Stephanie-a girl in a million-chapter 12
The Phoenix rises
Having reached the conclusion that there was a vast untapped market to explore in the secret, hidden world of transvestism, David, Raiko and I agreed that while David would continue to concentrate all his efforts on the supermarkets, Raiko and I would spend the next few months researching and planning the next vital steps in the growth of the Transformation side of the business. When our plans for mail order catalogue were finalised, Raiko and I turned our hands to sketching out a rough visual layout and writing the necessary copy. Now, all we had to do was hire the models and find a photographic studio willing to take on such an unusual project.
After several rejections we eventually found Studio Alexander whose proprietors, Leslie and Clifford, were prepared to undertake the photography for our catalogue on a fixed-budget basis. Our financial resources were so tight that every single penny had to be well spent.
On the first day of the shoot we arrived at the studio accompanied by six of the best page three girls in the business, and though it was a long and arduous two weeks, we were all delighted and exhilarated when we saw the results of our work on celluloid. Then we found that no company was prepared to print our catalogue I sought out and subsequently bought a 5-colour Heidleberg printing press. Installing it required the demolition & rebuilding of an outside wall and strengthening of the floor to take the 7.5 ton machine. Ever since all of our printing & finishing has been done in-house so all we buy in is paper Some of the models we hired for that first catalogue have since gone on to become very famous in their own right. Lou Varley was just sixteen at the time she modelled for us so her parents’ permission had to be sought for her to pose topless, but she has since carved out a very successful and lucrative career for herself. Gail McKenna was another model on that first shoot who became one of the UK’s top glamour models. I have to say that, far from being bitchy and competitive, as I had been led to believe, all the girls who worked on our photo shoots for the catalogue proved to be tremendous fun, very friendly and extremely professional.
Our next venture was to launch a small adult contact magazine called Connections, which proved to be unique in that we not only accepted al advertisements free of charge but also forwarded all replies to the advertisers at our own expense. The fact that our magazine was so glossy and well produced in comparison to the competition also contributed greatly to its success.
Our second launch, another contact magazine, Direct Connect (so named because we featured actual telephone numbers), was a far more ambitious project. Every single ‘contact’ had to be checked and verified in order to weed out those who might be seeking financial rewards for services, any potential ‘perverts’, the ‘time-wasters’ –
who delighted in giving false names and addresses – and, of course, to ensure that every advertisement complied with current legal requirements Our expansion into such diverse businesses as publishing, mail order, retailing and groceries provided an opportunity to utilise all the skills and expertise I had acquired over the years, and it wasn’t long before the results of our intensive marketing efforts began to pay off. When commercial success finally came, it came on all fronts. Thus we were able to form the strong foundation on which our group companies is now based.
The supermarkets were open from 7am until 11pm seven days a week, 365 days a year and we used every possible concept to promote the fact – from loss leaders to silly ten pence offers at traditionally slack times. We even organised events such as pancake races around the stores, and soon we were welcoming a steady stream of traffic through our doors from the moment we opened at seven in the morning right up until we closed at eleven, 365 days a year yes even Christmas Day, when we sold more batteries than in the rest of the year.
One problem we experienced, however, was with Stockport Council, who resolutely policed The Sunday Trading Law, regularly sent officers into our stores on Sundays to purchase prohibited items such as dog food or frozen foods. By its very nature, operating large self-service food stores made it virtually impossible to enforce the archaic law which dictated that people can legally purchase cigarettes, alcohol and girlie magazines on a Sunday but are not able to buy cough medicine, frozen foods, a bible or anything that comes in cans. Try telling a customer that he can have his eggs for breakfast but you won’t sell him the bacon to go with it, and see whether he ever shops with you again!
Inevitably we were hauled before the courts and charged with unlawfully selling a tin of dog food and a packet of washing powder, for which we were fined the outrageous sum of £600. The case which preceded ours involved a drunk driver who had crashed his car. His fine was just £150. So, by definition, it was four times more serious to sell a can of dog food on a Sunday than to risk killing someone whilst driving under the influence of alcohol! One more nail in the coffin for the British justice. It developed into a regular pattern so I was in court every two weeks to be fined for breaching the Sunday Trading Law, we eventually just accepted that it was just a cost of trading, besides it was only Stockport Council that seemed determined to prosecute us.
Thinking that supermarket price promotions ought to be on items that you could not store, ruling out canned and products that could be frozen, I hit on the idea of using loss-leading products to feature in our leaflet drops. I sold newspapers, magazines and milk at half-price which substantially increased our regular daily footfall. Then W.H. Smith’s wholesale stopped supplying us which meant we had to buy via a third party until we successfully won a court case that resulted in the abolition of fixed retail prices.
Having identified a huge gap in the transvestite market, we now developed the ambitious concept of TV Scene – a lavishly produced, glossy, 52-page magazine
which would feature colour photography as well as in-depth investigative articles on topics ranging from hormones and transvestism to the law and sex-change operations.
At that point we decided to form a separate company to cope with our fast-expanding publishing division, which by now had taken over the entire flat with the exception of our bedroom. Just when we started looking for suitable alternative premises a suite of first-floor offices right across the road came on to the market. This was the humble start of our head offices, which now stretches across both floors of what was 8 separate buildings. Expansion of space was fortuitous as I crossed the road to buy spotlight bulbs from Smith’s Stores who sold practically everything from a row of internally linked terrace properties. Tom Pimlot, aged 70, whose grandmother founded the business a 100 years before looked glum when his default image was a cheerful chappy.
‘What’s up Tom’ ‘I thought I had sold the premises to RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) but at the last moment had lowered their financial offer. ‘I tell you what Tom we need more space so you get an independent valuation as will I, and I will pay you the midpoint between them. The deal was sealed with a simple handshake. When our valuation was £10,000 more than his despite his protestations that he would be satisfied with his figure I insisted that he accept the extra £5,000. Little did I realise how influential their family was in the Manchester business society and how I had honoured a deal on nothing more than a handshake would open the door to more deals conducted on the simple premise that “my word was my bond”.
Production of the first issue of TV Scene began in earnest, and as we knew the costs of launching would be astronomical it was decided that, in order both to keep the costs as realistically affordable level and to come up with something sufficiently startling to promote it, nude photographs of me should form the basis of the lead story. After all, I was by now quite infamous as well as being an incredibly cheap model (read free!).
Studio Alexander again undertook the assignment, with Leslie himself shooting the photographs behind locked studio doors and with the bare minimum of people present – one of whom was (at her own request) Lisa, my eldest stepdaughter as well as a young girl named Clare for whom it was her first days work after leaving university, (she was to eventually to become my surrogate daughter and has remained so through her marrying and producing 2 beautiful daughters) Thus, at the ripe old age of forty-one, I added yet another experience to my life. of nude (but tasteful) modelling. The final photographs were truly stunning, and shot so tastefully that I could find no reason to be ashamed of the fact that they not only adorned the pages of the launch issue of TV Scene, but were subsequently acquired by a national Sunday newspaper and published across its centrefold! Once again I received a great deal of criticism (mainly from women who accused who accused me of grossly exploiting my new-found femininity), but on that occasion it didn’t bother me in the least as I knew I was the only nude model we could afford.
Shortly afterwards I was asked to appear in a television programme to debate the issue of man’s exploitation of glamour models. Also present was William Roach (better known as Ken Barlow in Coronation Street, Gabby, the now deceased editor of the Star newspaper and an extremely beautiful young lady called Miranda, who had recently received £15,000 for three days’ work posing for nude photographs destined for
publication in Penthouse. When asked whether I agreed with the notion that Miranda was exploited by men, I’m afraid I could only smile wryly and say: ‘It’s extremely difficult to feel Miranda has been exploited by men when they’re the very ones who have just financed a rather large sum of money in return for such an exceptionally short period of work!’
Meanwhile, the Transformation side of our business continued to improve as we slowly built up a relationship of trust and complete confidence with new customers, many of whom have been loyal customers throughout our 30 year history. Despite much initial opposition from the press, who stubbornly refused to accept our advertising, a combination of legal threats, persuasion, persistence and a willingness to rewrite our copy whenever required has gradually helped us overcome their early resistance.
The fact that Raiko, David and myself all firmly believed in conducting as much research as possible before committing ourselves to a project has, in my opinion, contributed greatly to the success of our many business interests. For example, once we had discovered that our competitors’ merchandise consisted solely of standard women’s clothing, which was far from suitable for men who usually have much larger dimensions and a shape that needed feminising so we committed ourselves to the obvious step of manufacturing an exclusive range of correctly sized and shaped clothing, Luck, too, played a part, in that the very moment we made this decision I happened to learn that the owner of the mill which manufactured some of our underwear & was keen to divest himself of the worry of owning his own business but didn’t want to retire altogether. We struck a deal which would allow me to acquire the company without any initial payment on the proviso that, in return for guaranteeing him a job for life running the manufacturing operation, with the commitment that we would eventually aim of buying him out altogether. It worked exceedingly well for both parties.
Now we were prospering to such an extent that we were able to invest some of our profits in developing new related ventures First we opened a guest house in Prestwich, at which transvestites were able to take anything from a one-night break to a full week’s holiday and be free to indulge in total privacy their love of living as women. We provided everything from clothes, wigs and shoes to instruction in make-up techniques, voice coaching and the subtleties of female deportment.
It was an immediate success at a time there is so much prejudice and misunderstanding surrounding transvestites, most of which were heterosexual and married with children. We guaranteed a safe haven in which they could relax and indulge the gentler aspects of
their personalities would find themselves inundated with bookings. Word spread far wider than even we had anticipated, and it wasn’t long before an Australian television company approached us with a request to make a documentary about a typical weekend at our hotel.
Joining our guests for dinner every evening after work became a regular part of David’s and my routine, and invariably our guests would offer us their warmest thanks
and heartfelt appreciation for providing them with what many of them came to regard as the only safe retreat they had, sadly, the majority were men who were either forced to keep their ‘secret’ hidden from their wives or who had long since abandoned all hope of marriage for fear their prospective partners would never understand Our guests included people from all strata of society; from bricklayers and labourers, policemen and judges, accountants, lawyers, pop singers and high ranking politicians, even the head of one of Britain’s then largest nationalized industries was a guest.
Another ambition was realized when, after many months of searching for the right premises and a multitude of setbacks, we opened a branch in London right next to Euston Station.. From Day One our formula of offering quality goods and value for money, combined with a pleasant, helpful empathetic staff who adhered strictly to our golden rule of customer confidentiality, was enough to ensure that we rapidly achieved market dominance. Our shops grew to a total of 9, with 5 in the UK, 2 in Ireland, Dublin & Belfast and Frankfurt & Berlin in Germany.
Our experiences with the guest house confirmed that all transvestites need a safe place where they can dress and behave as women without fear of discovery. It’s such a harmless thing to want, and yet it’s the one thing they find virtually impossible to do.
In order to meet that need we introduced another unique service, which we call TV Changeaways; these consist of four-hour sessions during which we provide absolutely everything to transform men into glamorous women. All the clothes, wigs and shoes are supplied by us, and our own highly trained beauticians make up each man’s face.
When the transformation is complete, the customers are free to roam the shop, chatting to, and having a drink with, the staff, sit upstairs in our luxurious Changeaway lounges and read magazines, watch TV or a video, or do virtually anything they want to do that provides them with a few peaceful hours away from prying eyes.
It’s the nature of our business that neither class nor profession provide any difference when it comes to men’s strange fetishes. we once had a man from London visit our Manchester shop late one evening when both Raiko and I were there alone. He undressed in a cubicle, donned all his favourite items of women’s clothing including stockings, suspenders and high heels, expertly applied his make-up and then, as calmly as you please, informed us he was off for a drive around the neighbourhood and would we please keep an eye on his clothes.
Ten minutes later he came rushing back into the shop in an absolute panic, tears streaking rivulets of mascara-black lines down his carefully made-up cheeks, words pouring out of his mouth in an unintelligible jumble. I took one look at Raiko, whose stunned expression mirrored my own. The man was so distressed he was incoherent.
Eventually we managed to calm him down enough for him to be able to tell us what had upset him so. Apparently he’d left the shop happy as a sandboy (though sand girl would be more appropriate, I guess), tripping along the street in his six-inch heels, only to find when he turned the corner that his car was nowhere in sight – obviously it had been stolen.
‘What will I do?’ he wailed.
‘Well, all you have to do is change back into your own clothes and then report it to the
police,’ I said, still not quite having grasped the enormity of this man’s predicament.
‘But you don’t understand,’ he wept. ‘I am the police.’
‘You’re what? shrieked Raiko and I in disbelieving unison.
‘I’m a detective inspector with Scotland Yard,’ the man explained, tearfully. ‘And what’s even worse: the boot of my car is full of your magazines and catalogues! If my colleagues find those, I’m ruined!’
Raiko went off to make the poor guy a cup of hot, strong, sweet tea while I tried to think up a plausible explanation for his predicament. We then persuaded him to clean off his make-up, change back into his ordinary clothes and then phone the local police station, saying he’d been in the neighbourhood, had stopped off for a pint, and when he’d returned to his car he’d discovered it had been stolen. as we had been the only shop still open at that time of night, he’d come in (not realizing, of course, what kind of shop we were) to ask whether we had seen or heard anything suspicious and to use our telephone.
Within half an hour a squad car arrived on our doorstep, and a posse of policemen took him off for a drive around the locality to see if they could find his missing car. We never did hear any more from him, though we’ve often wondered whether his vehicle was recovered and, if so, what happened about the cache of ’embarrassing items’ concealed in the boot!
The interesting thing is, once a man has a particular fetish, no amount of money is spared in his attempts to find gratification. Take the Manchester-based man whom we christened the ‘Satin Man’, for example: he didn’t look like he had two ha’pennies to rub together judging by his appearance and the state of his grubby clothes, and yet every week he would turn up to purchase every single satin item we might have in stock, often buying the same items twice regardless of whether they were in his size not. Furthermore, he always paid in good old fashioned cash! He must have an entire wardrobe full of satin by now – certainly far more than he could possibly ever have the opportunity to wear. But like all our customers their ‘secret” hobby is harmless and as one Chief Constable commented ‘ you have single-handedly almost wiped out the theft of female underwear from clotheslines’.
Another customer who provided Raiko and me with many hours of speculation was the taxi driver who would come in every Wednesday morning to purchase a number of items, only to return again that afternoon and purchase exactly the same items all over again!
‘What do you think he keeps buying the same items twice for?’ I’d ask Raiko in puzzlement.
‘Search me,’ he’d reply. ‘Perhaps he buys one lot for himself and then shows them to a friend who wants an identical set for himself.’
Eventually our curiosity got the better of us and we were compelled to find out more.
The next time he came in I jokingly said, ‘Here, you haven’t got a twin brother by any chance, have you?’ Just one look at his shocked expression was enough to tell us that we had accidentally hit the nail on the head.
‘How d-did you know?’ he stammered.
Raiko and I were so stunned that we could only exchange a weak smile and shrug.
Imagine! Twin brothers, both with the same fetish and both apparently oblivious of
their twin’s secret! Though whether they’re still oblivious after our blunder I wouldn’t like to say – perhaps we even unwittingly did them both a favour. After all, they might be immensely relieved to know they’re not alone!
Our business may have steadily grown on all fronts, but it was far from plain sailing. In our case, many of the problems have been the direct result of prejudice much from our neighbours. I’ve made it my practice to ignore prejudice and hostility as much as I can, but when it interferes with my life, my work or, indeed, any of the people I love, then I can become a formidable adversary.
Though I’m no stranger to prejudice and intolerance, they still have the power to sadden me immensely. For prejudice and intolerance, which are born out of ignorance, breed hatred and resentment: and when these feelings are allowed to go unchecked, particularly on a global scale, senseless wars of one kind or another is often the result.
Although our success has been built primarily on a foundation of hard work and a great deal of perspiration, I’m well aware that fortune has also played its part. After all, if I hadn’t met Raiko or David none of the success we all presently enjoy would have been possible.
In 1987 I found myself reflecting on what a very long way I had come since the day Keith was transformed into Stephanie. As I recalled the personal and practical difficulties I had faced years earlier – the dearth of information, the relative lack of knowledge and sources of support available to people like myself – I knew the time had finally come for me to realize one of my dearest wishes.
That autumn we founded the Albany Gender Identity Clinic, specifically to offer counselling to people wishing to avail themselves of professional help in solving any problem they might have to do with their own gender. The clinic is a subsidized operation employing doctors and specialists trained in all the various aspects of gender identity problems, with counselling, support, medical advice and treatment available to all who need it in complete confidence Although the clinic is based next to our offices in Manchester it serves patients from all over the UK and abroad.
Over the past few years prejudice has threatened our business over and over again: our companies have been refused cover by one of the largest insurance companies in the UK: we were once stripped of our credit card facilities by Barclaycard who said “we do not cater for perverts” this whilst they still were supporting apartheid in South Africa and yet, ironically, now that I am perceived to be successful, many of those same people who once vilified me as an ‘unacceptable freak’ now tolerate me as an ‘acceptable eccentric’. Wealth, or lack of it, should never be of the least significance – but apparently it is. It’s a sad, but telling, indictment of our society’s values when in reality a good road sweeper is better than a bad king.
On 9 December 1989 I publicly fought – and won – an albeit minor victory for women in the battle for equality between the sexes. For three years the issue of allowing women to become members of the Lancashire County Cricket Club had been raised at the LCC’s
Annual General Meeting, and each time it was defeated. Much controversy had raged in the press and, quite rightly, women’s groups throughout the country were annoyed and frustrated at the blind arrogance of those men who still clung to the belief that women were not worthy of membership.
About the same time I received a letter from the Inland Revenue (with whom I had been waging my own private war for recognition as a woman), which stated: ‘Dear Miss Lloyd, whilst we have no doubts about your femininity, for tax purposes we must continue to treat you as a single male.’ Knowing that I would never be able to change the fact that legally I was still regarded as a male was a constant source of frustration and irritation to me. However, as I sat at my desk, exasperated at this peremptory note, an idea began to take shape. If I was going to have to spend my entire life being officially classified as a male, might there not be some way of using that fact to solve another problem?
I duly applied to join the Lancashire County Cricket Club as Keith Michael Hull and, lo and behold, my application for membership was accepted. The next annual general meeting took place on 9 December and, armed with my birth certificate, a copy of the letter I had received from the Inland Revenue and (in accordance with club rules) dressed in a very smart velvet trouser suit, complete with silk shirt and tie, I attended the AGM – as was my right.
Fortunately, because of the amount of publicity the club had received in previous years, the TV crews were out in full force in anticipation of hordes of angry women demanding to be allowed membership. I waited until most of the members were seated in the meeting hall before entering the reception area. Immediately the TV crew jumped in front of me and a reporter said: ‘Excuse me, madam, we’re here to interview women about the fact that you are banned from membership of the club.
Could we have your views?’
‘But I’m a member’, I said. ‘A fully paid-up member, and I am going in.’ Not immediately realizing who I was, the TV crew obviously thought I must be some kind of nutcase and stopped filming while I marched up to the door, voting card in had, and approached the steward.
‘Sorry, madam, but you can’t come in here,’ he said officiously.
‘But I’m a member,’ I smoothly replied.
The steward’s face dropped. ‘But…but you can’t be…you’re a woman!’ he spluttered.
‘Well, it seems the government disagrees with you. They don’t regard me as a woman, and neither did your committee when they accepted my application for membership.’
I watched a multitude of expressions from discomfiture via panic to sheer horror cross the steward’s face. I raised my eyebrows slightly and said: ‘Now, here’s my birth certificate, a letter from the government which clearly states that no matter what I might call myself, or how I might appear, I am legally still a male, my membership card and my voting card. Now, perhaps, you will kindly let me in.’
By this time the steward was beginning to look decidedly ill. Unsure about what action he could take next, he called the club secretary over and I had to go through the whole exercise again. Meanwhile, David, who (although he wasn’t a member) had accompanied me as a gesture of support, slipped into the hall unnoticed. The club
secretary sent for the president, who in turn sent for the club’s solicitor, who took one look at me and declared: ‘I don’t know Miss Lloyd except by reputation, and all I can say is, if you don’t admit her you are likely to have a writ on your desk first thing tomorrow morning. And I’m telling you now, you will lose this case. You have no alternative but to let her in.’
Looking utterly defeated, the president’s shoulders sagged, and with a great sigh he reluctantly uttered the immortal words: ‘Let her in.’
Two thousand pairs of male eyes almost popped out of their sockets as, hair flowing down my back and looking every inch a woman, I walked down the central aisle and seated myself on a vacant chair. After several false starts the meeting began and after the routine matters, it was opened up for questions from the floor I took one look at the queue forming in front of the microphone in the centre of the aisle (I hadn’t realized that members would be invited to address the meeting), so quite spontaneously stood up and took my place at the end of it.
The poor president took one look at me standing in the queue and visibly began to squirm. Then it was my turn to speak. ‘Mr President, ladies and gent…oh, I must apologize, I’m afraid I forgot that there aren’t any ladies here.’
I referred to several of the objections that had been raised as valid reasons for keeping women out of the club and then tackled one that had really incensed me. ‘One gentleman objected on the grounds that, if women were granted admittance, you’d soon have an army of kids running amok. What I would like to know is, who fathered these ‘kids’ whose presence you fear so much?’ I paused, then simply started: ‘It would appear that the two thousand men present today all deny any involvement in the production or these children.’
You could have heard a pin drop.
‘I’d also like to say that I find it rather, er, interesting, to note that though you regard yourselves as one of the last bastions of male dominance and supremacy, you none the less elected a mere female as your patron. Presumably, unlike me as a fully paid up member your patron, The Queen, would not be granted admittance.’
The silence was deafening. Slowly, I looked around, gratified to note from the expressions on many faces that my comments had served to highlight the ridiculousness of the situation.
‘Well, gentlemen, you do now have one female member of the LCC and, I’m afraid, there is nothing that you can do about it. So why not be sensible now, and cast your votes in favour of allowing the rest of the fair sex in Having said all I had to say, there was nothing left for me to do but return to my seat.
As I sat down, the elderly gentleman seated next to me leaned over, took my hand in his and with a gentle squeeze whispered to me: ‘My dear, you are one very brave lady.’
When they had recovered from the shock, several men rushed forward to complain about my having been allowed publicly to address the meeting; but the president, knowing the true legal position, refused to acknowledge their protests. Then, to my surprise, one gentleman took the microphone and said: ‘Mr President, I would like to say that I think it is a sad fact that one of the few people present today who have come correctly attired – and even wearing an LCC tie – in accordance with club rules, should be the lady who spoke earlier.’
The motion was carried by a seven per cent majority and the meeting was closed. That evening, my victory made the TV news and virtually every newspaper (including the ‘quality’ press) featured the story the next day. For once I was proud of the achievement that had destroyed one more example of gender discrimination.