There are new tricks and there are old tricks, but the Cashmere Queen is still plying her trade, writes Lin Sampson.
I recall, more than 20 years ago, Virginia Springett wearing something tiger-skinnish and driving a white Mercedes with red leather seats. In those days she was rich and ritzy and owner of a shop called Tusk in Camps Bay.
Since then Virginia’s life has undergone a sea change: she has been a street prostitute, standing on Somerset Road, day and night, for the past 23 years. Not one to mince her words, she says: “I am a hawker of sex, a prostitute.”
We meet in a small back room in Sea Point. Her tall body, at 63, seems loosely threaded together as if a little snip here and there might unhinge the whole apparatus and there is evidence of both mental and physical upheaval. The larva of time has left a tooth missing and lines around the mouth although her body language retains the secret power she had when she was younger, now with just a touch of vaudevillian exaggeration.
“I usually use Superglue to stick in a couple of teeth but this morning I was in such a state, I forgot. I am so depressed and broke that I don’t even have my paint on ,” she says.
Virginia Springett is cool with a grand voice. On her beat in Sea Point she is known as the Cashmere Queen. She is down to earth, unsentimental and oddly, considering the job she does, unsensual. More Ice Queen.
Finding no language in which to explain her situation, she has resigned herself to what is expected of her: sex talk — and frequently says during our conversation “OK, back to sex.”
She has a cunning way of suddenly drawing down a veil on the conversation when it gets too personal. She says she is sleeping in a dormitory at a backpackers in town that is prostitute friendly. “The girls fight and one said the other day, ‘You are paying for your sins of apartheid.’”
Over the years she has moved hundreds of times because, she says, “Body corporates can’t stand me. There is always the twitching lace curtains and I am reported for bringing men to my flat. I have had to resort to the casual daily rental.”
She tells me that for the past seven years she has had a British boyfriend. “I call him ‘the boy’ although he is 61; a man who she often talks about in the past tense.
“What I like about him,” she explains, “is that he has a higher than average IQ but he’s as poor as a church mouse. I did 13 years alone and I got lonely. He did all he cooking and I did all the f**king and came home at the end of the day with a sack full of cash.” Virginia likes to use dirty words but they always emerge from her elocuted mouth as a shock.
She continues: “This last winter was too much, rain almost every night, standing on the curb in that terrible weather. Hypothermia before you can catch a customer. Well, I suppose I could do a special for necrophiliacs. You can have me for half price because I’m dead,” she laughs.
If you cut open Virginia’s head you would find a balance sheet. Money is on her mind and she is expert at mental arithmetic.
“Over the past 23 years I have had sex with 23 000 men. From 1994 to 2009, I took R1-million. Before that I did seven years in escort agencies but they were a rip off. In my glory days I made a lot of money — averaging R600 a day, times 30, that adds up to R18 000 a month.”
What happened to all the money, Virginia? Virginia says “the boy” owes her R350 000, a sum she reckons thus: it costs R4 000 to keep a man, shoes, roof, food — 4x12x7 years = R350 000. “He recently went to England,” she recalculates, “and brought back R1 000. That brings it down to R349 000.” In Virginia’s life no cent goes unaccounted for.
Virginia’s history as told by Virginia is uneven, like travelling in a jalopy over a gravel road. Frequently an ejection (if you’ll pardon the word) button is pressed: the subject rejected. She admits she does not always tell the truth.
“Long ago I was married to John Springett, who was a writer and producer at SABC radio. He was a handsome man as well as being clever, but he was a man on a civil servant’s salary. I had the idea I was going to be rich. We lived in Tamboerskloof and we had two children, a boy and a girl. When I left the marriage at 34, he didn’t allow me to see them, so I have had little contact.”
Virginia’s Dutch father and English mother are dead and she has lost contact with her three sisters. “I have a son who lives in Llandudno but of course he’s embarrassed to have a mother standing on a pavement, selling sex.”
The next man in Virginia’s life is referred to as “the sugar daddy”. “He was a civil engineer and quantity surveyor and was absolutely demented about me,” she says. “He borrowed money to set me up in Tusk and bought me anything I wanted. He was very plain. I was in my prime. We went to La Perla for supper every night and I drove my golden Benz and my white 190 SL Benz with red leather upholstery.”
Back to sex.
“It’s like a menu. Prawns at the top, hake at the bottom. There’s day sex and night sex. Day sex is your office worker, perfectly normal, not drunk, stressed and there is nothing better than coming. Charges: R100 for the mouth, R150 for pussy. Inside my flat is more; R250 to R350 for pussy.” She laughs: “With my teeth in.”
Then there is the kinky stuff. “He lies in the bath and you straddle the bath and you pee on him. That costs R500. I don’t want to be disgusting but they also like you to defecate on them. R600.
“I try not to laugh but that is the problem. If you have a sense of humour this stuff is very hard. I have so often climbed into a car and the guy has got on pantihose and panties and a bra and I just take absolutely no notice because I know it means big money.”
She says she is tested regularly for Aids but so far is clear and admits that “the nurse is always more frightened than I am”.
Her job is not always about sex.
“A lot of the time these guys just want to tell you how rotten their wives are. How they have to beg and plead for it. I think wives are so wrong. They’ve got the BMW, they’ve got the pool, and when they get divorced the court orders that they continue to be kept in the style they are accustomed to. It makes no sense. But thank god for these wives because they give me a livelihood.”
Virginia reckons she has another two years left on the road. “My job depends on being young and beautiful. You become invisible as you get older.” She screams: “I can’t stand it.”
She lifts her tracksuit top and bottom to reveal a body that is salt white and taut with small breasts and pubic hairs that are expertly tonsured.
“It is a terrible feeling when a car pulls up, takes a look and then drives off. That is happening more and more. In all the years I have stood there I have dreamt of a knight in shining armour, carrying me off. But over 60 your chances are very slim. I might find someone of 83.
“I have had some very well-known clients; a lot of nationalist MPs. I did Hillbrow from ‘89 to ‘93 and there were lots of VIPs.” She threatens that one day she might write a book. “I am a nursing sister and midwife so I could fall back to that but I am so used to making easy money.
I am a hawker of sex on a pavement. But I would never knock this job. I’ve had 23 years of fun and lots of cash and now I’m just waiting for the summer and the soccer. They won’t want to take an old lady but sometimes I am the only one left and they have to take me. I am an optimist. If it’s been a bad day I’ll do it for R50.”
In 23 years she says she has been raped twice. “Once at 1am. Very late to come out but I needed money. The guy toppled me over. We were on a stoep of an empty house. The thing with rape is the man is frightened and that is when they get violent, so I said: ‘Relax and enjoy it, this is my job’ — and it was over very quickly.”
In the end Virginia Springett remains a mystery to me. There is no neat conclusion to her life: she says she is not a drug addict, but where has all the money gone?
Sometimes it is the small clues that give insight: As we left I gave her R50 as a tip for the woman who had allowed us to talk in her room. I watched her walk back to the flat and talk to the woman but it turned out she pocketed the money herself.
First published in the SUNDAY TIMES newspaper on 15 November, 2009.