Title: Beauty

Author: Laurence Fearnley

In: Sport 23: Spring 1999

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, November 1999

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Prose Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 23: Spring 1999

Laurence Fearnley — Beauty

page 102

Laurence Fearnley


Should I give the microphone a tap? No, I know, I was just joking. I'll say something. Let's see … what shall I say? Oh, my name. You want me to say my name? Okay. Are you ready? My name is Beauty Cheryl Stokes. How's that? Play it back if you like. I don't mind. Is that water for me? Good. One more time? Okay. My name is Beauty Cheryl Stoked. No, I was just playing around. It's Stokes. Okay, I won't play around any more, I promise. Yes, it is my real name. You're ready to begin? Right, let's go.

My name is Beauty Cheryl Stokes. I live with my partner … Cyrus … and two boys, Craig and Jason, at 32B Patricia Bartlett Place. Just kidding guys, keep your hair on. So, 32B Ocean Heights. That better? You're welcome.

My early years? Well, I was born thirty-something years ago … exact? I was born forty-one years ago. My parents have both passed on now but I have a younger brother, Fergie. That's Fergie after the rugby player, not the princess. I tease him about his name all the time because, you know, he looks like Sarah. I've met her by the way. She's not as fat in real life. That's the thing about film, it puts fifteen pounds on your hips and ten pounds on your tits. I've learnt that over the years but then I've been in the business a long time now. There's not many of us originals around. Unless you count Peter Sinclair or Judy Bailey … not that they're in movies of course. Fergie's only twenty-six. My dad used to call him the baby of the family whereas I was always the beauty. Yes, I suppose it is a big gap. My father was the brains of the family and my mother … well, she was the one who tidied up after us and kept us in order. I guess she was the cleaner of the family. That doesn't sound very exotic does it? Oh well. Mind if I smoke? Good. Want one? Well don't mind me, I won't tell. I'll leave the packet here in case you change your minds.

page 103

My uncle—he's still alive—used to have me on about my name. Whenever he visited he'd call out, ‘Cheryl ya beauty! Come here!’ and I'd run down the stairs and he'd pick me up in his big arms—he was a storeman like my dad—and I'd pull up his shirt sleeve so I could look at his tattoo—it said ‘Di’—and I'd say to him, ‘It's Beauty Cheryl not Cheryl Beauty’ and everyone would laugh and my dad would say, ‘That's right, you tell him.’ Them him and my dad would get out the cards and mum would fetch out the Half-Gee and they'd set up the table and my dad would say, ‘Where's my lucky girl?’ and I'd sit on his knee, proud as proud, like I was the most important girl in the world. I guess that's why I got into entertainment.

It wasn't until 1987 when I became ‘Miss Cuddly Personality’ that things really took off. No, that was later. ‘Miss Cuddly Queen’ wasn't until 1989. By the way, it might interest your listeners to know … just joking … that one of the many things I did as title-holder was to pressure the organisation into changing the name of the competition. I thought it was important, as an ambassador, to fast forward the image of ‘Bootiful Bodies’. Yes, that's the new name, though to tell the truth the competition no longer receives the same sort of attention as it did in the old days. The issues are still the same. A lot of the younger girls out there have very low self-esteem and it's been part of my mission to assert our beauty … Beauty with Booty … that's my mantra. Sometimes, even now, I'll be walking down the street and someone will pass a really nasty comment and that type of thing hurts. But, at the end of the day I have my family and I guess that's what helps me get through all this shit … Oops. You'd better delete that.

Beg your pardon? How did I get started in glamour photography? I'm just coming to that. So, I won ‘Miss Cuddly Queen’ in 1989 and that was the year I met my husband, my first husband, Russell. That's Russell Hugh Stokes—and Keith. Keith Michael Page. I met Keith first and then Russell. And then Mike. Michael something Woods—I don't know his middle name. Does it matter? No, right. He was like the second camera operator. Plus he did all the other little jobs: maintenance, still photography, publicity, childminding … oh yes, I took little Craig and Jason along sometimes. They were no trouble.

So, anyway, it was Keith who approached me first. I met him at page 104 the prize dinner for the MC …Miss Cuddly … event. It was the year I won Miss Personality … 1987, that's right. So you've been listening? Just joking guys. Relax.

I was talking with some of the girls, drinking champagne, just funning around, when this guy comes up and just sort of stands there. He doesn't talk or anything, just stands there, laughing at our jokes and everything, kind of eavesdropping. It begins to irritate me and I say to him, ‘Instead of standing there, why don't you make yourself useful? Mine's champagne …’ Something like that … I'd had a bit much to drink by then. So, he comes back with the drinks, and we have a bit of a laugh, and then he asks me if I'd ever thought about going into modelling. And I just laughed. I mean, I was 86kg. If he'd asked me if I'd ever thought about dieting it would have made more sense. Know what I mean? Anyway, I thought he was just being a smart arse. Oops. There I go again. Delete! Dirty mouth, pure heart— that's me! Um, Keith … that's right … oh yeah … he told me that a lot of men are attracted to curvy women—the glamour Goddess type—Marilyn Monroe and all that. Those big Italian types … So I laughed. And he said, ‘No, really, a lot of men are very attracted to a woman in a woman's body.’ He emphasised the ‘very’—like ‘veery’. Well, that made us all laugh because what other body could a woman be in? This was before Kate Moss, you understand.

So, Keith laughed too, and then said he could get me into movies and the glamour industry if I wanted. Well, that was hilarious. But he wouldn't let it drop and he said he would like to show me what he meant. He had a photo studio and he was a company director. Very posh. Anyway, he gave me his card and told me to call. He was very polite and very professional.

After he left, a couple of us girls started talking about him—just having a laugh really—when my friend Miriam said to me, ‘What about it Beauty? Shall we go and check him out?’ And I said, ‘No.’ I wasn't interested. But she said she was going any way and that I should go along to keep her company, to make sure he wasn't up to anything funny. Well, I thought that would be okay, so that's what happened. Pardon? No, like I said, he was very polite—charming almost. Do you want me to carry on? Okay … A couple of days later Miriam page 105 phoned to say that she had arranged an appointment with this Keith and that we were expected at his studio the following Wednesday evening. I didn't want to go at all. But Miriam said that if there was any funny business we'd be out of there faster than a cake of chocolate from the fridge. So, we went, and when we arrived there were two guys: Keith and this new guy, a photographer—Russell. Yes, that was the first time I met Russell. No, I knew nothing about that. No, I didn't find out about Keith's prison sentence till later. As far as I know it only happened the once and all those company directors cook the books don't they? It's not like Keith was the only one …

Where was I? Russell? Yeah, that's right. A really cute looking guy in those days—I was attracted to him right away. He had done a bit of modelling. In fact, he used to be the walk short man. You remember those ads? ‘Walk tall in walk shorts.’ No? Well that was Russell.

I was pretty broke in those days so when Keith told me about the money that could be made in the glamour industry I kind of became a bit more interested. Up until then, I had thought of the whole thing as a bit of a joke—you know, it was Miriam's idea really. I was single then and I had Craig—and he was coming up for three, and I had a part-time job which only just covered the bills. Yep, I used to leave Craig with mum. That was when I was working at Unilever … Unilathers … I used to say to mum, ‘Mum, we maybe poor but we'll never be dirt poor.’ That was our joke when things looked though. Or, I'd say, ‘Fact is mum we're broke … clean broke.’ She worried though. I could tell. She wanted Craig and me to move back home but I wanted to keep my independence … I loved my family though. Still miss them … Oh well.

So, when this modelling job came up I thought, ‘Yeah, why not? Give it a go and if it doesn't work then I've lost nothing.’ And the best thing was I could take Craig along with me. I didn't have to leave him with mum. Mike or Keith would take him off into the back room and they'd play for hours. God knows what they were doing back there. Every time I took Craig along, he'd reappear with a new toy of some kind, a gun or a fishing rod, or a Batman suit. They really made a fuss over him.

To begin with Keith just started me on still photography. Head page 106 and shoulders type stuff. It was a trick I suppose, to make me feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Yeah, portraits, then a bit more shoulder, then beautiful lingerie shots and then … well, you know, tasteful images of the body. Yeah, like that photo. You don't see much. That's the thing about glamour work—you have to leave something for the imagination. Hang on a mo, let's see … Christ, look at my hair! That was Keith's idea. He was really into ‘rock chicks’: Suzi Quattro, Heart, Renee Geyer, Sharon O'Thingy …

The video work followed. By then I felt really good about my body—‘The Product’ as we called it. Yeah, I guess that happened about six months after first meeting Keith. And then, not long after that I had what you might call a ‘work-related accident’ … no, delete that. That's when I found out that I was pregnant with Jason. I was with Russell then. It had begun as a purely working relationship but that soon carried over into our personal lives, and well, voilà! Jason's lovely. He's my little darling. Aren't you darling? He's so sweet, aren't you love? How old are you Jason? You tell the man. No, he's not talking, are you love? He's shy … He's four and a half. He's tired. He usually has his nap about now but you'll never hear a peep out of him. I don't have to worry about Jason. Good as gold aren't you darling?

Russell and I were doing pretty intimate work but, to tell the truth, it never seemed like work. Like I said, we were seeing each other outside of work. It was more like our work reflected our private life. A bit like Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in that Eyes Shut thing. We were more or less being paid for something we both liked doing. It was just that we were doing it a couple of times a day. What? Yeah, four or five times a day … on a slow day!

Keith was great. Totally creative. He thought up all the story lines at first, though I have to take credit for Milk Maid. That was mine. Work was never boring: always new costumes, new story lines, lines to learn, acting skills to develop … There were a lot of great stories. I guess Head Mistress was the first big one. Have you seen it? It's at the local video shop. They have a whole section devoted to me now. It was really sweet. They had a naming ceremony and everything and I was invited to open the section: Beauty's Blockbusters. I cut a ribbon and all that. It was really sweet of them. I wouldn't do that sort of page 107 thing in America but, you know, this was my local video store, where I grew up and everything. I've never forgotten my roots. Oops! ‘Roots’ … better delete that!

Head Mistress was really funny. That's the one where I'm the headmistress and I call the new teacher—that's Russell—into my office to help him settle in. Then there was Storm Rage. That was the next hit. I'll just talk about the major hits, shall I? Storm Rage—that's the one where I'm at home and there's a storm and the power goes out, and I get scared and call the electricity company and they send out a man—that's Russell—and he re-connects me. You wouldn't get that kind of service in real life. No, hang on, that was After Hours Service. That's right, Storm Rage was the one where me and my girlfriend are driving home one night—in a storm and the car breaks down. A man stops to help—that's Russell—but he can't help because the fan belt has snapped or something. I can't remember what it was now but it was something mechanical anyway—broken pistons perhaps. The man suggests he gives us a lift. He's got this big stretch limo and a chauffeur—that's Keith's brother Carl—so in we hop. He's obviously a very rich guy and he offers us champagne to help calm us down after our ordeal, and then he turns the heater on and the stereo—some cruisy music … and suddenly we feel safe and warm but our clothes are all wet. So, the gentleman suggests we slip out of them, and he helps … and the chauffeur helps my girlfriend—that's Miriam in the only film she did—and then the windows begin to steam up … and so on.

I took a break from work when I was six months pregnant with Jason. But after he was born I got straight back into it and that was when we made our first international hit: Milk Maid. That's my favourite film of all time. It was a really beautiful experience. I was still feeding Jason—he was about six months old then—when I had the idea to do a kind of Grapes of Wrath type film. That had been my favourite book at school and Hemingway, of course, is such a great writer. What? Steinbeck? Oh yeah. What did I say? Hemingway? Well, I meant Steinbeck. Have you read the book? No? Well you should.

Where was I? So, I'm a milk maid in olden times and one day I find a young man asleep in the barn. He's sick and starving—Russell page 108 was a lot thinner back then. I feel so sorry for him that I want to give him some food. But it's market day and so there's no food in the house because it's all been taken to town. All I can give him is milk but just as I'm handing him a glass he whispers that he can't take it because he's allergic to cow's milk. So, it looks like he's going to die. It's very sad, that scene, very … you know … poignant. Then I realise I can save him! I unbutton my blouse … it's one of those peasant tops, white with embroidery flowers like the Scandinavians wear … and I give him my milk—which is real by the way, it's not a stunt. I save his life. And then he thanks me, right there in the barn, and then again later, in the stables—we hired a horse from a horse trekking company … and then in the kitchen. That's the scene with the fresh cream. When you think about it, it doesn't make too much sense—you know, that he could lick up all that cream when he's meant to be allergic to milk. But, what the hell, he's very grateful if you know what I mean. And it's really beautiful. That's the film that won international prizes in Denmark, Poland and Switzerland. The Germans and Mexicans went crazy for that film. It was huge. Mega.

After Milk Maid I became a star and things went a bit sour between me and the boys. I mean, I was ‘A Big Star’. Not here, but over in the States. For the first time in my life people began to take me seriously as an actress. I got offered a lot of work then—from companies all over the world. Yes, that's more or less what happened. My career took off and Keith and Russell, well, they got left behind. Also, Keith wanted more of the action—money wise—and took me to court. But Milk Maid was my film so … It all came down to money in the end. Keith and Russell were both small-town. Me, I wanted more. I moved to America, left the boys with my mum until I got settled in … until I got signed to 52 Triple E and … what? Did Russell have access to the kids whilst I was away? Sure, he was Jason's father. He was like a father to Craig too. I didn't want to … you know, prevent the kids from seeing him. Later, when things got really bad, I stopped the visits—but we were in America anyway so it wasn't really an issue. To begin with, though, when I first went to the States, the kids spent a lot of time hanging out with Russ … and Keith. He was like an uncle to them. What did they do? Oh, I don't know. Typical guy stuff I page 109 suppose … rugby games, movies, fishing … that kind of stuff. Yep, I was away about three or four months and then my mum brought them over to live with me in America.

I would have stayed in America but Craig was having trouble at school, finding it difficult to settle down, so I thought we'd move back home. No, I haven't been in touch with Russell. We don't talk any more—only through lawyers. Besides, I've got Cyrus now. He followed me back and, well, he's a great guy: partner, manager and father to the kids … a great package. It was Cyrus who designed this home. Yes, it is beautiful. I've cut back on the acting. I'm still involved with the business but the acting roles don't interest me so much these days. You know, once you reach my age, the roles aren't there. Yeah, it is tough but they, that's life. And I've got my three beautiful boys. No, Cyrus is in the States at the moment. He's filming Black Beauty. It's a story about a black activist back in the sixties, no fifties, no … sixties, well, whatever. It's a powerful story. Cyrus plays the activist and he helps a young black woman find the courage necessary to get a good education in a small white community. It's a film about love and strength and racism. Oh yes, there's a lot of loving in it but I don't like to dwell on that … It's important to separate the private from the professional. I'm proud of his work though. It's not easy for a person of colour to make it in this industry. Believe me, there are still a lot of prejudices … stereotypes about black men and you know … size.

Do my kids know what I do for a living? Well, they know I'm a movie star and that I make adult movies. No, I haven't shown any of my movies to them. I don't think it's appropriate. Maybe when they're older—I'd like them to see Milk Maid one day … maybe I'll give a copy to Craig when he turns sixteen. I'm very proud of that picture and I couldn't have made it without Jason here, could I Jason? Poor love, he's still so shy.

What do I think about using kids in movies? What? Of course not! No, like I just said, neither of my kids have ever seen any of my films. Keith? Yeah, he liked kids. Loved Craig when he was little. Just adored him. He'd pick Craig up and say, ‘How's my little film star today?’ And Craig would squirm with pride. It was so sweet. He loved Jason too. I remember once, during the filming of Milk Maid, there page 110 was this horrible smell and it was Jason—he'd filled his nap. Well, Russ and I were in the middle of a pretty full-on scene so Keith, bless him, took Jason, changed him and brought him back, good as new. Clean as a pin. Now, Russell never did that. Didn't even know where to put a nappy. How long did it take him to change the nappy? I don't know … How long does it normally take? A couple of minutes, I suppose … Bit longer maybe? Did I ever see Keith with any other kids? Yeah, sometimes. His brother had two children—both girls—and I saw them a couple of times. Yeah, that's right, I remember now, he brought Courtney along to work once or twice. She used to have this sweet little nurse's uniform that Keith bought for her and she'd play out back with Craig. They were both four or five, still at that age when boys and girls play together nicely. I used to tease them a little. I'd call Courtney ‘Craig's little darling’. They were pretty cute together. Real cute.

Look, you guys, I'm pretty thirsty and you must be too. Can I get you a drink? I've been talking all this time and I'm still not even sure why you're here. I can guess though. It's Keith, right? Yeah, I thought so. He's been fooling around with money again hasn't he? The thing is, you see, I can't really help you. I haven't seen Keith for a couple of years and well, we're just not close any more. He's got his life and I've got mine … and Russell's got his, too, I suppose … and … well, you know how it is in movies.