She was a working-class girl from Lower Hutt who became a London aristocrat. Now Anouska Hempel's soft-porn past is threatening to knock her off her pedestal.

Hempel, born Anne Geissler, is now Lady Weinberg, or Nou-Nou to her A-list friends.

At 63, she is a grand dame of exquisite taste, chic hotels and couture, with a penchant for name-dropping royalty and a cut-glass English accent.

So it is not a good look that a soft porn movie in which she romped naked in 1973 - and tried to keep under wraps - was released on DVD in Britain this week.

The embarrassment is not so much over the soft-porn nature of the R18 Blacksnake!, directed by kitsch king Russ Meyer, but its racially and sexually exploitive overtones.

Hempel plays a dominatrix who whips black slaves for fun on her cotton plantation. She curses female slaves as "nigger sluts" and is raped by a slave.

"All this might be little more than a faintly embarrassing youthful indiscretion had Lady Weinberg not had such a reputation for airs and graces and playing the grand dame," the Mail on Sunday wrote.

Tatler magazine writer Rory Ross, who once had an "exquisitely uncomfortable" lunch with her, said: "Lady Weinberg is such a perfectionist that she expects guests to sit on the sofas without crushing the cushions."

Hempel is reticent about her less-than-refined roots, but she once told a reporter she was born on a boat between Papua New Guinea and New Zealand to a Russian mother and Swiss German father who had emigrated to Wellington.

They moved to Sydney when she was a child, and in the early 1960s she left for London, reportedly with just £10 in her purse.

There she married property developer Constantine Hempel, was reborn as Anouska and launched a modelling and acting career.

In 1969 she played a minor Bond girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, then her career went downhill.

All the way down to Blacksnake!, also titled The Duchess of Doom, Slaves, Sweet Suzy and Black Snake: The Whip. It came with the tagline: "No man escapes her island - or her whip!"

The film was a commercial failure and screened only a couple of times in Britain.

Hempel found her niche elsewhere, in marrying wealthy men - most recently insurance tycoon Sir Mark Weinberg - creating hip London hotels Blakes and the Hempel, dressing royals, throwing parties for the likes of Elton John and designing interiors for companies including Louis Vuitton.

The Sunday Times once called her Britain's arbiter of good taste.

But that movie was still lurking, despite her best efforts.

She reportedly once paid a production company not to release it in Britain, protested to the censor about it, and bought all the tickets to a one-off screening.

But she wasn't able to come to a deal with distributor Arrow Films, which bought the rights to Blacksnake! from the Russ Meyer estate and this week released it in Britain.

It might be of little comfort to Hempel, but at least the breasts in the video aren't hers.

Meyer, who died last year, once told the News of the World: "Hempel? Tiny tits and a big mouth. We had a stand-in for the tits and wouldn't let her speak."

Nou-Nou's life

* Who: Anouska Hempel (now Lady Weinberg).
* Age: 63.
* Occupation: Former model and actor. Involved in hotels, interior design. Socialite.
* Born: Anne Geissler.
* Raised: Lower Hutt and Sydney.
* Married: to Sir Mark Weinberg, insurance tycoon.