Before I met Jacqui Le Prou, everyone I spoke to called her a bitch. Admittedly, this could be bias because I asked journalists and none of them have had the best relationship with her. She had a string of run-ins with the press when she managed strip club Calendar Girls and was married to convicted drug baron James Samson. She's even been stalked by the country's only paparazzi, which she, "found really frustrating because I like my privacy and I also don't look amazing every day."
At 32, Jacqui has been running strip clubs in New Zealand for a decade. With her latest venture, she says she's bringing a sense of classiness to the Auckland strip scene. You can tell because she calls her new strip club Privé "nude theatre" and offers burlesque and aerial artistry acts alongside jazz singers and live music. Inside, there are rich red velour booths and dark wood paneling.
VICE went along to Privé's opening night and sat down with Jacqui to ask what it's like being the only female strip club owner in New Zealand.
VICE: You're opening your new club Privé after a two-year hiatus from the industry after leaving Calendar Girls. Why the break?
Jacqui Le Prou: I got really sick. I had chronic fatigue syndrome and I just couldn't get better. And I left my husband and went through a messy divorce. I thought it was the industry that was making me sick but I actually had some major viruses in my stomach. I just could not get better and I got dark and angry and thought I didn't want to do this anymore. I thought I was going to become an interior designer because I love interior design.
Now you're back in the business do you think you and your ex can ever be friends?
Yeah, never going to happen. Actually up until the last few months, until he knew I was opening this place, we would be able to chat. But then he found out about this. He's not happy. He wants to make my life hell again. So I'm not talking to him, I don't want negativity in my life and he is negativity. I don't bother answering messages.
Your industry is full of people like your ex, or the Chow brothers , who are notorious in New Zealand. Is it tough working with people who some call gangsters?
I don't have a problem with gangsters at all. In no way. If anything, sometimes they're easier to deal with than other people. They know what they do and what they want. They come in and say, "This is it and this is what's happening." I like people like that. White collar crime is the worst. I have no problem with gangsters.
You're not scared?
I'm not afraid. I'm not scared. What's the worst they can do?
Were you always this tough or did you become this tough working in the industry?
No, I've always been tough. As a kid I was always very cocky, lippy, and I stood up for myself. My dad owned a burlesque dancing troupe. He was a strong person and he taught me, "Don't take shit from anyone."
He sounds like a feminist?
Haha, yeah, well, someone asked me if I was a feminist a while ago. I said no, but I went away and googled it (I like to know the definitions of things.) And now I suppose that in a way I am a little bit of a feminist. I'm definitely pro-woman power but at the same time feminists are intense and crazy. I'm definitely not like that. I just like encouraging people to develop what they're doing.
Is it tough to be the only woman doing this in New Zealand?
I've been asked this so many times and I never even think about it. But when I do, I am the only woman and that is cool. The only other person I know who's been such a leader is Flora MacKenzie. She was the matriarch of prostitution for K Road and New Zealand. She got all the boys off the boats, and had a fine den for them to be entertained in. It was both burlesque and prostitution. I've been compared to her a few times, not because I'm an alcoholic who drank vodka and milk. But she had this idea, created this lucrative business and changed the industry for K Road, for New Zealand, and for women.
And are you following in her footsteps?
Yeah, it's empowering women by women. It's women leading the way for other women to do what they're passionate about.
Is that why you do this, is this your passion?
I'm passionate about this, my heart and soul is in the industry. It takes a special type of person to deal with and succeed in this industry. Lots of people want to open businesses like this and think it's all about the money. It's not about the money it's about the creativity behind it, the art of performance, the details of the design. The details are what makes something like this successful.
Why would you want to be a stripper?
For some people it's the money, for others it's the limelight, but for some they just get off the stage buzzing. It's a high, an addiction. It's very empowering and it's theatre.But I've also never been a stripper—the thought of taking my clothes off on stage is petrifying.
To me the NZ stripper industry feels flat, like it's dying. Is that happening? Are you guys, as more of a nude theatre, the new face of the industry?
I feel that operators become very complacent with this industry because it's very easy to make money. You have enough girls, they do enough dancing, they get tip money, they pay the house and they go home and it just revolves. But strip tease has become boring to me. The girls don't look happy. They just dance. They go through the motions and they go home. But I got handed this opportunity and for me it's different. I wanted something extremely different. I wanted full entertainment not just strip tease.
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