Jacqui Le Prou is the owner of the Calendar Girls stripclubs in Auckland and Wellington, manages the Christchurch club and established an escort agency there. A fierce rival of the Chow brothers in Wellington, she describes a typical working week.
1. How did you first get into the stripping industry?
My dad started a cabaret touring striptease group when I was about 10 years old. So you could say I grew up in it. My dad had racehorses; the joke among friends was he went from four-legged fillies to two-legged. When I was 23 my sister had a strip club in Queenstown but was pregnant and I gave her time off for her to enjoy her pregnancy. After a year I realised I'm really good at this.
2. Describe your childhood.
I grew up at a racing stables in Takanini, South Auckland. It was a normal, full of fun and adventure kind of a childhood. I loved being outside; in fact mum would lock the door to keep me inside after I bathed so I wouldn't get dirty. I was usually in the paddocks with the horses somewhere on the farm. We moved to the suburbs when I was about 11. I went to a public school and was into sport and socialising ... a lot!!
3. What did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was really little I wanted to be a vet. When I was older I wanted a career in the fashion industry. Which is where I was at until I was 23. [She is now 29.] I have managed night clubs since I was 19, run restaurants and had my manager's certificate since I was 19. I've worked hard and most of the time worked two to three jobs. I knew since I was little I wanted to make lots of money and working hard is the only way to get there.
4. How unusual is it for a woman to be running a string of strip clubs?
I'm the first in New Zealand to run a string of clubs and Calendar Girls is the first club to be in more than one city. I actually haven't heard of a female running a string of clubs anywhere. It's definitely a male- dominated industry. Sometimes I feel I'm not being taken seriously, the worst being two policemen in Wellington belittling me, harassing me and just generally making out to everyone I'm a joke. I've got around 190 contractors and about 29 employees.
5. When I called you for this interview, you were busy ferrying your kids around - what do they tell their friends their mum does for a job?
Most of their close friends and friends' parents know what I do. I love entertaining so we have BBQs at home all the time. Otherwise the kids say I own bars and nightclubs. It's not important what my job is and it's not really anyone's business. I'm just Jacqui at home.
6. Describe your average working day.
I'm up by 8.30am. I work out at the gym every other day. I make breakfast and clean my house. I do emails which usually takes four-plus hours. I try to get as much done as possible in business hours to keep with the general public. I do dinner and then by that time the clubs are opening. I'm usually in at work from 8pm. I make sure all is running smoothly, advise staff of any shows on for the night. Catch up on emails and I usually head home between 1am and 4am. Then I'm up again next morning by 8.30. I also fly a few times a week, depending on where I need to be.
7. Has your industry changed your opinion of men, or of women who work in the industry?
Ummm no, well hard to answer, I've always been open-minded.
8. Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
I had to ask my husband if he thought I was a feminist! No, I don't think I'm a feminist, but I do think I should be equal. I like control and to be the boss and I like things done my way. But I'm flexible and give people a chance. I believe everybody can have what it takes to be amazing.
9. You opened the escort agency at Calendar Girls - was it a big step for you to move into prostitution?
I built the Christchurch men's entertainment centre with an escort business because we were constantly referring clients to the local [brothel] down the road. It's not what I'm interested in - I like the creativity behind strip tease, it's glamorous and an act. But [escort work] to me is a business. I'm not the one doing the job, I'm giving [the women] a safe environment to work in. My girls call me a pimp but I think I'm like a house mum.
10. You must see a lot of desperate young women in your industry.
I've got a trainee doctor working for me at the moment, I had a trainee nurse and a legal secretary left her law firm to continue working for me because striptease paid better. There are a lot of students but there's a high percentage of girls that come through the industry that are damaged in some way, from their parents or a relationship - I wanted to teach girls that you can create a better life for yourself. I have a good reputation so I don't get a lot of drug takers or people that are really scraping things together applying to my clubs.
11. Your husband James was sentenced to five years in prison for methamphetamine charges - drugs must be rife in the industry?
I don't take drugs at all. I barely even drink and I don't like drugs on my premises. My husband doesn't take drugs either. Those charges he was caught up with were really unfortunate but that's another story completely.
12. What's the life lesson you most want to pass on to your children?
To work hard and never give up on their dreams. Be open-minded and careful.