The chauffeur-driven limousine was wending its way from Heathrow Airport to Park Lane, but, it appeared, not nearly fast enough for its A-list cargo.
Playboy cover girl turned Baywatch icon Pamela Anderson and her rock star husband of ten months, Tommy Lee, had just touched down in London from Los Angeles, and, having fought their way through a phalanx of photographers, were eager for "a lie-down".
Anderson, 29 years old and one of the most famous women on the planet, thanks to the Baywatch global audience of one billion, was in the early stages of pregnancy, but had not yet announced it publicly. And, evidently, it had not dampened the couple's notorious ardour.
They discussed their sex life regularly in TV interviews. "I just want to make love to my wife all day long. What's wrong with that?" Lee, the 33-year-old drummer with Mötley Crüe, would ask, bragging proudly about his latest tattoo: his wife's name inked on his genitals.
They had, Anderson breezily revealed to the journalists beside them in the limousine that morning, already demonstrated their commitment to the Mile High Club – several times – on the flight over, but the priapic Lee suffered from a crippling condition, he claimed: DSB, or "dreaded semen build-up". When the car pulled up to the Lanesborough hotel, 45 minutes later, Lee hurried his wife straight to their luxury suite. Where they remained for much of their week in the capital.
It was December 1995, the final weeks of a year in which Anderson and Lee had dominated the headlines, having married in February after a four-day, drug-fuelled whirlwind romance on the beach in Cancún, Mexico.
They were catnip to the world's tabloids, and The Sun had flown them to London, putting them up at the Lanesborough for a week of pre-Christmas photo opportunities. "We'd had an itinerary drawn up, but that went out of the window as they wouldn't come out of their room," recalls Antonella Lazzeri, a former feature writer at the newspaper, who was tasked with "minding" the pair for the week. "It was a smouldering sex show; they were at it morning, noon and night." And loudly.
It was, she says, challenging to keep the couple focused on the task in hand. Picture sessions were often interrupted by Lee grabbing Anderson, "throwing her on the bed and ordering us out while they 'took a break'". So infrequently did the couple leave their suite, let alone the hotel, that the burly bodyguard hired to protect them from paparazzi was left sitting idle.
One rare outing, to the Queen's lingerie supplier, Rigby & Peller, ended with Lee becoming so excited by Anderson parading around in lacy bras and knickers that he had to be hauled out of the dressing room seconds before they got frisky. On another, to see the musical Cats in the West End, they reportedly squeezed in a quickie during the interval.
Perhaps, given their legendary libidos, it was only poetic that the couple inadvertently created a new cultural phenomenon: the celebrity sex tape.
Shortly before their departure from LA to London, the Anderson-Lees had discovered that not only was the world hearing about their intimate athletics, but a sizeable number of people had now seen them too. In an end-of-year review by the Mail on Sunday, which detailed the couple's romantic hijinks of the past ten months, it was mentioned that a video of the pair having sex on a yacht was on sale in Los Angeles.
Anderson was devastated, while Lee was livid. The tape – 54 minutes of private, personal home video, eight of which were highly explicit – had seemingly been stolen by a disgruntled tradesman who had been working on their home renovation and who, advertising on a new and increasingly popular platform called the internet, was now selling VHS copies of Pamela's Hardcore Sex Video for US$59.99 – around NZ$80 – and shipping them worldwide.
The colourful couple, their wild romance, the stolen sex tape and its fallout, are the subject of a new miniseries next month, starring Lily James as the Baywatch bombshell and Sebastian Stan as her heavily tattooed bad-boy husband.
Forget the Blair and Brown documentary or the forthcoming Frasier reboot, Pam & Tommy is a shot of mid-Nineties nostalgia as potent as the Goldschläger Anderson sent Lee in an LA nightclub – the gesture that initiated their entire union.
Best known for playing radiant English roses – Mrs de Winter in Rebecca, Linda in The Pursuit of Love and actual Lady Rose in Downton Abbey – the willowy James was transformed into a pneumatic Baywatch Barbie via four hours of daily make-up, beginning at 3.30am, and involving the application of a wig, a chest plate and a mahogany Californian tan.
"I've never done anything where I look very different from myself before. And… there was something very freeing and liberating in it," she said earlier this month. "There was a bravery that came from that. A courage that came from… disappearing."
And disappear she does, wholly and convincingly, into a breathy, wide-eyed sex kitten, in tiny rubber dresses, whose aims to emulate Jane Fonda ("A sexy feminist, who didn't give a f*** what anyone thought of her") and her film career never quite come to fruition, much to her frustration.
Frequently, it's easy to forget that it is Disney's former live action Cinderella there, going at it, on every conceivable flat surface and ledge, at every available opportunity.
Quite aside from all the sex – and there's a lot – and the cartoonish surgical enhancement (nobody's seen double Ds like these since the WAGs took over Baden-Baden), Pam & Tommy captures a moment in time, the pivotal confluence of technology and celebrity, or, as Rolling Stone magazine put it, "the fulcrum of two eras, before and after the internet came to dominate commerce and communication".
Before Paris Hilton's 1 Night in Paris, and long before Kim Kardashian rocketed to fame with the release of her sex tape with her boyfriend at the time Ray J, Anderson and Lee's hardcore home video was the first celebrity sex tape to go viral.
Moreover, many believe, it set a precedent that the rich and famous are, by virtue of their profiting from said fame, less entitled to privacy than us proles. "It provoked an internet and celebrity culture that I believe is just way out of hand," said Lily James. "There is no such thing as privacy now."
Anderson was not the most likely Playboy cover girl. The daughter of a waitress and a furnace repairman, she was raised in a conservative family in a small town on Vancouver Island, Canada.
She, too, was working as a waitress when a cameraman focused on her at a football match and projected her image onto the Jumbotron, to roars of approval from the lascivious crowd. Labatts, the beer company whose T-shirt she was sporting, signed her up as a model, then a photographer boyfriend submitted pictures to Playboy, who featured her on the cover in October 1989.
At 22, she arrived in Hollywood, posed some more for Playboy and amped up her cleavage with implants. At 24, she was cast as CJ Parker in a mediocre, soapy beach drama about lifeguards; five years later – thanks largely to Anderson's enormous appeal – Baywatch was a phenomenon, with more than one billion viewers in 150 countries.
Lee was born in Athens, Greece, to a US army sergeant father and a mother who had been a contestant in the Miss Greece pageant 1957. The family returned to the United States, settling in California, when Lee was two.
A keen drummer since childhood, he dropped out of high school to form bands and join the heavy metal scene centred around LA's Sunset Strip. In the Eighties, the flamboyant Mötley Crüe amassed a serious fanbase, a string of hit albums and a reputation for rock'n'roll excess, making no secret of their fondness for cocaine, heroin and groupies.
Lee did not hold back in relationships either. By the mid-Nineties, he'd been married twice, first to model Elaine Starchuk, then to Dynasty and Melrose Place actress Heather Locklear, a union that ended, after seven years, in accusations of infidelity on Lee's part, allegedly with a porn star.
He was engaged again, to model Bobbie Brown, when, on New Year's Eve 1994, at LA's Sanctuary Club, Anderson sent him over the Goldschläger. Already well refreshed with Cristal champagne and Ecstasy, Lee thanked her in the time-honoured way: by licking her face from jawline to scalp.
Understandably, Anderson gave him her number, with which he then pursued her relentlessly for six weeks, eventually, in a grand romantic/stalking gesture, tracking her down to Cancún, where he wooed her in a heady haze of drugs, booze and orgasms.
Four days later – Lee having proposed at a nightclub string bikini contest – the couple were man and wife, married barefoot on the beach, Lee in board shorts, Anderson in a skimpy white bikini. Following the vows, made in front of eight guests, the groom threw his bride into the Caribbean.
Instead of wedding bands, Anderson had "Tommy" tattooed around her ring finger (as previously mentioned, Lee also had her name prominently tattooed). "I don't like jewellery," said Anderson at the time. "The size of the stone is really about the man's ego over his little thing. I think diamonds have a direct relationship to your man's penis size." Her family learnt of her nuptials by reading about them in the press.
"People were a bit surprised when they got together," says Stuart White, former American editor for The News of the World, who was based in LA in the Nineties. "She looked sexy, but she also had this image of being a good girl, a clean-cut Canadian girl with a bit of naivety about her."
The Baywatch crew, from whom White would sometimes get tip-offs for stories, spoke of her professionalism, her politeness, her sweetness. Pam & Tommy presents the actress as knowing yet vulnerable; highly sexual, but also traditional and desperate to start a family. Lee, on the other hand, was wild and unpredictable, with a reputation for hard living and chaos. "It's the old story, the good girl and the bad boy, the vicar's daughter and the street corner hooligan," says White.
Nevertheless, contemporaneous observers concur that as well as their overwhelming, all-consuming lust – a somewhat impractical lust that often led to them "having sex in the most unusual places because they literally couldn't wait until they got home", according to Lazzeri – they were also deeply in love.
"He worshipped her," she adds. "I don't think he could quite believe she had agreed to marry him. He was very solicitous of her, always worrying if she was OK."
While rollicking and deliciously rompy, Pam & Tommy does also portray the pair as devoted to one another – and devastated when Anderson miscarries, after months of trying to get pregnant.
On their return to LA, Anderson moved into Lee's Malibu mansion, which was undergoing renovations. It would, eventually, be turned into a "fantasy land" with a leather sex swing in the bedroom, a shark tank in the kitchen and "Club Mayhem", a disco in the basement.
Anderson, it appeared, had no problem applying herself to the rock wife lifestyle; that October, she threw Lee a circus-themed party for his 33rd birthday, featuring carnival rides, tigers, sword-swallowers, a Swedish death-metal band and a reported $5000 worth of drugs.
In the course of the renovations, however, Lee had fired an electrician, Rand Gauthier, whom he accused of doing a shoddy job, but to whom he still owed a reported $20,000.
Gauthier (played in the series by a rumpled, resentful Seth Rogan) wasn't the first tradesperson Lee had burnt through – the ever changing, and obscenely costly, "vision" for his hedonistic home included a pillow room, a koi pond, a 20ft mural of heaven and hell in the elevator shaft, and a 30ft swing in the living room, hanging above a white baby grand piano – but he was the first to seek retaliation against what he saw as the unreasonable demands of the rock star.
Gauthier, he has since claimed, spent months planning his Halloween heist, documenting the comings and goings of vehicles to the three-level Spanish-style mansion, and the hours that Lee and Anderson slept, before audaciously, at 3am one night, climbing over their fence – clad in yak fur to disguise himself as a very large dog – disabling the security cameras, stealing the safe which was kept behind a carpeted wall in Lee's recording studio, and, with the help of a borrowed demolition saw, prising it open.
According to a police report, the contents included an AK47 assault rifle, a .45 calibre rifle and a Mossberg shotgun, along with a Rolex, a gold and diamond Cartier watch, gold and emerald cufflinks, a ruby and diamond cross, the white bikini that Anderson wore to their beach wedding, and a selection of family photographs. So far, so gaudily prosaic.
What Gauthier had not been prepared for was the discovery of a Hi8 cassette tape, of the sort used in handheld video cameras, featuring two front-page tabloid favourites enjoying eight minutes of orgiastic delight.
Since this is a Hollywood tale, this electrician – naturally – had previously been married to a porn star, and had appeared in a few adult films himself, so had connections in the business. ("Oh my God, it's so… private," comments a porn studio friend when Gauthier screens the tape for him. "It feels like something we're not supposed to be watching," before adding, with mock horror, "Imagine if it ever got out.")
Unfortunately, Gauthier was to find porn distributors uniquely principled, unwilling to purchase his tape without release forms signed by its subjects.
Undeterred, he turned to the new frontier of commerce and communication: the internet, or as it was known then, the world wide web. The embryonic platform, with 40 million users, 25 million of them in the US – a number unimaginably huge at the time – was many years off becoming a streaming or ecommerce portal, but was a space where advertising was free, and where a disgruntled electrician could build a few rudimentary pages – pamsex.com, pamlee.com, pamsextape.com – and sell sex tapes of a TV star, with an address to send cheques to (the New York branch of a Canadian T-shirt company, which then transferred the money to a bank in Holland). The videos were then mailed out by Gauthier in Los Angeles.
When Lee and Anderson were alerted of the sex tape's existence out in the world, they hadn't even noticed their safe had been stolen. When they did, in January 1996, they filed a police report and hired a private investigator to establish what had occurred.
Meanwhile, the tape's dissemination was snowballing. In March 1996, the couple heard that Penthouse had acquired a copy, and launched a $10 million civil lawsuit against the publication. The judge quashed it, and in June that year, Penthouse featured Anderson on its cover, with lurid written descriptions of the contents of the tape, including quoted exchanges. Without written permission to use the stills, they illustrated the piece with private Polaroids, also stolen from the safe, which had already been published abroad.
Two months later, a judge also denied the couple's request for a permanent injunction against Penthouse, because – in what seems the most anachronistic aspect of the entire brouhaha – since they had discussed their sex life in interviews, and Anderson had posed naked for shoots before, they had, the lawyer for Penthouse argued, forfeited their right to privacy with regards to the tape. He also claimed that, since Anderson had publicly claimed not to take drugs, yet the tape showed her rolling a joint, it was in legal terms newsworthy.
Today, it would be called revenge porn.
By 1997, the internet had gained momentum, as well as some sophistication, and people were setting up the earliest versions of streaming sites, with credit card processing enabled. The first boom area was, inevitably, porn. On November 6 that year Seth Warshavsky, a 25-year-old internet whizz, broadcast the sex tape on his porn site Club Love, on a loop for five hours. Those eight minutes of intimate action earned $77 million in online views in less than 12 months. Variety magazine even published a review of the, er, performance.
With its ignominious position as the first celebrity sex tape to go viral, there has long been the suggestion that Lee and Anderson were not quite the victims they purported to be and were, in fact, quietly complicit in its leaking. Lazzeri dismisses that idea. "Pamela was very prudish in some ways, and that just wouldn't have been her," she insists. "And they didn't need the fame or money – they had plenty of both."
In a 2020 TV interview, Anderson dismissed the notion that their home video even belongs in the Hilton/Kardashian canon. "That was not a sex tape," she said. "That was a compilation of vacations that we were naked on."
After endless injunctions and depositions had failed to prevent seemingly everyone from seeing the tape, the couple came to a settlement with Warshavsky – a poor one for them, it turned out – which signed away their copyright, allowed him to broadcast it online, and would later see him strike a deal with an adult video distribution company to produce VHS, DVD and CD-ROM copies.
By 1998, Pamela's Hardcore Sex Video was on sale in most adult video stores in the US, and by 2000, Pamela Anderson was the "most downloaded star" of all time, according to The Guinness Book of World Records.
However, the commercial success of the "film" was inversely proportional to the benefits it brought for Anderson. "Hollywood can be astonishingly puritanical, and while she was radiantly beautiful, Pamela was not going to get cast in, say, a Disney movie now," observes White. "She had been the girl next door, but now she was associated with explicit videos, she wouldn't get cast for certain roles."
Certainly, Anderson's trajectory became more turbulent following the sex tape. She and Lee had two sons, Brandon and Dylan, but less than a year after the latter's birth, Lee was charged with spousal battery and sentenced to six months in jail. He had allegedly attacked his wife while she was holding their seven-week-old son, kicking her and leaving her with a broken nail and bruises. Anderson filed for divorce – the "Tommy" tattoo on her ring finger modified to read 'Mommy' – retreated to a motorhome in Malibu and healed her broken heart with flings with male model Marcus Schenkenberg and surfer Kelly Slater.
But the love story wasn't over; in 2008 the couple reunited. "We've only given it a try 800 times – 801, here we go," said Lee at the time. Shockingly, the reunion was short-lived.
In the intervening years, Anderson had married twice more, to musician Kid Rock – whom she married in August 2006, and filed for divorce four months later – and film producer Rick Salomon, whom she married in October 2007, separated from in December, and sought an annulment from in February 2008, citing fraud. She married Salomon (who, incidentally, starred opposite Hilton in 1 Night in Paris) for a second time in January 2014, filing for divorce six months later.
In January 2020, she married Hollywood producer Jon Peters, separated from him 12 days later, and later claimed never to have been married to him at all. In December 2020, she married her bodyguard, Dan Hayhurst. According to reports that emerged late last week, Anderson is in the process of filing for divorce.
Her (first) former husband has, in comparison, notched up just two engagements – to Prince's former wife, the dancer Mayte Garcia, and singer Sofia Toufa – before marrying social media star Brittany Furlan in February 2019.
More fascinating, though, is Anderson's reincarnation as an activist and political campaigner. She advocates for animals, the environment and Julian Assange, whom she regularly visits in HMP Belmarsh. She writes impassioned letters to world leaders – and their wives; she sent Melania Trump a vegan coat to persuade her out of leather and fur. She is vehemently opposed to the proliferation of pornography and the prevailing hook-up culture.
She lives on six rural acres of Vancouver Island that used to belong to her grandmother, has spoken at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, and addressed the National Assembly of France about force-feeding geese to make foie gras.
In interviews now, she is quippy and self-aware. "I don't know how I turn boobs into trees and whales and oceans, but I do," she has said. "Whatever attention I've gotten, I've used it to get in the door of a lot of places."
While her name may forever be synonymous with the birth of the celebrity sex tape, Anderson has moved on – or at least presents that way in public – and has not been party to the production of the new series. "I was really hopeful that she would be involved. I wish it had been different," said Lily James, who has independently tried to contact her.
Lee, meanwhile, has responded to the show's imminent release with characteristic humility. "Let everyone know we did it first," he said earlier this month. "Before the Kardashians, before anyone else. Let the motherf***ers know, we broke the internet first."
• Pam & Tommy launches on Disney+ on February 2
Written by: Jane Mulkerrins
© The Times of London