A year of living dangerously
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FROM champers in exclusive gentlemen’s clubs to the underworld of the Chinese mafia, White Trash: My Year As a High-Class Call Girl, by Durban artist and author Terry Angelos, details a journey which is interwoven with hidden trauma and finding redemption.
It also reveals how easy it is to slip down a dangerous path.
Angelos said she started writing “bits of the book” years ago, but waited until her children reached adulthood, so she could engage them about her memoir before publishing it.
“If you are looking for a titillating story, you are picking up the wrong book. This is so much more than just a story, it weaves in subjects such as finding your place when you don’t fit in and how trauma can play itself out,” said Angelos, adding that it also addressed her identity as a white South African and confronting her racial bias “in quite a unique way in this cosmopolitan underworld”.
“This was one of the toughest things to write about,” she said this week.
Angelos, whose early years were spent in the Rhodesian bush war, moved with her family to Durban when she was 11 years old. Having come from a small town, she found it hard to fit in and to cope in a different country. The first seeds of rebellion were sown.
“At high school, I was very punk and even got suspended for one hairstyle,” she said, adding that she went on to study fine art at university where “I wanted to celebrate being an outsider and oddball, that was my driving mantra”.
She also met her first love which became an on/off affair with much heartache and, after second year, she dropped out.
“A friend said why don’t you go to London? I thought I’ll show everyone, I’ll show him. I was in full rebel mode,” she said.
It was 1989 and she was 19 years old. With a backpack and £150, she headed off. The ferry from Amsterdam cost £80, leaving her with a mere £70 to start her new adventure.
“I remember arriving at Victoria station and from a callbox (there were no cellphones back then), I phoned a contact in Wimbledon for a place to stay.
“I started work as an au pair, but hated it and got fired after two weeks. A few years prior, someone had mentioned the concept of hostessing in London and opening up a newspaper one morning, I saw a job for a hostess.
“It was an exclusive gentlemen’s club where we were told that the clients want to look at a pretty girl wearing lingerie. The club made money by selling over-priced champagne which the men had to buy for the girls. It was very plush and upmarket and not seedy in any obvious way.
“It would start out with touching and feeling and there was a steady stream of foreign girls. I made £150 in one night which was equivalent to a return ticket.
“I always considered myself to have gone into that with my wits about me, but looking back it was the start of grooming,” said Angelos, adding that she had an upper-class appeal because of her accent and her use of the word “ya”, which is commonly used among the English aristocracy.
She soon had regular gentlemen wanting to buy her champagne.
“These were men from families, but who wanted to let off some steam and have some fun. It was a fantasy world which we were all participating in,” she said.
She teamed up with another girl who was blonde and, as Angelo was dark-haired, they made a complementary team and started to frequent gentlemen’s clubs in the city.
One constant client, named Gecko in the book, took the pair on holidays, including to Greece where he booked Angelos and her friend into a nearby fishing village close to where his wife and family were staying. Gecko and some hidden diamonds feature further in the book.
“He took us to this Chinese club and we thought we had made the big time, but it turned out the club was owned by the Chinese Mafia,” she said.
What followed was a spiral laced with champagne and cocaine. “It was the yuppie era, and cocaine was the drug of the ’80s,” she said.
The book also includes a perilous blackmail scheme to escape, an Edwardian penthouse with a marble fireplace and a harrowing episode before Angelos reached a turning point.
The release for the book says: “In a remarkable turn of events, at her lowest point of no return, she finds a seed of hope in a crowded tourist hub. Her journey towards redemption is both magnificent and miraculous as she embarks on a heroic quest to reinvent herself.”
Angelos became a full-time artist, known for her quirky art, and is married with three adult children. She lives in Durban with her husband and pug named Juniper, named after her favourite drink, where she also has her studio which she described as resembling “a messy natural history museum”.
- White Trash: My Year As a High-Class Call Girl
The Independent on Saturday