In 2006, Paul Holmes recounted his meeting with Hugh Hefner at the legendary Playboy Mansion in California.

You drive through some of the most beautiful urban real estate in America, the upper reaches of Sunset Boulevard. Blazing bougainvillea, purple, pink, yellow and red, are everywhere.

At the bottom of a lane, an imposing gate. A voice speaks from within a rock, the gates open and we drive "slowly, please" up a long driveway, past the sign that says "Playmates at Play", avoiding the exotic birdlife that adorns the two hectares.

In front of us, the Elizabethan court in Beverly Hills known to the world as Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion.


The courtyard is surprisingly small for the numbers of cars and people who have arrived here over the years at any one time. It's a warm day, mid 20s, clear and blue. The house appears smaller than you would imagine, and it sits comfortably in its lush acres.

A heavy wooden door opens to reveal a grand ornate stone hallway which looks straight through french doors to a lawn where the infamous parties are held.

Rare flamingos and walking birds parade. A peacock displays his brilliant train.

It seems only right that we're ushered into the living room on the ground floor, which doubles as a movie theatre where Hef hosts his Casablanca film nights. There's a vast screen, a tiger-skin couch, plenty of large leather sofas and an impressive array of film and video equipment.

We meet Tom, head of security and John, head of film equipment, both of whom have been with Hef since the seventies. As we set up our equipment, there is much communication with Hef's reps and the people from E! television channel. I chat briefly to Mona from E!. She's Romanian. We speak about growing up in Romania, the tyrant Ceausescu and his demented wife.

And then, in he comes. Black pyjamas, burgundy smoking jacket, black velvet slippers and white socks. He's shorter than I am and very pleasant to everyone. There's nothing overbearing about him. He sits down. We speak. He reacts perfectly pleasantly when I ask him how many women he's slept with. The father of the empire is intelligent, fluent and light. And we talk about it all; wives, marriages, girlfriends, sex, the magazine.

Then they, Hef's girls, file in. These are the three stars from The Girls of the Playboy Mansion, the number one show on E! in America. Hef's lovers file in according to their rank. "Sweet" Holly Madison, the number one girlfriend, is first in line, followed by Bridget Marquardte, "the brains", and "wild one" 21-year-old Kendra Wilkinson with a laugh like Fran Drescher.

The girls of the Playboy Mansion look like triplets. They're all small.

They all have beautiful bodies with the same tanned skin and blonde hair. They take their seats, once again according to rank, with Holly seated next to Hef. It's clear that Bridget and Kendra are sharp. Hef delights in their presence. Holly watches.

So we talk about everything; their lives, the mansion and the freedom to do what they want. Or lack of it.

We talk about the sex, the Viagra, how often and what their mums and dads think. We talk about the show and what a blast it is.

Actually, I like them all. They're like worldly imps. Each knows exactly what she's doing. Holly's rank is accepted. The playmates and their nine dogs have the run of the house.

There's a subtext there: you see it in flashes, in little pauses, in their hesitancies. All might not be quite as it seems, but I doubt seriously it's anything bad.