London, sometime in early 1991…
I was living with my then boyfriend in a nice, one bedroom flat in Seven Sisters, after he’d been evicted from the squat where we first met and he decided to actually pay rent. He was earning a good wage as a civil engineer and I was working as a cleaner and in a clothes shop on Portobello Road.
One Sunday morning we went to ‘Church’. This was a place somewhere in Central London where Australians, Kiwis and any other morning party people gathered for early Sunday drinking. It was my first time there and the place was kinda sleazy, with half naked women walking around (can’t remember if they were strippers or waitresses) and hundreds of seriously drunk people, getting drunker by the second. Church opened at around noon. I can’t remember if we had been out all night the night before or had some sleep beforehand, but knowing me I’d probably had some sleep, I’ve never been know for endurance partying/drinking, even when I was young.
They had these drunk competitions, you know the type, spin around till you can’t spin no more, drink, then spin around some more… Somehow we ended up on stage, taking part on the ‘swap ALL of your clothes’ competition. Winner gets a crate of beer and the chance to enter a competition to win a holiday. I was tipsy by then so I thought, yeah, why not? We completely swapped all our clothes incredibly fast (I wasn’t comfortable being entirely naked in front of all those people) and WON! Woooooohooo I thought. We got the crate of beer and they asked for our name and number to enter the said competition. I didn’t even drink beer so my boyfriend got to drink it all.
A few days later our phone rings and I answer. A man introduces himself, saying he’d seen me on stage in Church and would I like to be in a porn movie. I’d be with an older man and get £500 a day for three days filming.
Now, £500 a day is still a tidy sum these days but back then it was A LOT. The man’s voice was reassuring and menacing at once and very insistent but not too pushy. I was only 19 years old… I actually talked to him for a long while and at first I said I didn’t want to do the movie, but he made it all sound pleasant and simple… And there was the money! In the end I gave in and agreed I’d do it. He was going to call me back with the location/date and any further details in a couple of days.
When my boyfriend got home I told him the good news: I was going to be in a porn movie and get a shitload of cash. He wasn’t impressed. But I just saw him as a hypocrite. He had porn magazines and had watched porn (VHS back then!) and I was a strong, liberated woman! Why was it ok for him to look at porn but not ok for me to be in a porn movie??? So we spent a lot of time arguing about this but nothing he said convinced me not to do it. He could never beat me in arguments, my teenage black and white no grey area logic always prevailed.
I don’t know if my boyfriend called my mother or if I just told her when we spoke but this ended up being one of the two crucial occasions when I did actually listen to her (the other one was when she advised me to not marry a friend to help him stay in the UK, which I was also uneasy about). My mother told me that if I did this they might give me drugs while I was there and that I might end up doing more than what I had intended on doing and that I would very likely regret it, I’d be having sex with an old man whom I might not be attracted to. She didn’t even need to go into the REALLY horrible things that could happen to dissuade me from the idea…
From the moment I had agreed to be a part in this film I had a bad feeling about it and I didn’t really want to do it, but my arguments with with my boyfriend and what I saw as hypocrisy on his part meant I had cornered myself into doing it. I was actually relieved that my mother felt strongly that I shouldn’t do it and this gave me the resolve to tell the guy, next time he called, that I was out. I wan’t going to take part in his porn movie. He sounded kinda angry on the phone which made me say no again even more vehemently and I asked him to never call me again.
I started wondering if there really was a porn movie taking place, but I think that was so. We figured that Church was a recruiting/grooming ground for this sort of thing, and I think they probably called the other girls too, because they took everyone’s numbers down when the competition finished, I remember that clearly, while thinking “Why are they taking everyone’s numbers if we were the only ones who won? Maybe everyone gets to enter the Win a Holiday Competition?” I never set foot in there again.
I never really liked or got into porn but at that age you kinda want to fit in and be cool and it seemed that porn was the most natural thing in the world. The subject became a bit of a side interest to me after that, how the porn industry works, how young people get exploited and get sucked into it and spat out, but also how it benefits some people, mostly the producers/film makers, but there are people who have long, happy careers out of it. However I’m glad Boogie Nights only came out a few years later and not before this all happened, because I might have felt stronger about taking part in it. But this was no California and I was no Dirk Diggler…
I am glad I never took part in it, I don’t think it would have been a happy experience for me. Thanks mum, for giving me the strength and reasons to say no to it.
I found this http://www.kentishtowner.co.uk/2013/03/01/top-5-lost-london-nightclubs-of-the-90s/2/ and Church gets a mention
Midweek the site operated as a huge Roller Disco, while on Sunday afternoons, Antipodean drinking and wet t-shirt fest The Church resided for a decade, before a move up the road to wreak havoc at Kentish Town Forum.
And it seems The Church lived on for many years, finally RIP in 2015, according to this
According to myth, to skate around licencing laws, parishioners did not buy drinks. Rather, they bought tickets which could be exchanged for beers once inside. The beers were free, the tickets were not.
Once on hallowed ground, worshipers indulged in an orgy of song, dance, drinking games, strippers and other blasphemous displays of human flesh and expat debauchery.
In modern times, in the face of dwindling Aussie and Kiwi believers The Church’s clergy successfully converted hedonistic students and expats from other lands. But it became a holy ghost; a (just about) sanitised, fancy-dressed shadow of its obscene former self.
And now, the great beast is slain.