• Stephanie Ashton

The Time Of My Life

Bill Mendes and Jennifer Warnes, Dirty Dancing, 1987

This blog is about my fun trip to London last week and yes, there was more lugging of heavy suitcases, airport security, flying antics, and trekking across the city. And yet, no amount of dirty airports or cramped tubes could penetrate my hard-inner core of happiness. Why? Because I was about to realise nine months of creative passion and planning for my Vampirette photoshoot.

So where shall I begin my story? Well, standing at the airport check-in as Steffie is a great place to start. So, on arriving at the BA check-in at my chosen point of departure from Denmark, I was warmly welcomed and quite surprisingly offered to upgrade to business. Given that I held neither a business ticket nor BA membership this seemed quite out of the ordinary. And yet the same thing has now happened to Steffie on two separate occasions. I am quite confident that the algorithms used by BA to upgrade loyal customers had no part in choosing to put Steffie in seat 2A but regardless, it was a total delight. I now had lounge access and no need to expose myself to half the plane in economy. A bit of positive discrimination for a pleasant smiley trans person? We will never know.

So naturally, the business flight was very pleasant, and the stewardesses were keen to fill me up with champagne, along with the comment that it was 'so lovely to have a girl like you on-board.' How sweet. I actually suspect the male steward may have wanted to be me given how much he pandered over me, but just a hunch. Anyway, three mini bottles of champagne latter, the last one finished in a plastic cup during landing, the plane touched down and I merrily breezed through border security with the guard giving me a wry smile on seeing my passport. Yeah so what, who would be a boy when you can be a girl!!!!

Can not do selfies on plane...it lacks class. But pictures of champagne...priceless

Now in my planning for this trip the one major risk I could not mitigate was if my cases went missing in one or either airport. I am not a stress head by nature however, I have genuine reason to be worried. As part of a big work team of frequent flyers we have developed a rule of thumb that luggage will go missing on average 1 in every 15 flights. And sods law being what it is; always when you can least afford it. Well I am well overdue lost luggage and, on this trip, I could really NOT afford for it to be lost.

Fortunately, my worry about lost luggage was unfounded. My two cases arrived first on the conveyor and with a visible whoop of joy I quickly scooted off to my hotel. Landing very late at night, I had opted for the Sofitel at Heathrow T5 which is nothing short of splendid and also ludicrously close to the Terminal. As a result, I was quickly washed, in PJs and tucked up in bed.

What occurred next was really quite entertaining as it resulted from a complete loss of focus on one key action in my planning for the trip. On Wednesday morning I woke up early as I had a lot to do in preparation for my shoot the following day. I was also going out that evening with a new friend, Hayley, so my day needed to work like clockwork. So, it was not a great start to wake up startled in bed and my first thought was “Shit! I never booked the hire car that I need to collect everything and get to the photo-shoot tomorrow!”

This was a 100% blond moment.

Now fortunately I have a life-long talent for falling in a big pile of pooh and coming up smelling of roses. And the reason is this: if you keep your head when everything is going wrong then you may just seize the opportunity for an even better outcome. And that is exactly what happened. By chance the Sofitel at Heathrow has a SiXT rental car station resident in the hotel and to my lasting joy, they could put me in a rather nice Peugeot that was available cheaper than the car I had intended to book. Better still, the car was sitting in the hotel basement at T-1, meaning I no longer had to trek to the north side of the airport to collect a rental Car either. Result!

Leaving to pick up hire car...driving flats of course!

So, an hour and a half later I was dolled up, collected the car, hefted the cases into the boot and set off to pick up my Victorian dress, hat and wig for the big shoot the following day. Following some boring satellite navigation issues (why are you trying to take me along forest track instead of the motorway?!) I made it to the Milliners shop in Reading and met my wonderful costume designer, Lyndsey. Although not planned, we decided to do one final fitting with the complete costume and hat, and we were both delighted with the result. I was also delighted that Lyndsey commented that I had lost weight and would look fantastic in the pictures to come. All the best friends lie when it comes to making you feel good about yourself lol

Final Victorian costume fit in shop in Reading

After exchanging some news briefly and sharing the excitement of the shoot to come, I left Lyndsey and proceeded to London to collect my Victorian wig that I had rented from Ray Marston’s, Shoreditch. Now driving to/in London is a trial I swore never to repeat after a horrible experience last March. Assuming it does not take literally hours to drive in, you are then faced with the challenge of finding a car parking space that will not consume your entire bank account. However, Geoff the God of un-maintained highways blessed me with an easy journey. I know, I just made up a name for the God of UK highways, but it feels about right and I am sure he lives somewhere near Maidenhead :D

Steffie on the move

In any event, I arrived at the Shoreditch Courthouse Hotel and quickly checked-in, again with an upgrade. What is going on!? Now it is normal for me when going to London to stay right in the city centre where people in general are fairly used to seeing all sorts of sights. However, for this trip I decided to position myself in a location from which I could easily drive to the photo studio in Walthamstow the following day. And judging by the looks and overt attention I received in the hotel, it was obvious people in this part of town were a little less familiar with seeing a fully dolled up trans princess. And did this phase me? Not one little bit. I smiled politely, entertained some funny questions, dealt with a Concierge who was clearly way too excited by the sight of me, and went about my business as usual.

On entering my room, the first task was to get my things unpacked without creating a massive tranny bomb. I had cunningly packed one case with all things Vampire and was now viewing it with the same in trepidation that Adam looked at Pandoras Box; if opened there was the potential to unleash hell and lose items essential to the shoot the following day. So, normal tgirl things were unpacked from the 'safe' suitcase, I took a quick shower, and had no sooner jumped out than my super friend Emie arrived to do my make-up. Now of course, I had already been done up during the day, but for going out at night I wanted a refresh. I decided it wise to have my friend apply the plaster knowing that I would be tight on time and have so many other things on my mind. As always, the results were wonderful, and I dressed quickly and proceeded to collect Hayley.

Steffie ready to paint the town red

Following an uneventful taxi ride, saying hello to Cindy, a nice natter with Vicky, and another cab ride...myself and Hayley were soon comfortably located in Skylon on the Southbank Centre with Pornstar Martinis in hand. The origin of this meeting lay in a very off-hand comment from Hayley suggesting that she knew she would have ‘made it’ when we were drinking cocktails on the banks of the Thames. Well, being such a simple dream to accomplish I said, let’s do it. So, we realised Hayley’s ambition and had a very pleasant evening out. As always, the night passed too quickly and the lovely views and atmosphere of Skylon were soon left behind. Hayley went home happy at having fulfilled another milestone and I happily pottered around in my PJs getting ready for the big day.

As mentioned in the blog, Just Can’t Get Enough, my vision for big project photo-shoots was to gather together super talented and beautiful people and see what we could do together. It therefore filled me with delight the following day as I stood dressed as a Vampiress at Murdermile studio, surrounded by lovely talented friends, seeing that I had realised my vision. The costumes were all perfect and it was super to have Lyndsey by my side. Cindy's make-up was absolutely brilliant and so perfect for the mood I wanted to create. Vicky was also there for support and super to have a chance to chat with her during make-up. And in Tiffany, I had a brilliant photographer, directing me and keeping me in order. Nine months of planning had paid off and I was now having super fun with just the best of people.

The A-Team :D

During the planning for the event I had debated how to go about it. Two days shooting? Or just one? I decided in the end to invite these wonderful people with a view to making the event super efficient and so would go for one day of shooting, accepting there was no contingency if anything went wrong. Thankfully, this strategy paid off. Arriving at Murdermile Studios at 10:30, I was out of ‘major’ make-up by 12:00, and we then completed the entire shoot in just over 6 hours, including 2 major costume changes and make-up adjustments.

A large part of this success was down to Tiffany and myself getting absolutely aligned on the exact images we wanted to capture, as articulated on the mood-board she prepared. I also laminated copies of the mood board and Cindy used them as well to focus the make-up to the styles I wanted to create. Definitely the biggest lesson I took away from this shoot was the power of the mood board to help everyone achieve the best results possible. It was also highly fortuitous that my great friend Anna de Winter visited the same studio recently and sent me videos of the entire premise so that I knew exactly what to expect. Thank you again for his babes as it really helped my planning :D

I will not go on any more about the details of the full day as I will write more about that process when the final pictures are available. Yes, sadly my dear readers, the pictures are not ready yet and still lie in the trusted hands of my wonderful photographer. However, I did take one selfie as a preview...

One and only selfie taken at the shoot...ohhh...scary stuff

With the photoshoot completed the day was not yet done. It had always been a plan to go to Karaoke in Soho once finished at Murdermile Studios. So, all things Vampirette were piled back into bags and my suitcase, quickly bundled into the car, and off we set. With the intention of meeting friends in town we proceeded back to my hotel where I dropped off the car and then went with Tiffany by cab to the Karaoke box. The traffic on the way to Soho was busy but fortunately we were not too late for me to thoroughly embarrass myself singing Aqua’s Barbie Girl, Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl, and Time of my Life ...original version and only sang the Jennifer Warnes parts I may add!

With my peeps at Karaoke

The night ended with a trip to Balan’s Soho for some food which was much needed. I had been 'economic' with food in the run up to the photo-shoot and had not eaten all day so was ready to eat an entire cow...guilt free. We had a super fun time together and as always; Maya and I covered a lot of ground on all things trans which was wonderful. In truth, I suspect Maya may be the only person on earth able to out talk and out laugh me... but I am sure she will say the same about myself. Super friends.

With no time to change my make-up from the photoshoot I went out in the make-up for the modern vampiress. I may have frightened a few peeps lol

The night came to a close with loving hugs for each of my friends on a street corner in Soho. It was brilliant to see them all so happy and full of life and they all mean the world to me. Refocused on going home, I quickly jumped in a free cab and was whisked back to my hotel whereupon I decided to sort out my 'stuff' that had been thrown in bags very roughly post photo-shoot. This resulted in the full tranny bomb experience which had not been my intent. Faced with complete tranny carnage in my room, I did consider surrendering to its might until the morning. However, with a few sobering cups of tea I found the energy to get everything packed up before collapsing in bed exhausted, but happy.

The final day of my trip had the potential to be a complete low after the joy of the previous day. You see, it was time for my second laser appointment. As it is not advised to wear make-up immediately after the treatment this would also mean the end of Steffie for the trip. To add to the joy, the laser lady decided it was time to crank up the settings and ‘give it to me.’ The result was a rather red-faced and sad boy-me leaving the premises in no doubt that the technician had earned her money.

Red faced boy-me looking like I have contracted a infectious skin condition...no it was just hours after laser treatment

And yet, despite the sun burnt feeling of the laser treatment I felt oddly calm inside, maybe even glowing. The adrenaline from the previous day was still running strong but also, I was getting on with a key step in transitioning which is all I think about these days. In short, there was nothing to be unhappy about; the trip had been wonderful, and I was taking the right steps to make Steffie every bit as much of a reality as the Vampirette.