there might be in Britain. Researching this subject was far from
easy, because by the very nature of their predilection transvestites do all they can to conceal this fact about themselves. But by visiting the local library, and through John’s efforts to obtain specialist TV magazines for me, I was able to reach the conclusion that here was a market which was vastly under-catered to. Moreover, of those who were providing the means for TVs to indulge their relatively harmless hobby, the vast majority were exploiting the TVs’ plight by selling shoddy goods at inflated prices in sleazy back street dives. The idea that started life as no more than idle wondering began to germinate , and before too long I had put together a complete proposal for a business that would cater exclusively to this market.

Percentage-wise the market couldn’t possibly be that extensive; therefore, if the venture was to have any chance of succeeding, I would need access to densely populated areas. The north-west seemed to serve my needs well in that respect, and it also attracted a great deal of passing trade. When I looked at a map I saw that the easiest place to reach from north, south, east and west was Junction 17 on the M62.

My proposal included not just clothing, wigs, underwear and shoes, but absolutely everything a transvestite might conceivably need, including a beauty salon with trained staff to give advice on make-up and running, a confidential mail order service could easily reach the rest of the UK. (retrospectively I know that whereas the gay market represents about 10% of adult males, cross dressers account for a fraction of 1%).

The only vital piece missing from my jigsaw was capital. Despite approaching numerous banks and finance companies, I reached the conclusion that the oft-repeated maxim was true: “banks are only happy to lend you an umbrella when there is no chance of rain”. I think since 2008 everyone has discovered that banks are so much worse than we then believed, however without collateral I was stumped. No one was prepared to put up unsecured capital finance such a venture, so there was only one avenue left for me to explore. I placed an advert in the Manchester Evening News: ‘Mature businesswoman with innovative idea wishes to meet partner with capital in return for fifty per cent of the equity.’ I received thirty-six replies. Some were immediately disqualified because of their tone, others after the first telephone conversation. I was now down to just eight which seemed to warrant a meeting.

One day over coffee I was telling Sandra, the beautician who had taught me so much about looking and behaving like a woman, of my plans. Suddenly she said: ‘my brother Raiko’s always fancied going into business’. She explained that Raiko was currently working for the British Shoe Corporation as a manager of one of their larger shops in Liverpool. A few days later I received a note through the post, asking me to ring Sandra urgently.

‘I’ve mentioned the matter to my brother,’ she said excitedly, ‘and he’s very interested in meeting you.’ Sandra had an Italian mother and a Yugoslavian father; a nicer family one could ever expect to meet, and Raiko, it soon transpired, was just as nice as everyone else. We clicked immediately and within twenty minutes we’d sealed a bargain to go into partnership, with Raiko investing every penny he had (£6000) in our joint venture.

The next step involved meeting the eight interested parties left on my list. Some were immediately put off as soon as they learned the nature of the business I intended to set up, while others I couldn’t relate to and instinctively felt that a partnership would never work out.

Only one of the eight, a woman, emerged as a front runner – until I made the mistake of inviting her round for a drink with John and Shaun one night.

Unfortunately, John had rather too much to drink and insisted on telling this lady her fortune, which apparently consisted mainly of ‘dark waters’. Whether it was John’s dire predictions or something else that put her off I’ll never know, but in the event I received a negative response from her two days later.

All I had left now was one last note which I had initially disregarded on the basis that

it was scribbled on the letter heading of a company called Booth’s Supermarkets. It was a very brief message and the almost illegible scrawl that worried me, for it merely said ‘Ring…’ followed by a telephone number and a signature that was virtually indecipherable. But what did I have to lose? After all, there weren’t any other runners left in the race now. In a far from optimistic mood I rang the number and spoke to Mr Booth, who arranged to visit me to discuss my proposition. Many months later I learned that it was literally only as he was setting off to meet me that David Booth discovered my identity from an item in the evening paper. Thank goodness David was not the kind of man who chooses to judge a book by its cover!

Promptly at eight David arrived and, after being invited in, immediately took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to make himself at home. Over coffee I explained that, with Raiko financing the retail side, I still needed capital for the mail order operation and beauty salon. David’s response to my outline ideas was fairly non-committal: he only said that it would be essential for me to meet his wife, who was in partnership with him.

Meanwhile, Raiko and I were busy trying to find the right premises in the location that I had pin-pointed, as well as suitable suppliers – the latter proved to be far more difficult than either of us had envisaged. On Raiko’s one day off each week we would scour the locality visiting potential suppliers and inspecting premises. We must have made a very odd couple indeed, with me touching six feet in height and Raiko barely five feet four, but never once did Raiko give me any reason to imagine that he was either embarrassed to be seen with me or had any hang-ups about our relationship.

We eventually found a suitable property which, despite being fairly run down, met with most our criteria. The fact that it had been reduced from £40,000 to £35,000 also helped make it more appealing. I approached the local shopkeepers’ agency, who arranged to have the property surveyed on our behalf; they recommended that we didn’t go above £30,000. To undercut the original asking price by £5000 when it had already been reduced by the same amount seemed a bit risky to me, but we did as we were advised. The plan was that the shopkeepers’ agency were offering. I was undecided. On the one hand I didn’t really want anyone interfering in our business; on the other, Bob and I were still good friends. Eventually, Bob said that if I rented the property from him, he would buy the freehold, rent it to me & leave it to me in his will. I was surprised for once by his apparent generosity. In the meantime, we could have it on a nine-year lease with an option to buy the freehold after six.

The premises located at 428, Bury Old Road, Prestwich also has a 2-bedroom first floor accommodation along with a lounge, kitchen diner and bathroom so the obvious solution was to live in the flat above the shop, and that’s precisely what I did. I moved into the flat on 5 July 1984, much to the consternation of the local Prestwich residents who were horrified to have such a notorious person as an immediate neighbour. A further three months were to elapse before we took possession of the shop premises, but what with the flat, a jungle of a garden to transform, stock to buy and a myriad of other details to sort out before we would finally be ready to do business, I had plenty to keep me occupied.

In the meantime David Booth had arranged for me to meet his wife, Ethel over a drink. Ethel, it transpired, had been virtually blind with acute myopia when David and she had first met. Because this condition is very much linked to the state of the nerves, her ability to see would vary, though her sight was never particularly good and she relied very much on a guide dog to help her get around.

The meeting went well, despite the fact (as I later learned) that Ethel was extremely nervous about meeting someone as infamous as me. A few days later David telephoned to say that, having been in the retail food business for fifteen years, he and Ethel had decided it was now time to expand their interests and take a chance on something different. Having been impressed with my proposals and my professional background, they both felt their money would be wisely invested in me. We decided to form several companies under the banner name of Transformation, with me as a 50 per cent shareholder and either Raiko or David holding the other 50 per cent according to the interests of the particular company.

As so often happens, when things begin to sort themselves out in one area of your life, you find that everything else starts improving, too. I had been far too preoccupied with the launch of Transformation to give much thought to a social life, so when I received an invitation for drinks at the house of an acquaintance one evening I didn’t fell particularly inclined to accept. In the event, I was ridiculously pleased that I had agreed to go, for it was there that I met what I thought was Mr. Right. At just twenty-eight Peter was not only ten years younger than I, but incredibly good-looking too. From the moment we were introduced he made it quite plain that he was interested in me, and I was immensely flattered. As we talked and relaxed in each other’s company, I learned that he was only visiting Manchester for the weekend to attend a local authority conference and that he actually lived and worked in the north-east. Peter was so charming and attractive, and so obviously attracted to me, that I was hooked. By the end of the evening I felt like a starry-eyed teenager in love for the first time in her life, and when he offered to come down the following weekend just to see me I agreed immediately. Ours was a whirlwind romance and, like most such lightning affairs, it was exceedingly intense with ridiculously high peaks and painfully low troughs. We
couldn’t wait to be with each other at weekends, and during the week we would spend hours talking on the telephone. I was so infatuated that the only person who couldn’t see the potential danger was me. Man number 3 was Mr. Right, or so I thought at the time. I was developing a love-live as a teenage girl and was just as naive Each weekend, for forty-eight passionate, romantic hours nothing could separate us; when we weren’t in bed, Peter would be right alongside me helping to paint the walls in the shop or putting up shelves – anything, so long as he could be with me. Within a very short time he was like one of the family and both David and Raiko accepted his presence in my life (and, consequently, in theirs) without comment.

Privately, however, Raiko had his doubts. Though he kept them to himself at the time,

I later learned that he had always felt Peter was far too un-ambitious for me and leaned on me far more than was good for either of us. But I was so besotted with Peter that when he began to talk about finding a job in Manchester and of getting married I was too overjoyed and excited to worry about the fact that it was all happening much too soon. When I was with him at the weekends, my mind was full of him and the wonderful future we would have together, and when we were apart during the week I filled my thoughts with plans for Transformation.

On 13 October we were finally ready to open. The Manchester Evening News had published a photograph of me standing outside the shop holding a notice declaring that we would be ‘opening shortly’, and our first weeks’ business was encouraging.

Obviously the female population thought we were a straight-forward beauty salon providing all the services that beauty salons provide, while the closet TV population of the area knew from our discreet ads in the Manchester Evening News and TV press that here was a local business that could provide for all their needs.

However, as one might expect, this mix of clientele was not without its problematical (and hysterical) moments. We’d hired two young assistants, Maria and Karen, to help out in the shop so that Raiko could continue working at his day job, and quite often I’d be in the difficult position of having a woman in one cubicle having her legs waxed with a man in the next secretly having the same treatment!

We worked long hours, opening seven days a week from 9am until 10pm, but it wasn’t enough to make the business profitable. Even with our stringent budgetary controls and a hastily arranged overdraft it didn’t take long to realise that we were struggling to keep afloat. As a trainee accountant, Peter proved very useful when it came to doing the books for us each weekend, but there was no hiding from the truth: we were heading for financial disaster.

David took no part in the day-to-day running of the business because he had his supermarket chain to take care of. Besides, he trusted Raiko and myself to get on with the business of Transformation, and didn’t see any need for anything more than a weekly update. Raiko and I began to feel depressed and concerned, and soon even Peter’s weekly visits, welcome as they were, weren’t enough to lift my spirits.

By the time Christmas approached I was beginning to despair: if business didn’t perk up soon, I’d be in the unhappy position of being responsible for letting down the only two people in the world who had had sufficient belief in me to invest their hard-earned money in my plans. And as if things weren’t looking bleak enough, during one of Peter’s weekend visits I realised that something else was obviously going wrong. His attitude was different, and though it was only a subtle change I began to fear the worst. By the Saturday my fears were confirmed: Peter wanted to finish our relationship.

I was heartbroken. My first proper boyfriend, who just a few weeks previously had been discussing wedding plans, was now telling me he no longer wanted me. The pain I felt was indescribable. Peter had to stay with me all weekend because he had dropped his
brother off in Leeds and wasn’t able to collect him until Sunday. It must have been

terrible for him: all I could do was mope around with tears streaming down my cheeks, begging him to tell me the reason why. He never did say, but I assume it had something to do with my background.

When he walked out of my life that Sunday afternoon I was devastated. Once again I knew what it was like to be alone. If it hadn’t been for Raiko’s tremendous support, and the fact that I now had a business to bury myself in, I don’t know how I would have coped. I was in such an emotional state that for the first five days I could hardly bring myself to get out of bed. All I could do was cry my heart out, alternating between dementedly ranting at fate and bitterly declaring that I now hated all men.

Raiko tried his hardest to cheer me up, but he was fighting a losing battle. I could not sleep, eat nor summon any interest in work. As a weight loss programme I knew no equal. Physically, mentally and emotionally I was in such a hopeless mess that I felt the best thing I could do would be to leave both the flat and the business and start all over again. Fortunately, David and Raiko were both marvellously supportive and refused even to consider such a prospect. When sanity returned I realise that however much you love someone it can never make up for them not loving you back.

With each passing week Transformation was doing less business. In an attempt to cut costs Raiko left his job and joined me full time so that we could manage without staff. We paid ourselves only £30 a week, yet despite every economy we would be facing bankruptcy if things didn’t pick up soon. But when things are at their darkest, salvation often comes along in the strangest of forms and works in the most mysterious of ways.

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