I've been fascinated by the Playboy Club for a long time. Working in Mayfair casinos as a croupier, I met a few former Bunnies from Hugh Hefner's original 1960s Park Lane pleasure dome, and it was their stories that sparked my interest: from then on, I told myself that if Playboy ever reopened in London, I'd apply.
In 2011, it did, complete with a Cottontail Lounge for the "louche and mysterious". After attending an all-singing, all-dancing casting, I was offered a job as a Bunny. I took a salary cut of £16,000 to accept the role, on the promise that I'd make it back in tips – and, in fairness, I did.
As a feminist, I imagined I was following in the footsteps of journalist Gloria Steinem, who'd gone undercover at New York's Playboy Club in 1963 and written about it for Show Magazine. But unlike Steinhem and the women's rights campaigners who picketed the London launch, I never wanted to bring the club down – quite frankly, I've experienced more objectification and dealt with more harassment-lawsuits-in-waiting in office jobs than I ever did in my bunny ears and pom-pom tail.
Here's some of the stuff I learned during my time as a Playboy Bunny.
FREE THE NIPPLE CAMPAIGNERS CAN RELAX – I'VE GOT THIS ONE
My nipples weren't so much freed as reluctantly outed. Wearing a costume unqualified to contain them, it was less a case of wardrobe malfunctions, more just a severely malfunctioning wardrobe. In addition to the standard casino games, I provided punters with a side bet of Bullet Bingo: Which of my nipples would pop out next? You decide!
Despite a fitting in the corner of the canteen, sectioned off by a bit of bamboo, my costume practically cut across my nipples at the best of times. The seamstress told me to take off my bra and raise my arms to see if my nipples hovered above the hemline.
They did. Perpetually.
I wasn't the only Bunny subject to excitable boobs. One of the girls camouflaged her nipples with concealer after dabbing it on her dark circles. I hid mine behind hair extensions, which also helped to stave off the cold (anyone who says you lose the most heat from your head clearly hasn't spent an entire winter with their tits out).
BIG PANTS ARE A GIFT FROM THE UNDERWEAR GODS
When you've got a painful urine infection, the last thing you want is to stab about with a tampon. In the desirability stakes, that falls somewhere between a Rustlers burger and death-by-boiling. No – what you really want is to put on your biggest pants and a mattress-sized sanitary pad, erect a "No Entry" sign and leave it well alone.
Unfortunately, when the crotch of your costume is as narrow as a nail file, you don't really have that luxury. Because I'd complained about nipple exposure, the seamstress lengthened my costume at the crotch, leaving it so slim I had to bunch up my G-strings to stop them spilling over the sides like a BP tanker on a protected beach.
With even less fabric covering my wobbly bum, I succumbed to wearing the regulation support tights under my black ones to hold me in. The effect was stifling, like being encased in an extra tight tubigrip bandage from the waist down.
STUFFING LOO ROLL DOWN YOUR TOP ISN'T JUST FOR TEENAGERS
In an effort to emulate Playboy-brand boobs, we stuffed anything we could find down our costumes. The cups were cavernous, swallowing up the entire contents of my sock drawer and what felt like half of the John Lewis bedding department.
My left breast nestled with a Hungarian goose down duvet; my right breast single-handedly boosted Andrex's share price, as I shoved in wads of loo roll to supplement the loft insulation I'd pilfered from my parents. No soft furnishings were safe; it was like having twins with Prader-Willi Syndrome – no matter what you filled them with, they always wanted more.
GOING TO THE TOILET ISN'T EASY DRESSED AS A BUNNY
When we unzipped our costumes, the contents of our cups spilled out immediately, our deconstructed jugs littering the loo floor. After finally squeezing out of our boa constrictor tights and having a piss, we then had to re-build our breasts, crafting them out of bathroom floor detritus, before facing the contortion challenge of zipping our costumes back up.
Not everyone fancied running this gauntlet just to win a wee. One Bunny held on all shift: "My stomach just gets bigger and bigger all day, then after I finish I sit on the toilet for ages," I remember her telling me. Spending 40 hours a week with our vaginas encrusted in a blockade of synthetic fabric, it was no wonder so many of us harboured festering yeast and urine infections.
BRONZER CAN'T DISGUISE THE WARNING SIGNS OF SCURVY
Working nights, I ate a huge amount of chicken pie and biscuits. Neither of those things are good for you in large amounts over a sustained period of time, especially considering the quality of the "chicken" I was eating: there was probably more meat in the fillets down my costume.
Of course, regularly shovelling the food equivalent of liquid sewage into your throat doesn't tend to do great things for your skin. Coming home one day, I passed a neighbour who told me I had the skin tone of SpongeBob SquarePants. To remedy that, I used a lot more bronzer. As in, I David Dickinson-ed the fuck out of my face. Only, without the LA sunshine, I ended up looking less like a Crystal or Kendra, and more like a Sunny D victim who'd locked themselves inside a home tanning booth.
WHEN YOU'VE BEEN UP FOR 36 HOURS YOU STINK OF DEAD DOG
If you haven't been to bed for three days, it really makes no difference how much Paco Rabanne you chuck at your neck. You can apply it with a fire hose: you'll still stink of shit. You could do the Ice Bucket Challenge with the contents of the Harrods fragrance hall, but if it's coming up for a week since you last had a shower, you're not going to fool anyone.
At Playboy, we had a regular whose grime was indiscernible from a distance, crawling beneath Boden knitwear and an easy-care haircut. However, when you got within five feet, you were hit with a wave of what I'd imagine decomposing colon to smell like. Twisting my head each time I inhaled, I managed to fast-track through evolution, developing one of those extendable Inspector Gadget necks. A compulsive gambler, it took fallen pipes, fire drills and skilled negotiators to get her out of the building.
I don't think it's any coincidence that every time the fire alarm went off she'd been gambling for up to 40 hours straight. We'd traipse to the church round the corner and hang about smoking, in heels and polka dot dressing gowns, like modern day Mary Magdalenes. We'd then go through the motions of signing a fire register while the cleaners blitzed the gaming floor with Febreze.
WHAT SHAKESPEARE WOULD LOOK LIKE IN JIM DAVIDSON'S HANDS
Imagine if Jim Davidson directed a Carry On-style version of Midsummer Night's Dream. That's about the closest representation I can convey of the Bunnies' locker room at Playboy.
The self-appointed Chief Bunny walked around naked, bar flesh coloured support tights. Her torpedo tits flanked a black thicket of pubes that fought through her reinforced gusset. For me, the overall effect was quite unnerving and a little unpleasant, but I suppose one person's eyeball aneurysm is another's sex dream.
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