Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

There are no happy hookers, Billie...

Lyn Madden, who has experienced the really tough life of a prostitute - and written about it, didn't bother to watch Secret Diary of A Call Girl. She says she doesn't like comedy. Jane Hardy reports

Billie Piper

The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the new vehicle for Billie Piper (Thursdays, ITV2, 9.30pm) and no doubt a serious product placement opportunity for makers of pretty silk underwear, purports to be the real life story of a call-girl called Belle de Jour.

The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the new vehicle for Billie Piper (Thursdays, ITV2, 9.30pm) and no doubt a serious product placement opportunity for makers of pretty silk underwear, purports to be the real life story of a call-girl called Belle de Jour.

It's extracted from the book of the blog and episode one (not to mention episodes two and three) majored in rather good looking clients, all of them clean, and Belle's glitzy lifestyle based on tricks such as pocketing a lot of cash from riding atop a farmer who gets off on talking about the arousal of horses.

In reality, this is prostitution-lite and probably not even terribly good television, according to Lyn Madden, a former street prostitute and author of a couple of books detailing a very different view of the call girl's calling. "Ah, Jesus, don't be daft, I didn't watch the programme. I don't like comedy. It bears no relation to real life - she was a graduate with choices and no doubt a lot of guys were salivating watching it. I prefer thrillers and gritty realism, and thought 'Why upset myself?'"

Unlike Lyn, who suffered moral dilemmas in what was a lifestyle without choice, Belle seems very pleased with herself on the whole, and enjoys her metropolitan life. Was there ever a happy hooker? "No, there was never a happy hooker. Even though you dress it up with fine clothes, it's still just a seedy act, sex with a stranger," according to Lyn and, looking at her history, it's not hard to see why the answer is made swiftly, without her having to think. She linked up mid-career with John Cullen, her sadistic pimp and long-term lover, who exacts fearful revenge from anybody who crosses him. Ironically, Lyn was introduced to him as somebody who would protect her from another violent man, Dave Barry, who had stabbed his brother to death and who was hassling Lyn. She well and truly "jumped from the frying pan into the fire", as she puts it, in her relationship with John.

Cullen ends up lobbing fire bombs into the home of a former street girl who grassed him, and killing her, her mother and aunt while forcing Lyn to act as look out. Her description of his calmness and smile as he carries out the punishment really step into Stephen King territory. "The book hasn't erased the memories. When you mention Dolores (who was killed) I can still see that fire, I'm still standing in the garden when the flames started, it's as vivid as if it was last night."

Unrecognisable

Lyn googled John Cullen's name when he was due to be released in 2001, to find out his fate, mainly because she was very concerned about hers.

Cullen is apparently still in jail - "thank goodness, and so say all of us" - because he has shown no remorse for his horrific crimes which also include attacking one of his girls' faces with a chair leg until she was unrecognisable.

Horror is, of course, relative and John Cullen wasn't a psychopath " every day", just some of the time, Lyn says. He has threatened to get even with his witnesses, chiefly Lyn, whose evidence finally put him behind bars, a threat he has carried out with others in the past. Lyn is in hiding to this day in the UK and asked me to destroy her contact number after our chat.

The two books, Lyn a Story of Prostitution and Lyn's Escape (Attic, £6.95), which tell her tale in dramatic prose, weren't hard to write with collaborator June Levine. "No, not really - perhaps I should be saying they were hard to write. I produced about 130,000 words in longhand before I met June, partly to make some money, as I hadn't a pound and couldn't work. It's a load of rubbish to say it was a kind of therapy. Let's be honest, the things that stay in your mind, that you never forget, are the mega-big things, they're in your mind all the time even though you might forget the detail." There might even be a film, although Lyn, now 63 and retired from her job post-prostitution as the manager of an ultra respectable charity shop, isn't holding her breath. "This is the fourth treatment and I didn't like the script ..." Who would she like to play her? " Julie Walters would be good, but she's too old, she's my age."

Listening to Lyn's humorous West country voice and her philosophical take on life, it's difficult to imagine how she got into the business of Dublin street prostitute. "I was what you'd call a troubled teenager in 1955, one of the first, living rough, sleeping in bus stations, then I started shoplifting. One of my friends said she knew how to make money, and I went on the street. I wasn't a virgin, in fact hadn't been a virgin since I was three - my father abused me - but I did vomit the first time. "This was in the 60s and Lyn made £2 a night, half a week's wage, which seemed a lot of money.

Was it always demeaning? "Yes. I think Billie Piper's Belle de Jour has given prostitutes a bad name, she's masquerading as a prostitute. If a man were doing it as a bit of a lad and into sex, we'd accept it but a girl is a slut. Another thing that puzzles me - how does she enjoy so many male partners? That means she doesn't get ultimate satisfaction from any of them, like a nymphomaniac." And then there's the personal hygiene angle: " you're dealing with a cross-section of society, but Belle's clients have a lot of money, so they probably would be quite clean. But," Lyn adds matter-of-factly, "even those supposed to be clean may not be, once you get their trousers off".

How do you get through the experience and what did she think about while subjecting herself to the seedy act? "Day to day life - have I bought the carrots, the same things you think about in married life when you're not enjoying it."

Lyn has had therapy, which enabled her to work out what attracted her to violent men and work it through. "It's a no-no, but it's still in me to be interested in the wrong men, like Kate Moss with Pete Doherty." She has kept her life secret now that she is living quietly in England, only telling "one or two people" the truth.

The question Lyn finds hardest to answer is what does the word prostitute mean to her. "Oh dear," she sighs, sounding emotional, "I won't say victim, I hate that word, but I do get upset by the term."



'There are very serious risks'

Dr Azrini Wahidin (34), a reader in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen's University, Belfast, who has written seven books on women in the criminal justice system, says that prostitution should be legalised.

In reality, the world of prostitution is about violence, rape, coercion and the exploitation of the female body.

The glamorisation of prostitution detracts from the seriousness of it - the degradation and the degeneration that women who sell their bodies endure. It detracts from the underlying reasons why a woman finds herself entering prostitution. It's about the trafficking of foreign nationals and women from transitional states, many of whom are underage. We don't have the proper support in place for women who are prostitutes.

Prostitution is a social problem - a very high percentage of the women have drug and alcohol problems. They can be drawn into this world from drug abuse, drugs that are brought to them by their boyfriends who are their pimps.

It's only an extremely small minority who enter prostitution out of their own free will. On the whole, the majority of women who work as prostitutes do not enter it through choice and that is what research shows.

Sensationalising this aspect of the sex trade is wrong - being a prostitute is still very, very unsafe. You only have to look back at the murders of the five prostitutes in Ipswich as a reminder.

Facilities

There are very serious risks with what they do. The commodification of women's bodies cannot be glamorous. They are subjected to violence physically, sexually and emotionally by men. Prostitution should be legalised - we should be helping these women, not persecuting them. We should have the proper facilities in place for sex clinics, free distribution of condoms and safe areas for them to work in, and we should be working to try and change the attitudes of men. Men who visit prostitutes do not take on board why a woman has to work in those conditions or respect them for who they are as women, as human beings.

They do not take on board what foreign nationals or women from transitional states are doing here enslaved in a house, forced to have sex with up to 60 men a day.

Any level of prostitution will involve some trafficking of women and a lot of them do not use protection. What about the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases? The government should be tackling this issue. If these men had a conscience would they be having sex with prostitutes? Would they be paying higher premiums for underage girls? I would say no.

Whether you are on the street corner or in a fancy apartment or a plush hotel, the woman is at risk and still not being valued."

Interview by Gráinne McCarry

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