True Life: I Lived in a Harem
Author of A New Book Shares Her Story
By Natasha Burton
She's a happily married mom and writer now; but when she was just 19, Jillian Lauren traveled to Southeast Asia to be part of a harem for the Sultan of Brunei's youngest brother, Prince Jefri. Her newly-released memoir Some Girls tells the full tale, but Jillian gave us a taste of what life was like as a high-class escort in a foreign land.
Why did you choose to go to Brunei?
Many factors contributed to my decision to go into sex work — my burning desire to be on a stage, my difficult home life. By the time I turned 18, and I got the job offer in Brunei, I was already dancing in strip clubs and working for an escort service. It was always an innate quality of mine to yearn for adventure, to seek out an extraordinary experience. So when a Prince invited me halfway around the world, of course I said yes.
What was harem life really like?
Harem life was alternately boring and thrilling, friendly and treacherous. We went to parties every night until four or five in the morning, and then we would wake late. We ordered whatever kind of food we wanted, and it would be brought to us. We never even had to open the fridge. During the day we either watched movies or sat out by the pool or went to the gym on the property. It sounds like a vacation, and sometimes it felt like one; but to really have a proper vacation, you have to be vacationing from something. This vacation was our whole life, and it was easy to feel lost and purposeless.
You mention in the book all the fabulous clothes and jewelry you received from Prince Jefri — do you still have any of it?
I didn't want to get rid of everything from that time in my life. I sold most of the jewelry, but I kept a few pieces because I really loved them. I also kept some really fantastic pieces of clothing — a canary yellow, sequined Chanel suit, a full-length black Armani ball gown — because I figured I might have a granddaughter one day who thinks it's cool to wear a vintage dress to her prom. I wore '50s-era vintage cocktail dresses with Converse high tops to high school, so maybe she'll wear my ball gown with sneakers to the grocery store.
What did you learn about relationships and love from your experience?
I learned that bad boys aren't all they're cracked up to be. Nice guys are where it's at. Thank God I learned that in time to know to value my incredibly sweet husband. I tell all of my girlfriends to get over dating jerks — even handsome, charismatic, rich ones!
What did you learn about yourself?
The real lessons were learned as I looked back and reflected. I was able to discover a different level of compassion for both myself and for the other people who shared my story. I look at pictures of myself from that time and wonder: What was so wrong with me? Why did I hate myself so much? I was beautiful. I was hopeful. I was brave. I was adorable. I can see it now clear as day, but I couldn't see it then. The story is about struggling to love yourself and learning to forgive yourself.
Do you even think about going back — either to the country or to that lifestyle?
No, of course not. I'm a wife and a mother now; and I have a career where I'm valued for my mind, and that is ultimately so much more rewarding than being valued for my body, even if I don't get to wear the exciting shoes I once did. I think what I miss about the experience is how fearless I was. But I was extremely lucky that my recklessness didn't get me into deeper trouble. I don't have the luxury of being unaware of consequences anymore.
How do you feel about your experience when you look back on it now?
Eighteen years passed before I was able to tell this story. It took that long to be ready. For me, the trick to writing about such a wild and often dark time in my life was to have a stable foundation. I have a pretty boring life now, and I mean that in the best way: I write, I take care of my family, I go to yoga. I'm lucky that I was able to emerge from the period of time I describe in the book with my health and my sanity.
What do you think Prince Jefri would think of the book?
Maybe I'm being crazy, but I think he'd like it. He was a bright guy and I don't think he'd argue with being portrayed as a womanizing narcissist. I think he'd agree! Plus, don't most narcissists love when people talk about them?
BUY NOW: Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, $15
Jillian Lauren's book is available at Amazon.comCourtesy of Plume
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