Australia: Fairfax Media tainted by sanitisation of Porn King Michael Day & his Penthouse Pet wife
Melbourne ~ October 24, 2011
October 24, 2011
Naked ambition: the business of pleasure Beautiful figures ... Malcolm Day and Bree Maddox have each made millions from businesses ranging from phone sex to online erotica. (Frances Andrijich)
They're a feted society couple, who just happen to be purveyors of porn. So how do Malcolm Day and his wife, Bree Maddox, mix respectability with raunch? Jane Cadzow meets the adult-industry entrepreneurs in their home town of Perth.
Malcolm Day wishes people would stop calling him a porn king. Granted, he has made a fortune selling videos with titles like Deep Lust and Great Big Tits. Yes, he is a mass-marketer of inflatable dolls, fake-fur handcuffs and glow-in-the-dark personal lubricant. But "porn king"? What kind of job description is that? "I believe the most appropriate terminology is 'adult-product retailer',–" he says.
At 46, Day is a fit, sharply dressed man with centre-parted dark hair swept back from his face. In photographs, he can look slick and devil-may-care - like a porn king, in fact - but when I meet him, he has the conscientious air of a hard-working businessman. "I try to distance myself from any likeness to Hugh Hefner or anyone like that," he explains in his vast, Hefneresque apartment overlooking Perth. "That's not me, and it's not the way I'd like to be perceived."
Day is the founder of Adultshop.com, the online store that once plastered the sides of buses with the advertising slogan, "Moan, moan, moan. That's all we ever hear from our customers." In his home town, he is such a well-known figure that his marriage last year to long-time girlfriend Bree Maddox, a former nude model, made newspaper headlines ("Penthouse Pet weds Perth porn king"). West Australians admire entrepreneurs, whether they are in mining or erotica, and no one gets more invitations to red-carpet social events than Day and Maddox. "They're A-list in Perth, 100 per cent," says Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, who is a friend of the couple. "They are very business-savvy and they're astute investors and operators ... They're just very cool people."
Two for the money ... Malcolm Day and Bree Maddox in their plush Perth penthouse apartment with poodles Elmo and Cookie Monster. (Frances Andrijich)
Recently, Day has been in the news in the eastern states, too. His company Delecta Ltd, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, planned to build the country's biggest brothel - a 40-suite extravaganza, with multilevel underground parking, in the inner-Sydney suburb of Camperdown. Late last month, the development application was rejected on the ground that the proposed establishment was too large ("the Westfield of brothels", a City of Sydney councillor called it) and would create unwanted congestion in an already busy area.
Day is philosophical about the knockback, although he suspects a golden opportunity was missed. Stiletto, the existing bordello on the site, has 19 rooms, he says, "and on Friday and Saturday nights, they sometimes turn away 100 clients". The charge per room is $370 an hour. "You don't have to be a mathematician to work out the profitability on that. The girls get 50 per cent. And if you double it to 40 rooms–..."
He would have had no ethical dilemma about growing rich, or at least richer, on the proceeds of prostitution. "If the girls are doing it of their own free will, then I've got no problem with it at all," he says. His partner is similarly matter-of-fact. "It's a business like any other," says Maddox, 31, who is pretty and perky, with long blonde hair and a first-class commerce degree from Curtin University.
Respectability and raunch ... Malcolm Day and Bree Maddox. (Getty Images)
In any case, the couple have plenty of other irons in the fire. Besides the online retail enterprise, they have a chain of 15 sex stores - 14 of them in Western Australia and one in Tasmania. Day is also managing director and part-owner of Calvista, the nation's largest wholesaler of sex toys and X-rated DVDs. While he runs the porn kingdom, Maddox presides over The Court, a gay and lesbian pub she and Day bought six years ago.
"They're both very focused and very driven," says Fiona Patten, executive officer of the sex industry's peak body, the Eros Association. "They're a fantastic match."
Perth's lord mayor salutes their energy and ambition. "They're working-class people who have made their own wealth," says Scaffidi, for whom their charm lies in their lack of pretension; they may be the most glamorous pair on the social pages, but "Bree, in particular, is absolutely salt of the earth. And lovely. As is Mal. They are absolutely genuine, kind-hearted, normal people."
Perth A-lister ... Bree Maddox. (Getty Images)
"Sex, sex, sex. is that all you ever think about?" says the sign behind the receptionist's desk at Adultshop's Perth headquarters. Day, for one, has plenty of other things on his mind. "My day is like most businessmen's," he tells me. "It's spent with emails, spreadsheets, contracts, legal agreements, workplace agreements, etcetera."
Still, this is the only office I have visited that has bondage-and-discipline scenes on the walls. Nowhere else have I seen a dildo lying amid papers and coffee cups while staff tap industriously at computer keyboards. Here, and in his shops, Day employs 70 people, most of them women. He says he used to tell job candidates, "–'Look, on Fridays, we have a nude half-day.' Most would start laughing, but some would actually say, 'I'm going to have to check with my partner to see how they feel about that.'–"
In his own office, he has eschewed the usual framed snapshots of loved ones in favour of an enormous picture of Maddox posing naked with another former Penthouse Pet. "Bree gave it to me for my birthday," he says. On his desk is a sleek black case containing one of his most popular products, a silver-and-red silicone vibrator from the Swedish-designed Lelo range. It has six settings for speed and motion and sells for $200.
Bree Maddox and Malcolm Day ... power couple. (Getty Images)
Gosh, I say, that's quite a lot of money.
He looks me in the eye and replies, "What price can you put on pleasure?"
The porn industry is worth about $500 million a year in Australia, according to Eros's Fiona Patten. Traditionally, men have been the big spenders, but the female segment of the market is where the growth is. "In 1992, women accounted for less than 10 per cent of the adult retail industry's customers," Patten says. "In 2011, they account for close to 40 per cent."
Sex industry entrepreneurs .. Bree Maddox and Malcolm Day.
Day claims that, these days, half of Adultshop's revenue comes from vibrator sales. Maddox, affectionately described by her husband as "chief product tester", believes the increase in demand is due partly to improvements in the devices, which not only work better but look more appealing: neater and prettier, with elegant packaging. They've become "things that you're happy to have in your bedroom drawer", she says. "These products now are mostly designed by women for women." Once in a while, she is reminded just how far things have come. "I'll pull out old boxes of toys and go, 'Oh my God, I can't believe that was my favourite toy 10 years ago.' Now it's like, 'Eeeuw!'–"
Adult stores have changed in appearance, too. They are lighter and brighter than they used to be. "We want to be closer to Victoria's Secret and further away from a seedy sex shop in Kings Cross," says Day. To Maddox, this is more than just a marketing strategy. "What we're doing is, we're taking the taboo out of sex," she says. "The idea is for you to come in and realise that this is very normal. Your sexuality isn't something you're meant to hide in a dark, dingy corner. Your sexuality is something that should be explored and celebrated. It is actually fun. And it's healthy."
Loitering in an Adultshop store one afternoon, I watch a conservatively dressed, 40-ish woman browsing through the racks of lingerie and costumes. I wonder what is going through her mind: "Mmm ... The black fishnet body stocking [$24.95]? Or the Naughty Nurse outfit [$49.95]?"
In my opinion, it would be hard to go past the Smokin' Hot Firefighter costume ($105, including helmet). But each to their own.
Of course, online retailing means those who prefer not to shop in public can sit at home and, at the click of a mouse, have Superhero Prolonging Performance Spray ($34.95) or a Sexy Slave Kit ($49.95) delivered in plain packaging to their door. In the interests of research, I spend a lot of time on the Adultshop website, much of it trawling the wild outer reaches of the catalogue. I read about the Fetish Fantasy Sex Swing ("Difficult sex positions are no longer exclusive to the athletic and sexually gifted–...") and the Sex in the Shower Single-locking Suction Foot Rest ("Nothing kills the mood like a trip to the emergency room! Prevent those embarrassing sex- related shower accidents").
I've led quite a sheltered life. I realise that now.
Day didn't plan to become a porn king - he began his career as a surveyor. Which brings to mind the Mae West line: "I used to be Snow White, but I drifted." How did a man who started out with laser levels and theodolites end up a prosperous purveyor of penis pumps and G-spot stimulators? Serendipity, he calls it. "Sometimes there is a correlation between intelligence and wealth. Sometimes there's just luck. I mean, Bree and I do have a few brains. But we've also been very lucky, being in the right place at the right time."
After university, Day spent three years surveying roads and mines in remote regions of Western Australia. Back in the city, he switched to high-rise construction sites, eventually becoming a civil engineer with a big enough income to buy a share in an introduction agency. "It was like RSVP," he says, "but not online." On a trip to the US in 1994, he saw the potential of premium-rate phone services. Before he knew it, he had divided a Perth office into 40 small rooms, each with a couch and coffee table, and started a phone-sex business.
He says the 200 part-time workers on his books ranged from "big, fat housewives, which is what everyone expects" to uni students with scant sexual experience but a gift for talking dirty: "The girls put their feet up and they had on little headphones so they could just sit there and chat." The lines were open around the clock and Day was chronically short of sleep. "But, jeez, you heard a lot of good stories," he says cheerfully.
What's more, he made a lot of money. "The average call was 4.2 minutes at five bucks a minute, so about 20 bucks. At its peak, it was bringing in $1.5 million a month."
From 1999, callers to sex lines were legally required to register for personal identification numbers. "That killed the business," says Day, who smoothly adjusted to the changed circumstances. Having already invested in a chain of sex shops, he started Adultshop.com and floated the company, listing it on both the Australian and German stock exchanges. The value of his stake hit about $100 million in 2000, but plunged after the dotcom bubble burst. "The adult industry is not as lucrative as everyone thinks," he says.
Maddox, who has been listening, glances around their penthouse. "I don't think we can complain about how our life is," she says.
The apartment occupies the top two levels of a residential block built by Day, whose sidelines include property development. It has sweeping views across Kings Park to the city and looks exactly the way penthouses do in movies - lots of mood lighting, low leather couches and a circular bar. If James Bond walked in and mixed himself a martini, you wouldn't be surprised. (Although he'd risk a nip on the heels from Elmo and Cookie Monster, the couple's excitable poodles. Perhaps the most pampered pooches in Perth, they have their own bedroom with a balcony facing the park.)
Day and Maddox love this address. "We appreciate it because we know where we've come from," says Maddox, who, like her husband, was raised by a single mother. "Both our mums did it really tough when we were young. We didn't have any money. Mal came from state housing. My mum was on the bones of her arse."
The couple met through work. "Mal rang me and asked me to be Adultshop's first online centrefold," Maddox says. "I remember thinking, 'God, that man has a sexy voice.'–" This was in 1999. "What I didn't know until the wedding was that he actually saw me in a magazine and went, 'I want to date this girl.' He never told me that, the cheeky bugger." She laughs. "So I was the Adultshop girl. I was on his coffee mug, I was all over the office, I was travelling with them and doing signings for them and all that sort of stuff."
Despite their mutual attraction, it was two years before she started dating the boss. "We both had partners, so we had to wait," she says. "But, gee, it was like an episode of The X-Files, it was so tense between us. Honestly, it was amazing. It was sparks between us from day one."
Shyness has never been a problem for Maddox. At 18, she got a job in a strip joint with the aim of earning enough to move out of home and pay her way through university ("As much as I love my mum, living with her when I was a teenager was difficult"). At first she worked there as a lingerie-clad barmaid but the conversation with the customers left a lot to be desired. "Unfortunately, you're seeing men at their worst," she says. "They're drunk, they're showing off in front of their mates, their testosterone is flowing." She found herself watching the strippers with envy: "They were coming in, working for 20 minutes and making 10 times what I was making. And they didn't have to talk to anyone."
Before long, she sashayed into the spotlight herself. "I had an absolute ball," she says. In fact, Maddox took her stripping career quite seriously, if we are to go by an interview published in Penthouse when she was named the magazine's Pet of the Year at the age of 20. Presenting six shows a night could be tough, she said. "But that's what I'm here for - the fans." She made it clear that she prided herself on turning in a top performance every time, and on devising routines that were tasteful, never tawdry. "I can do a vibrator show, but it has dignity," she said.
Talking to me, she says she regrets nothing. Not the strip shows, not her one adult film, Secret Paris, and certainly not posing for Penthouse. Her first shoot for the magazine, in the Pinnacles desert in WA, was "a real transition for me, from teenager to adulthood. It was a defining moment of my life. I actually just felt beautiful. I felt like a woman." She was crushed when that issue arrived in WA newsagents with some of the pages glued together, courtesy of the state's censors.
In 2002, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) investigated dealings between Adultshop and Maddox's company, B-Mad Online. Then working as a webmaster, Maddox had been paid $1.6 million by Adultshop for directing internet traffic to sites in its online erotic-entertainment division. (When the visitors made credit-card payments to watch pornographic video clips, she got a cut.) No evidence of wrongdoing was found - "because there was nothing to find", she says, still irritated by the inference that she couldn't really have earned that much in commissions, and must have received the money because of her relationship with Day. "The ASIC investigation would never have happened if I wasn't young, blonde and an ex-Penthouse Pet."
In fact, she went on to make even more money sending customers to other companies' porn sites, she says. "I remember calling my mum one week and she said, 'Are you going well, darling?' I said, 'Yeah, I made 50 grand this week.'–" Maddox's husband has always been impressed by her earning capacity. "A lot of people stereotype her as a gold-digging ex-stripper, and that's certainly not the case," Day says. "She's made her own money - she's made millions." The couple's net worth is now in the tens of millions, he says. "The reality is for both of us, we could retire tomorrow."
Although they have lived together for years, they spared no expense when they tied the knot 18 months ago. Maddox arrived in a carriage drawn by two white horses and walked up the aisle in a white silk gown adorned with hand-stitched roses. "I guess I'm a bit of an old-fashioned romantic," she says.
While Day and Maddox mingle at the best parties in town, Rob Broadfield watches with a mixture of amusement and incredulity. "Only in Perth could a pornographer and a former Penthouse Pet be A-team," says Broadfield, a columnist with The West Australian newspaper. He doesn't mean this as a criticism. On the contrary, he likes the pair as much as everyone else does. Common sense tells him that to have succeeded in their chosen fields, they both must be as tough as nails, yet in social settings there is something shiny and guileless about them: "They're kind of like the prom king and queen."
For the past eight years, Day has hosted the Boobalicious Ball, a lively event that benefits Breast Cancer Care WA. He tells me frankly that the original motivation was to promote Adultshop and soften its image. Now, though, he is chairman of the charity and so devoted to its cause that he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise extra funds. "He's absolutely delightful," says Ros Worthington, the organisation's founder. "There's nothing sleazy about Malcolm Day at all."
Still, Day is the first to point out that well-targeted philanthropic dollars can buy not only respectability but access to influential people. At a charity fashion auction, he paid $800 for a dress modelled by the wife of the then premier, Alan Carpenter, he says. He bought several dresses, actually: "No one else was bidding." Afterwards, the Carpenters brought their drinks to his table and "chatted for probably half an hour. I thought, 'This is the best $800 I ever spent.'–"
Day and Maddox get so many invitations that they can't accept them all. "Sometimes you're just tired and you don't want to go," says Maddox. "We sort of pick and choose where we want to be." The trouble is that, with their high profile, it's hard to have a quiet dinner for two. Day remembers eating at Funtastico at Subiaco one night when businessman Rick Hart, then president of the Fremantle Dockers football club, came over for a yarn. Day had no sooner resumed his seat than he felt a tap on his shoulder. "I was getting a bit annoyed," he says, "because my pizza was getting cold. I'm thinking, 'Goddamn, who now?' And it was the premier: 'Hi, Mal. How are you?' So I stood up and talked to him for 10 minutes and my pizza got a bit colder."
Shooting the breeze with a porn king is one thing, but how would Day's high-placed friends have reacted if he had become a brothel owner? He says he thought about that when the opportunity in Sydney came up. But the question that really played on his mind was this: what would his mum think? He was aware that a few of Betty Day's fellow bridge players had already made pointed comments about him. "So I said to her, 'If the brothel deal comes off, you might cop a bit of flak.' She said, 'I know.' I said, 'What will you do about it?' She said, 'If worst comes to worst, I'll change bridge clubs.'–"
One morning, Day takes me to visit Betty in her riverside apartment. A smart, engaging woman, she talks about how responsible he was as a boy, and how heavily she relied on him to look after his three younger siblings while she was taxi-driving, among other jobs, to earn money for the family. She was chuffed when he got his surveying licence, she says, and couldn't hide her dismay when he moved into his present line of work. "It was, 'Now what am I going to tell people?' Then he started to make a lot of money out of it, and you tend to change your opinion a bit. Especially when I was benefiting from the money he was making." A more generous son would be hard to find, she says. "Everything that I possess today, Malcolm has bought for me."
But a brothel? "A brothel to me means the underworld," Betty says. "You know, drugs, sex, the Mafia." Although she assured Day from the beginning that she would support him in whatever he did, she made it plain that she didn't like the idea.
Day took note. During complicated reverse-takeover negotiations with Eddie Hayson, owner of the Stiletto Group, he gave himself an opt-out clause: if Day's company Delecta acquired Stiletto and the brothel development site, he would be able to use a buy-back scheme to sell his shares in the merged entity. In other words, even before the council quashed the project, he had reconciled himself to forsaking the potential profits. He figured he would walk away with the warm feeling that he hadn't disappointed his mother. Plus a cheque for about $5 million.
Day tells me later that he was 13 when Betty and her husband broke up. Taking him aside to comfort him, she dropped the bombshell that the man he had called Dad wasn't his father at all. That honour belonged to Don Brinkworth, a prominent Sydney fund manager. As an adult, Day got in touch with Brinkworth and they had a pleasant lunch together. "I said, 'I just want us to be friends, nothing more. I'd just like to get to know you and that's it."
In Day's office, he shows me a framed copy of the first issue of Personal Investment magazine, published in 1983, with his father on the cover.
(I contact Brinkworth but he says he prefers not to comment.)
How do Australians really feel about porn? "On one hand, everybody knows it's normal and ordinary," says Alan McKee, co-author of The Porn Report, a 2008 book based on a government-funded study of pornography in this country. "On the other hand, everybody knows it's perverted and disgusting and probably leads you to have bad attitudes towards women." I have to confess that some DVDs listed on the Adultshop website leave me slightly queasy (and that's just reading the titles). But Scientific American magazine recently came down on the let's-all-lighten-up side of the argument, saying research showed that moderate exposure to X-rated material was not harmful: it didn't promote sexism, damage relationships or make users more aggressive. Among those quoted in the article "The Sunny Side of Smut" was the director of the Pacific Centre for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii, Milton Diamond, who said, "There's absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative. It's a moral issue, not a factual issue."
Day and Maddox could have told us that. Both have campaigned against Australian censorship laws that make it an offence in all states to sell X-rated videos (but not to own them). Adultshop and other porn retailers are forced to fill online orders from warehouses in the ACT, where selling them is legal. The whole thing is crazy, says Maddox. Videos like Hand Job Honeys and Slutty and Sluttier may not be great art, but "I don't understand how watching two people have consensual sex is any more unhealthy than watching someone's head get blown off. Surely people have nightmares after watching horror films. I've never watched a porno that I've had a nightmare about." She pauses. "And I've seen a lot of porno in my life."
Many in the business bypass the classification system altogether. Day says it is impossible to compete with the influx of pirated hardcore movies brought in from overseas and sold everywhere from sex shops to petrol stations. At any rate, DVD sales - once the mainstay of porn merchandising - have fallen dramatically in the past few years, as consumers have turned to the mass of material available free on the internet, much of it produced by enthusiastic amateurs.
For Day, the challenge is to make up lost income. Having ruled out expanding into brothels, he is launching a chain of stores catering specifically for women - lots of lingerie, some discreetly displayed sex toys. Quite classy, he hopes. Perth's first Brigitta store is due to open next month at Westfield Whitford City Shopping Centre. More will follow next year, and he intends to take the concept interstate: "Our plan is to open stores in Melbourne and Sydney in 2013."
Maddox has no doubt that the female market is ripe for the picking. "I know girls my age who still don't have a vibrator!" she says. Not only is Maddox confident about the future of the erotica business, she is entirely comfortable with her place in it: "I mean, Mal and I have gone to fancy-dress parties as a Playboy bunny and Hugh Hefner. You've got to have a laugh at yourself." Her husband is slightly less upbeat. "Every now and then, I wonder what the hell I'm doing in this type of industry," he admits.
I am reminded of Rob Broadfield's remark about how glossy and winsome the pair look when they're out on the town. It strikes me that Broadfield might be on to something: perhaps at heart, Day really is more prom king than porn king. Or maybe that ambivalent voice belongs to his inner surveyor.
This article originally appeared in Good Weekend.