IT ALL GOES TITS UP
The day finally arrived when was due to return to work. For Keith it would be a familiar journey, one he had taken for the past seven years. But Keith was no more, and for Stephanie this would be the first. In order to make my arrival less spectacular, I’d arranged to go in a little later than everyone else and for Sandra to come to my house to help me with my make-up so that I would look my best. There was twitching of Venetian blinds as I walked across the car park. It was only natural that people should be curious to see what I looked like, I supposed, but the reception staff behaved as efficiently and normally as ever. When I walked into my office I was staggered to see that it was full of flowers and telegrams from people wishing me well-including Stuart, the chairman. My return was greeted with less prurient interest and more generosity and warmth than I had anticipated, and I was grateful for the chance to be allowed to ease myself back into the job.
At the beginning of February 1984 I attended an exhibition in Paris with Nick Bellamy, who had been appointed MD in my place. During one of my regular calls to my secretary I was alarmed to hear that two reporters from the Daily Mirror had been snooping around and, having been refused either access to or comment from any of the directors, they’d stooped to hanging around in the local pubs to see what they could learn from our shop floor workers. I wondered how they might have got hold of the story and soon it became known, one of my very own staff had betrayed me to the press-and for the price of just £100. I caught the first available flight back to Manchester and drove straight from the airport to our family home, Wynthorpe, which I had moved back into when Marylin had left. I parked in the drive close to the front door and was just unlocking the boot when I suddenly became aware of a scuffling sound. I looked up to see several people bursting through the bushes into the garden, and was momentarily blinded by the flash bulbs of what seemed to be dozens of camera’s. Bewildered by the questions that were being thrown at me, I didn’t know what to do. I was trapped outside my home and there was nowhere to run. I had no option other than to stand my ground and say something that would make them go away.
“Look, guys, under the terms of my contract of employment I’m not allowed to give press interviews. However, if you’re patient I’ll try to ensure that the company issue an official statement outlining all the details of my situation.”
“Lets have a picture then!” one of the mob yelled. It was just like being at the mercy of a pack of baying hounds. Why did they want me to pose for pictures? They’d already taken enough to fill an album! Eventually it became clear that they were determined not to go away empty-handed so, against my better judgement, I agreed to pose for two formal pictures in return for their promise that they would omit all details of my former wife and my children. The moment I was able to escape into the safety of my home, I locked the door and phoned Stuart.
“You did the right thing, Stephanie,” he said “I think I’m going to have to discuss this with the board before any of us says anything more.”
Stuart’s calm handling of the situation did much to relieve my anxiety. If the paper knew they would be issued with an official statement, they’d hardly print a story on what they’d got so far. At least that’s what I thought. Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, one member of staff had given the Daily Mirror a new angle by inadvertently mentioning that I’d been flown home, desperately ill, from the Far East three years before and had been undergoing hormone treatment ever since. The Mirror wasn’t about to let go of a story on which it believed it had a world-wide exclusive, and so it simply put two and two together and came up with five.
That same Sunday night, as the Mirror’s presses rolled out the following day’s paper, I was besieged by newspapermen all wanting to get in on the act. During the early hours of Monday morning I was even woken by reporters from the Manchester Evening News who were screaming through the letter box at me to come down and give them the story too.
I hadn’t seen the paper’s before I left for work, but I wasn’t allowed to remain in ignorance for long. On Monday, 6 February 1984 I was front page news. Under the banner headline ‘MIRROR EXCLUSIVE’ screamed the words: ‘AMAZING SEX CHANGE BY THE BOSS’. The entire front page was taken up with ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of me, alongside a totally erroneous story which covered not only the front page
but all of pages two & three. I couldn’t believe my eyes. If it hadn’t been so awful, I might have laughed. After all, all I wanted was simply to be allowed to live in peace as a woman, and now here I was a tabloid page three girl!
Our head offices were picketed literally crawling with British and foreign journalists who, desperate for news and frustrated by our refusals to co-operate, had resorted to accosting every single member of the company who might be able to give them some juicy little detail to boost their circulations. Confounded by the sheer intensity of the media’s interest, none of us knew quite how to cope. In retrospect I believe we all handled it very badly, but at the time we did what seemed the most sensible thing. Instead of issuing a statement to the press, the company chose to remain silent and I was advised to go away and hide for a week in the hope that things would die down. Unfortunately, the lack of information only fanned the flames. Desperate for any kind of story, true or false, the press decided to speculate.
The company suggested I get right out of the country for a week or so, but I preferred to take a week’s break in the Lake District-at least that way I would be able to keep in touch. The press coverage continued throughout the entire week I was away as newspaper after newspaper became more fanciful and sleazy. If it hadn’t been so tacky and upsetting, I might have been amused; for if I’d truly done everything they claimed, I’d be more than a mere story-I’d be a legend.
Upon my return Stuart called and asked me to meet him and Nick at the Last Drop Hotel in Bolton to ‘discuss the present situation.’ I had no idea what to expect, but I was beginning to feel decidedly apprehensive. The moment I looked at Stuart’s face, I realised what was in store. Hestair simply couldn’t handle the publicity. My fears were confirmed when Stuart informed me, albeit regretfully, that my situation had now become to hot for them to handle. Moreover, they were afraid of the possible reaction from the company’s institutional shareholders. To save the embarrassment of being fired I resigned and my resignation was promptly accepted. Stuart simply said, ‘I’m sorry Stephanie’ and I believe he really was. ‘But we’d like to invite you to remain as an external consultant if you’re willing to do that.’
‘I’m sorry too, Stuart,’ I replied. ‘But on reflection, I feel it would be better for us all if the break is completely clean.’
Once again, as so often before in my life, I drove back home in tears. I must have cried so often in that car it’s a wonder the interior wasn’t rusty from damp. If only I’d followed my earlier instinct and left twelve months before. At least then I would have been able to set up my own company and be in charge of my own destiny.
That night I telephoned Marylin to break the awful news. She was furious understandably, because the family were still totally dependent on me financially. Without a job, or even and prospects of a job, how would I be able to support them all? I understood that it was more than she could take, but I was also saddened and upset. It was a disaster for her and a catastrophe for me. What was I supposed to do now?
The phone call marked the beginning of the end of my comfortable relationship with Marylin, and from that moment things quickly began to go sour. In an attempt to protect
Marylin’s and the children’s financial security, I suggested that it might be wise if I signed all our joint assets over to her. A court hearing, at which the legal formalities would be taken care of, was duly set for several weeks hence.
Though my salary had been a good one, the cost of running two households, together with the additional expenses of treatment and a whole new wardrobe meant that I’d never been able to save. When I counted up all my assets I had seventy eight pence, the clothes I stood up in and one loyal, faithful, dependent rescue dog. I had lost my job, my salary, my car, my family and everyone I thought were my friends. For the first time in my entire life I stood completely alone but for Sheba my ever faithful rescue dog and yet, though some might find this difficult to believe, apart from my immediate practical problems the most pressing problem as far as I was concerned was how I was going to be able to afford food for Sheba. On a recommendation I contacted a solicitor, Richard Holman, who I hoped would represent me at the court hearing. It was three days before he could see me. During those three days Sheba and I existed solely on milk and bread that I was able to get delivered on credit from the local milkman. If I took Sheba for a walk, I’d find my footsteps being dogged by hordes of young children who would follow me, chanting names. It brought home to me the fact that I was considered a freak not only by those who knew me but also by those who didn’t. The thought occurred to me that, were I suddenly able to skip back a century or so, I’d undoubtedly have been exhibited in a freak show or executed as a witch.
Three days later, and now all but destitute, I visited Richard Holman at his office. ‘Look, I’d better tell you right now, I have no money, no job and no immediate prospects of a job, so I don’t know how I’m going to pay you,’ I told him frankly.
‘Tell me about yourself,’ Richard instructed . By the time I’d finished he looked both interested and doubtful. ‘You must have some money,’ he said.
‘None at all,’ I assured him.
He then began to question me about my car, my home, my bank accounts and so on. By the time I’d answered all his questions he was sitting back in his chair with a totally incredulous look on his face. ‘You really don’t have anything, do you?’
Without further ado, Richard picked up the telephone, contacted Social Services and, after much frustrating bureaucracy, managed to extract an emergency payment of £25 for me. ‘Don’t worry about our fees,’ he said, ‘I’m sure you’ll qualify for Legal Aid.’
I was flabbergasted at the sincerity of his interest and concern. Richard’s firm, Foyster’s, weren’t some tin pot little solicitors but a large practice that didn’t normally deal with Legal Aid cases. But, as I soon discovered, Richard’s concern stemmed from a genuine belief in Justice and despite my desperate straits, he treated me with exactly the same respect as he did all his clients. Now, with the princely sum of £25 in my pocket, I was as least able to buy food for Sheba and myself.
A few weeks later Richard accompanied me to the court hearing at Bolton. Marylin had made the trip from Devon to be there, but she refused either to look at me or to speak to me, leaving her barrister to address me on her behalf before the hearing commenced.
‘You’re still prepared to sign all your assets to your ex-wife?’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I replied ‘Though I would like to keep one or two things, of course.’
‘Oh. Like what?’
‘Well, I am going to need a bed-and then there are one or two personal things that belonged to my parents and aunt”.
The barrister looked put out. Signalling me to wait where I was, he rejoined Marylin for a whispered discussion. Then he returned to us.
‘No, I’m sorry. She doesn’t want you to have anything I didn’t believe him! We had such a large house and there were at least four or five single beds and a couple of doubles. In hindsight, however, it was understandable in hindsight given the mental torture I had subjected her too for her to lash out.
Although we haggled and bartered, the actual hearing itself was very brief. I had insisted on retaining possession of an antique sideboard that had belonged to my aunt, simply because I knew my aunt would be furious if I allowed Marylin to take it. But Marylin’s attitude had me totally confused. I was handing just about everything I owned to her, including our house, which was worth about £75,000 and only carried a small mortgage and the majority of our belongings. Why was she doing this to me? Particularly when she knew that the moment I signed those papers I would be destitute.
But in my heart I knew the answer to my questions. Marylin had finally had to confront Stephanie in the flesh- something she simply could not cope with, the Keith she loved was gone forever. All the friendliness of the past few years, the phone calls and the chats, she’d only been able to handle because she had convinced herself I was still Keith. Now she had the evidence of her own eyes that Keith no longer existed and I believe that was the final straw. I have nothing but admiration for her, for had the position been reversed, I am not sure that I would have met her high standards.
Naturally I assumed that I would be able to stay living in the house until a buyer was found, but even that was denied me, for within a week or so I was served with an eviction order. The bank froze my (empty) account, I was unable to use my credit cards because I was without the financial means to pay my debts. Every which way I turned led to a dead end. What on earth was I supposed to do? I had felt badly enough about losing my job, my entire career, but the financial implications hadn’t really dawned on me. Somehow, I had thought I might be able to buy a little hotel or something; but now that the reality of my situation was staring me in the face I was beginning to realize how naïve and over-optimistic I had been. I was totally alone (except for Sheba), destitute and unemployable.
Contrary to what the press had reported in the past few weeks, ,’ I hadn’t received a single penny from Hestair. The whole thing seemed like some crazy farce to me. This couldn’t possibly be happening to me! But it was. Still, I was convinced I’d soon be able to find myself another job. I’d been headhunted many times during my years at Hestair; there were lots of companies who would be eager, and even grateful, to acquire a person with my skills, experience and knowledge. It never occurred to me that, just like a stack of dominoes, once one part of your world starts to tumble down the rest of it is not very far behind. and it only stops when you reach rock bottom which is where I had now reached.
More immediately, however, there were other problems to attend to. With eviction hanging over my head, I had to find somewhere to live. Once again, Richard came to my rescue by managing to get a two-week extension on the eviction order. Meanwhile, the £25 emergency payment I’d received had run out and though I had contacted dozens of employment agencies and sent my c.v. to whoever I thought might be interested, I hadn’t received so much as an acknowledgement, let alone the prospect of an interview.
With only Sheba for company I walked all the way into town and signed on at the dole office. That, as anyone who’s ever been on the dole will undoubtedly confirm, is such a horrendously, humiliating experience that I could hardly bring myself to go back the following week. My face had become so well known that wherever I went I was bound to attract unwelcome attention. To be as notorious as I had become was bad enough, but to have people staring and pointing at me in the dole queue, and knowing that they probably believed all the stories about the huge sums of money the media reported I’d received as a payoff was so humiliating.
The strain and pressure were finally beginning to take their toll, so when I visited my doctor for a routine check-up and he suggested an alternative to being on the dole, I was only too grateful to accept. ‘After all,’ he explained ‘if the publicity and all your other problems are affecting you this much, you have every right to be considered temporarily unfit for work. And although that means you won’t qualify for dole money, you will be able to claim sick relief. Despite the fact that this meant I’d actually be £1 a week worse off, I was so relieved not to have to face the dole queue again that it was worth it to me.
Then at last my job applications began to bring in a number of requests for interviews-but, despite my excellent track record, not for the right reason. It soon became apparent that I was only being invited because the interviewers were intrigued. They knew who I was, of course. With all the publicity, how could they not? No one, however, seemed to be remotely inclined to employ me. I spent several days thinking over my plans, finally reaching the conclusion that the only business I could do well in would be one in which who & what I was, would be an asset not a liability.
Meanwhile I needed to buy myself a cheap an old car having lost my company car but with no money or assets it seemed impossible and I was still having facial electrolysis (there are now good alternatives to this costly & painful treatment), I needed to get to & from Betty, who had treated me for 3 years, and had kindly agreed to continue to do so without payment. Even an old banger would do, but I had nothing to sell. My only possession was Aunt Elsie’s antique sideboard and as I couldn’t bear to part with it permanently I wondered whether there might be some way to secure a loan against it. I picked up the Yellow Pages and rang the first number I came across to seek advice on how to go about organizing a valuation.
‘We can’t help you here,’ the friendly young man at the end of the telephone said, ‘but there’s a man I know who is very knowledgeable and could advise you on its worth. I can arrange for him to come and see you tomorrow if you like.’ I said that would be fine. The next evening Robert arrived at my door. He was not very tall, rather thin and very well-preserved for a man whom I judged to be somewhere in his sixties. I invited him in, made
a pot of tea and then asked him to evaluate the sideboard. But to my consternation, he seemed far more interested in evaluating me! Bob, as he asked me to call him, was obviously a wealthy man, though very much the public school type who did not believe in flaunting either his wealth or status. He was well-bred, knowledgeable, intelligent and interesting, and I couldn’t help liking him. To be honest, though, it never occurred to me that he could be interested in me. I had been a woman for such a short time that I still wasn’t aware of the things women intuitively know about men. In retrospect I can now see that for Bob it seemed the ideal situation. Here I was, a divorced woman living on her own and therefore eminently available. I was more intrigued by the fact that he gave no indication of knowing who and what I was, and that was a novelty to me.
After giving me his estimation of the sideboard’s current value, Bob seemed strangely disinclined to leave. The following day I received an enormous bouquet of flowers from him. The next day, another bouquet arrived, and the next and the next, until there was only the dogs bowl left without a floral arrangement. By that time I was beginning to panic. Should I telephone him and thank him, or should I wait for the inevitable call? On the one hand, Bob had boosted my ego enormously at a time when nobody else wanted to have anything to do with me. On the other, what would happen when he found out about me?
Finally he telephoned and despite having expected it, I found I was totally unprepared when he invited me to have dinner with him. I declined. It was impossible-I couldn’t possibly get involved with this man, as nice as he was. But I reckoned without Bob’s persistence. He refused to take no for an answer, though he eventually settled for the promise of a drink. Obviously, he wasn’t going to let me off his hook that lightly. So, knowing that I was in a tricky situation, I resolved to tell him the truth. I arranged with Bob to collect me at home that evening, suggesting that we drive out to a pub called the Thomas Dutton at Edgerton, just the few miles across the moors that divide Darwen from Bolton.
I spent the rest of the day worrying about what I should wear, selecting and discarding a variety of different outfits. Why not just turn up in jeans and sweater? I asked myself. You’re only going to tell the man the truth-why bother to get dressed up? But six-thirty found me bathed, made up, dressed to kill and nervously alternating between checking my lipstick and my watch.
When we arrived at the pub I sat in the darkest corner I could find, hoping and praying that nobody would recognize me or stare. I hadn’t been out in ages, and soon the combination of that novelty, Bob’s easy conversation and the odd drink or two made me relax. Then he made his move.
‘I’d very much like you to have dinner with me one evening, Stephanie,’ Bob said.
Uh oh! I thought. Here it is. How are you going to get out of this now? There’s only one thing to do. You’ve been avoiding it long enough, but you’re really going to have to tell him the truth now. I opened my mouth, but no words came out.
‘Em, I think I’ll just pop to the ladies,’ I said, taking the coward’s way out. Once in the loo, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. What’s the matter with you? I said to myself.
You’ve stood up in front of hundreds and delivered word-perfect speeches. You’ve appeared on TV, you’re confident and self-assured. Just get on out there and tell him.
With stiffened shoulders, I marched resolutely out into the bar, walked across to the table and said to Bob: ‘Right. I’ve got something to tell you. But…..first I’m going to put on my coat.’ Bob must have thought I was mad, but maybe he had first hand experience of eccentrics, because he merely stood up and helped me into my coat with no more than a quizzical smile. ‘Right. Now. You’re not to say anything at all. Just sit there and listen. And when I leave, you mustn’t follow me.’
Bob’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish as I launched myself into my tale. Thirty seconds later, having encapsulated my entire life story into that short period of time, I rushed out into the night. There was only one vital flaw in my plan, without a car, how the hell was I going to get home?
What a bloody fool you are, Stephanie! I berated myself as I began to tramp the long, weary road that snaked across the moors back to my home. Two cars passed me as I walked and both stopped to offer me a lift, but as each contained a solitary man I ignored the offers and walked on. I had covered almost half the distance when Bob’s car pulled up behind me with a screech and he jumped out, wrenched open the passenger door and commanded me forcefully to get in.
I did. We drove back to my place in complete silence. When we arrived I got out, unlocked the front door and started to walk away, certain that I would never see this man again. Suddenly, Bob’s arm reached out to grasp my shoulder and turn me round to face him. With a wry smile, he gently touched my tear-stained face and said: ‘I think you’re one hell of a courageous lady.’ Then with a quick kiss he left.
Sheba lay waiting for me in the hall. Dropping my bag on to the floor, I lay down beside her with my arms around her neck and wept into her fur. At three in the morning, I awoke to find myself still there with Sheba curled up in my arms. I had an aching back and was stiff all over, but I felt better than I had done for weeks. When I eventually got up, red-eyed and weary but otherwise in a far better mood, I was pottering around cleaning up the house before taking Sheba for her morning walk when the doorbell rang. On the doorstep stood another gigantic bouquet with a card attached which read: ‘Just because you are who you are. Love Bob.’
Poor Sheba’s walk had to wait until I’d repaired the ravages of another bout of tears. After that Bob became a regular and very welcome visitor. We went out for meals, played backgammon together and took long walks with Sheba. Bob displayed an amazing amount of kindness towards me and as he never attempted anything other than a quick goodbye kiss it wasn’t long before I began to relax in his company and simply enjoy his friendship. I soon learned that he was sixty-three, successful and very seriously wealthy and, predictably, also very much an unhappily married man.(It was years before I learned what most women seem to be born knowing, that all married men intent on having an affair say that they are unhappily married.) but I was a 33 year old female virgin back then.
Soon enough the postponed eviction order was enforced. Once again I contacted Richard with the Plea: ‘What am I going to do now?’ What happened next was almost unbelievable. After he contacted Social Services offered to put me into a hostel for the homeless and to have Sheba put down. I was outraged.
‘How can you suggest a thing,’ I groaned. ‘This dog is the only friend I have in the world!’ I would have rather slept rough with Sheba than in comfort without her. Like most people, I didn’t have a clue as to what my basic rights were. Fortunately, Richard did.
He contacted the local council and said ‘I’m coming over now with this girl and her dog. They will sleep on the council office steps and I’ll bring a posse of reporters to record and publicise your callous attitude.’
Oh, the power of the press! It was just as if a magic wand had been waved, for in no time at all the council agreed to provide a roof over my head. I moved in immediately into a small house in West Houghton and for the next few weeks the only time I emerged was either to potter around on my own in the garden, shop for food or take Sheba for a long walk with Bob.
I couldn’t help growing more fond of Bob as he helped me to move into my new house at West Houghton, always appearing eager to help around the house and do odd little jobs for me. He even built a kennel for Sheba. And whilst part of me was rather nervous that he might want ‘payment in kind’ I was curiously drawn towards him. Without doubt, it was a weird situation to be in. I was behaving like a shy little virgin. which of course I technically was.
Then, one night, Bob took me out to dinner and ordered champagne to celebrate our having known one another for a whole month. When he took me home, we relaxed with another bottle that he’d left on ice, and as the hours gently passed in the warm and heady atmosphere Bob successfully and expertly seduced me. I couldn’t believe that I had lost my virginity in the most romantic, gentle love-making I had ever known. If I had been stone-cold sober, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. As it I was relaxed, slightly drunk and my defences were definitely down. And, if I’m perfectly frank, I enjoyed this new experience of being seduced. If I had any momentary qualms, they came at the point of no return, when suddenly I feared the surgeons skilful handiwork might not stand up to the wear and tear!
The amazing thing was the difference in the actual quality of orgasm. As a man, I’d only ever experienced an orgasm that was totally centred on my loins; I had no idea that for a woman it’s totally different. It was like dropping pebbles into a pond and watching the waves spread right across the water in ever widening circles. Another strange difference intrigued me. Knowing what it was like to make love as a man, I was well aware that for most men all the affection and tenderness seems to come before their orgasm-or, to put it another way, for men orgasm is a full stop, whereas for women it’s merely a comma, a prelude to a feeling that can become something much more. For me it was a totally incredible and beautiful experience, one that I couldn’t possibly ever come to regret.