No doubt tourists would be astonished to know that the sixteen stone figure walking around the garden sans shirt, or even t-shirt, is a long-standing Member of Parliament
IT WAS A hot and beautiful Tuesday in Shropshire this week, a good chance – or so I thought – for the team here to get out their smart navy Upton Cressett sea-dragon motif polo-style t-shirts I have had printed for Pedro, my part-time gardener, and Kathy, my housekeeper, to wear for official Upton Cressett house opening duties.
The exception to the Upton Cressett polo t-shirt rule is my father, Bill Cash MP. Aged 72, he prefers to dispense with any clothing on his upper torso when the sun is out and walks around the garden – even on open days (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday) – wearing only a pair of tennis shorts, sun glasses and a Moroccan style red velvet cap with tassles dangling down.
This garb applies even when we have groups of smart WASPY American 'art tour' visitors; no doubt they would be astonished to know that the sixteen stone figure walking around the garden sans shirt, or even t-shirt, is a long-standing Member of Parliament.
But if semi-naked parliamentarian flesh isn't a bad enough unexpected sight for our house visitors, then my gardener's new choice of working uniform could leave them reeling – especially any Americans. Around 4pm yesterday afternoon, I was stopped in my sartorial tracks when I saw that Pedro was mowing the gatehouse lawn wearing a white t-shirt with the words 'Call 1-800-PRO-VICE' printed on the back.
Yes, that's right. An award-winning heritage venue where the gardener nonchalantly wears a t-shirt screaming out 'Pro Vice'. When I tapped Pedro on the shoulder and he turned around, I saw that the front of the t-shirt had 'Heidi Wear' emblazoned in thick lipstick red print.
There was also what seemed to be child's handwriting on the white t-shirt, written in a black felt pen. I assumed it was some doodling by my sister's children – aged 5 and 11 respectively – who happen to be staying right now for the summer holidays.
THIS CERTAINLY WASN'T a new line of Upton Cressett-approved clothing. At first I couldn't work out what the 'Call 1-800-Pro-Vice' tee-shirt was on about and then it suddenly clicked: the tee-shirt had been given to me personally back in the late 1990s by the famous Hollywood call girl madam, Heidi Fleiss – the Madam Claude of 90's LA, whose famous list of clients in her little black book which were said to include the likes of Charlie Sheen, and most of the Hollywood A list establishment. Her best friend was Victoria Sellars, daughter of the late Peter Sellars. To her credit, Fleiss never disclosed the actual names, saying grassing her VIP clients up 'wasn't her style'.
What Fleiss had in common with the French 1960s brothel queen Madame Claude (her real name was Fernande Grudet and she was brought up by nuns) was that both ended up going to prison not for running brothels but for tax evasion. After working for the French Resistance during the German Occupation of France during World War II, she became famous for her network of beautiful French call girls who serviced French politicians, louche aristos, the Mafia and senior French police officers. She fled to America to escape Paris tax investigators but certainly did not end up being reduced to opening up a sports bikini or sportswear shop.
I was given the t-shirt by Heidi Fleiss not as a former client, I hasten to add, but rather as a 'goodie bag' gift when I went to interview Fleiss after she got out of jail – she was jailed for seven years in 1996 but only served 20 months – and opened up a sports wear boutique in Santa Monica. I visited her shop and wrote the interview for The Telegraph, years ago, when I was working for The Telegraph as their US Special Correspondent.
The black felt tip writing was actually a t-shirt dedication to me in Heidi's own hand. While authors sign the front page of books before handing them out as gifts, Fleiss signed her t-shirts. I dont think her sportswear boutique lasted very long. The Fleiss t-shirt somehow ended up travelling with me in the bottom of a suitcase from LA to Upton Cressett when I moved back to England around 1999.
I assume my mother had given it to Pedro a few days ago after emptying out one of the garages last week. Its unusual provenance must make the t-shirt something of a Hollywood memorabiiia collector's item, although I'm not sure the Christie's representative for Shropshire would be that excited if I called up to say I had a 'paint-soiled but signed original 1999 Heidi Fleiss t-shirt' to consign to the next Autograph Sale at King Street.
SO WHAT HAPPENED to Heidi Fleiss? And where is she now? In her media heyday – in the mid 1990s – she was one of the most famous celebrities in America. Following her failed sportswear line, she then produced an 'instructional' DVD titled 'Sex Tips with Heidi Fleiss and Victoria Sellers' in 2001.
According to the web, following the demise of her clothing boutique, Fleiss moved to Nevada, outside Las Vegas, where she came to live in solitude in Death Valley while caring for 25 parrots. That Heidi's fame has burnt out along with the rest of her life was confirmed when I took a photo of Pedro wearing my signed Fleiss 'collectors tee-shirt' and my young part-time gardener confessed to never having heard of her, or her infamous past.
I notice that the 2012 Hudson's Heritage Awards have a category that covers historic house branding. Perhaps I should send in a photograph of my part-time Upton Cressett team decked out in Heidi Fleiss t-shirts with the words 'Vice 1580' – the date the medieval manor was encased in brick by Richard Cressett – printed on the back.