Warning: The content in the review below is of an adult nature, and may offend sensitive readers.
“It is the memoir of a young girl from a conservative Afrikaans family who had a dream, a dream to make it rich while doing what she loved to do, and she went all out to achieve it.”
I have to admit that this is not a book I would have chosen to read, had I not been asked to review it.
I generally enjoy biographies, but reading about the life and daily activities of a South African stripper, albeit an extremely successful one, would not have been my first choice of reading matter. And yet, despite my reservations, I found the book fascinating.
It is the memoir of a young girl from a conservative Afrikaans family who had a dream, a dream to make it rich while doing what she loved to do, and she went all out to achieve it. In this tough and sometimes tacky industry, she not only survived, but she also thrived. Reading her story challenged my preconceptions about both the people and the money involved in the strip-tease industry
Some readers may enjoy this book from a purely voyeuristic point of view
Gigi does not skimp on the details when describing her performances on stage and at various functions. (The book does have an Adults Only warning). Her stories of memorable encounters and experiences, with some famous names thrown in, are recounted with humour and attention to detail.
For me, however, the interest lay in the story of a young Afrikaans woman who, recognising her power as a sexual being and using her love of dance and performance, fought her way to the top of a tough, male dominated industry and made it big, financially. She had a dream – to own a house on a hill, overlooking the sea, in the Overberg. She made that dream come true.
She had a dream – to own a house on a hill, overlooking the sea, in the Overberg. She made that dream come true.
All she wanted to do was dance
Born Perle van Schalkwyk, the eldest of three daughters, her first love was ballet and all she wanted to do was dance. She admits that her mother was horrified when she told her she wanted to study drama after school. After receiving her degree in drama from Stellenbosch University, she auditioned for the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal (PACT) and was chosen to join the State Theatre in Pretoria, working for a salary of R188 per week.
Now living in Hillbrow in Johannesburg, and struggling to make ends meet, Perle answered an advertisement in The Star newspaper calling for “Showgirls”. She auditioned, dancing in a skimpy costume and a G-string, got the job and in her words “the show-girl in me was born.”
The strip club scene in Johannesburg was at its height during the early ‘90s and there were plenty of opportunities for GiGi – as she became known – to perform. Her boyfriend at the time, later her first husband, picked her stage name, saying that it described her perfectly “small frame, long legs, perky boobs and great nipples”.
Her trademark cowgirl performance always ended with her picking up a branding iron with GiGi smeared on it in red lipstick which she then used to ‘brand’ her stage victim’s bare bottom, one Gi on each cheek!
Gigi soon started making a name for herself
She regularly did six shows or more a night at clubs in and around Hillbrow and, determined to rake in as many glamour titles as she could, she entered every possible competition. In 1998, she won the title of Penthouse Pet for the first time and the same year she won Striptease Queen at the Summit Club.
With these titles under her belt, she was offered all the best shows and had begun earning big money. Around this time she bought a plot of land in the Overberg village of Franskraal and every Monday morning she would stop at Absa and pay R500 towards this plot. In her words “I was dancing my way towards my dream”.
It was this dream that kept her going, despite the long hours and the daily challenges of working in the strip industry. She says she was able to divorce herself from the dark and seedy side of the world she operated in.
“My job meant quick cash, and a lot of it! I managed to survive because all it was to me was a job.”
“My mind was strong and I was driven by money – and, believe me, the money was worth it. My job meant quick cash, and a lot of it! I managed to survive because all it was to me was a job.”
It is revealing, however, that she admits that she would never advise anyone to get involved in the strip industry. “There is an extremely fine line between succeeding and being swallowed up in a dark dirty pit”.
The latter part of the book covers the early days of managing the Lollipop Lounge and later taking full ownership of the club making it the success it became. GiGi describes the initial teething problems of managing the business, the problems with the dancers, security issues, the police raids and the terrifying experience of being held at gunpoint during an armed robbery at the club.
She also recounts her experience as a participant in M-Net’s Celebrity Survivor which was aired in 2010. The prize was R1 million – R500 000 for charity and R500 00 for the winner. GiGi’s strategy during her time on the island was to eat as little as possible, say as little as possible, refrain from irritating anyone and blend in as much as possible. This tactic must have worked for her because she was crowned Ultimate Survivor in the final episode.
GiGi’s story ends on a contemporary note as she recounts the difficulties her business experienced with the arrival of the Coronavirus. The lock-down, the curfew and the banning of alcohol sales had a massive impact on the strip-club industry, with the very real possibility of it never quite regaining its position in the entertainment arena. Nevertheless, with true GiGi optimism, she concludes her story on an upbeat note:
“What I have learned in the course of this extraordinary life of mine can be summarised in one simple sentence: The show must go on. And, for sure, it will!”