Dominatrix who owns an escort agency may be an unusual career choice, but for this Wellingtonian it's the perfect fit.
On Tuesday, in Wellington, Mary Brennan was wearing her new "fave" boots, which are flat and brown and practical, and brainy specs. She has a slight frame (she used to be fat but had a gastric bypass in 2001) and a friendly face and wild curly black hair. She was drinking coconut water. We met at a trendy cafe which was very noisy so I don't know whether anyone was able to eavesdrop on our interview. I would have. Her book, Some Kind of Fantasy, is released on Monday.
If I hadn't known what she does for a living (the picture is the giveaway) I might have guessed that she was a social worker. That's not too far off. She said: "Human rights is my biggest passion. That's why I'm in the sex industry." It can't be every day that you would overhear that in a cafe. Or a woman who looks like a social worker being asked: What's the difference between you and a pimp?
Those practical boots for one thing. She said: "I don't wear chains ... and I don't drive a Cadillac. No, there's an enormous difference. Because when you say the word pimp, you think of pink Cadillacs and taking all the money and beating up the hos. I am a people manager." I thought, then, that she might be offended to be called a pimp but she said: "No. I call myself a pimp. And when people find out I'm a pimp, they go: 'Oh. You're not at all what I expected!'" So it's all right to be a pimp? I asked. She said, cheerfully: "If you're me, it's all right to be a pimp."
At the end she said: "And don't be too mean to me." This made me laugh like anything. A lot of people say this at the end of interviews but as she is a dominatrix, that was very funny.
I said I might give her a good caning and she laughed, if not like anything (it was good of her to laugh at all; I'm sure she's heard it all before). It was a wicked little laugh and she said: "I don't think so." I'd been wanting her to do her dominatrix's voice, the one she uses when she is being Mistress Mariah in her dungeon, and which she said is "a bit more controlling and slightly lower. I never speak very loudly in the dungeon because if somebody can't hear me, they should listen harder".
She said she couldn't put on her mistress voice for me but that when I listened back to the interview I'd likely hear it. I think that "they should listen harder" might have been Mistress Mariah. I'm pretty sure that wicked little laugh was. I said I thought Mariah might be quite frightening and she said: "She can be, if that's required." I wondered if she could be too and she said: "I have no reason to be frightening ... People say to me, 'you know I'd love to be a dominatrix. It must be a good way to take out your anger.' I don't have any anger and if I was angry I wouldn't be taking it out on paying clients."
She is used to people having preconceptions about what a dominatrix who owns an escort agency will be like. Obviously I didn't think that she'd turn up to a cafe wearing PVC. But I asked what people did expect her to be like and she said: "They expect me to be a lot harder, a lot colder. A lot more hard arse and in your face. Because the public's perception of the sex industry is street workers, because that's all they see."
The sub-title of her book is The Amazing Life Story of New Zealand's Top Dominatrix. It is fairly amazing. She is the youngest of five, and the only girl, and grew up in Eastbourne in a working class Catholic family. As a child she was fascinated with the story of Mary Magdalene, who was a prostitute and that was supposed to be a bad thing. "I figured if she had spent that much time with Jesus, she couldn't have been that bad because he was the good dude, right?" Her teachers might not have been too surprised that she didn't end up having a conventional life. At high school she was once required to spend a day wearing a sign which read: Mary Brennan is the biggest nuisance at Sacred Heart.
She did all sorts things after leaving school - a stint with the Post Office, working as a "stop and go" sign girl at the Haast Pass, as a window cleaner, as a childcare worker at a Baptist church. Later she had a fish and chip business and worked in cafes and then got a job answering the phones at a brothel and from there went on to manage brothels. She now has her own high end escort agency: The MM Club and Funhouse. There is a lot more of this sort of autobiographical detail in her book, which sits in what you might call interesting juxtaposition between chapters with titles like: Sissy Boys and Sweet Old Men and Big Babies and the memorable, The Day I Kidnapped A Man. She doesn't stint on details. She puts cuffs on men and clamps and bites and gags and spanks them. "I am," she writes, "a supremely good spanker." There is a handy glossary of services at the end, which, if one is at all prudish, can make you feel quite queasy.
There are some things her agency doesn't provide. I was glad to hear this; most of them are unmentionable but if I say that anything involving vomit or catheters is out, you'll get the idea. Not that she judges such things, she simply doesn't provide services she's not comfortable doing (vomit) or unqualified to do (medical procedures). Full mummification is no longer provided: "Since the swarm of earthquakes in 2013. It would be a very dangerous position to be in if the 'big one' hit." Quite right, too.
Her mother has always told people: "Oh, Mary's in the entertainment business!" She doesn't think her mother knew what being a dominatrix entailed. "I think she thought I was having sex for money." She didn't mind about that. "No. Because she said: 'You're big enough and ugly enough to know what you're doing. It's your life'." Her mother is now 89, and in a home and "she knows I'm Mary but she's not quite sure who Mary is in relation to her." Well, small wonder! "Ha, ha. Well, indeed!"
She is highest paid dominatrix in the country, she says. She charges $450 an hour, plus of course she gets her cut from the services provided by the "girls". A rich pimp then, you might think but she pays herself, and her "life and business partner", Mikel, $48,000 a year each; but they have only been able to start paying themselves that sort of salary in the last eight months or so. They put everything back into the business so no swanky lifestyle or bling or pink Cadillacs which might have been a bit of a disappointment, if one was hoping to meet a pimp of popular fiction.
She works 80 to 90 hours a week and has four days holiday a year. I said: "Are you wearing your Thunderpants?" She said: "I certainly am," and gave me a glimpse. They must be the most unsexy underpants in the world. "They're the most comfortable." But not sexy. "I don't take them off for anyone. I don't take my clothes off for people, so it doesn't matter." Still, what, I wondered, will her clients think when they learn that under her Mistress Mariah get-up, she was wearing Thunderpants? "I think they'd think: 'That Mariah is a cunning wench. She made me think she was wearing hot, sexy lingerie underneath that outfit.'"
She doesn't take her clothes off, she doesn't have sex with clients, she likes spanking them but it's not, for her, sexual. "I love doing corporal punishment. It's like playing a good game of squash." I wondered whether she'd examined why she enjoys punishing people, because it is certainly an interesting thing to enjoy. She said: "Because I'm good at it and because it brings great pleasure to people."
I was trying to figure out how unconventional she is, actually.
Before Mikel, she was married to Brent, who was gay, for 16 and a half years. "He was so gay that I met him through his boyfriend. Ha, ha. I didn't turn him. He was like that when I found him!" She had "the odd shag" during those years, but no real boyfriends. "I was quite happy." This might be unusual. "Yeah, I know. It would be unusual for some people, but it worked for me, and for him." He died of cancer in 2002 and she cried when I asked about him. "I never cry!"
She saw a psychic after Brent died and his spirit sent a message: That "I was the perfect choice to be a dominatrix", years before the idea had occurred to her. She believes in psychics. As a child she had prophetic dreams. She'd dream about somebody and they'd die. I didn't know what to say about all of this except that perhaps it was all that Catholicism as a child. She said she'd probably have been excommunicated for the dreams, but that: "It's certainly good for the role-playing! Especially in the punishment sessions because not only is the Pope watching, but God is watching as well!" About which I could only think: Heavens!
Anyway, she was with Brent for all those years and has been with Mikel for 10. They work together and live together and have a perfectly average, monogamous relationship. She has no sexual quirks of her own. She doesn't spank him because "he's not interested in being spanked. We've tried to play in the dungeon but we're both a little bit dominant so it was: 'No. Don't do that. Do this' and the other [saying]: 'I'm not doing that!' So there's no fun there. We're not life-stylers. It's just not us. Sorry! I don't dress like a dominatrix at home. I meet people who live it all their lives and they live in a situation where they have slaves and pets at their house and they dress in black all the time ... and their slave drives them around. I couldn't do that. I'm not interested."
I said I thought it would be handy to have slaves running about the house. "Pain in the arse," she said. "I'm not interested in having guys skulking about the building looking for attention. Because that's all they want. If they pay for an hour of my time ... they get an incredible hour. When that's over, I'm back to being Mary again."
The most unusual thing about her, when she's being Mary, might be the way she came to become a dominatrix. She says she had no choice in the matter. "It's why I'm here." She said I'd scoff because "it all sounds a bit ooky spooky and spiritual". She believes in previous lives and that we retain abilities from those lives. But does she mean she was an accomplished dominatrix in a previous life? "Ha, ha! I could have been!"
I'm not about to scoff because, for one thing, I don't want to unleash Mistress Mariah again (she is just a bit intimidating) but mainly because after reading in her book about some of the things people pay to have done to them, believing in previous lives seems completely normal.