She had hoped her lavish multimillion-dollar strip club would be full to its third-storey roof with funny money by now.
Her stable of exotic entertainers was supposed to start spinning on poles and gyrating in the laps of Wellingtonians back in April.
But the only grinding that’s happened inside Calendar Girls on Dixon St over the last two months has been Le Prou’s teeth as she battled to cut through the screeds of red tape surrounding the city’s newest adult playground.
That said, Le Prou works in an industry where six-figure sums can be made back in a hurry.
The 2000 or so people who visited her 450-capacity Wellington club on its first three nights of business last week would have done wonders for her nerves, which had already been toughened by the expansion of her Christchurch-based strip empire into Auckland last year.
“In Auckland I was getting death threats and drive-by threats [from other club owners]. Nothing ever came to fruition but I expect that sort of thing,” she says.
“But Wellington was a struggle. It really tried my patience at times. It was just dirty tactics and I’m not willing to play that sort of game.”
Those so-called “dirty tactics” were the actions of businessmen John and Michael Chow, till now the capital’s undisputed strip kings, who own the hard-to-miss Mermaid bar in the heart of Courtenay Place.
The Chows opposed Calendar Girls’ liquor licence, pointing to Le Prou’s husband James Samson, who was sentenced to five years’ jail on methamphetamine charges in 2004 as good reason for the District Licensing Authority to be concerned.
The brothers refused to be interviewed last week, but their view was shared by Wellington police, who felt Samson was not the kind of person who should be running Calendar Girls.
Despite Le Prou’s argument that her husband would have little to do in that area, a condition of the club’s licence prevents him from being on site during opening hours.
But the Chows were not the only hurdle. A Wellington City Council inspector popped by for a visit in April and declared the hot water in the club was six degrees Celsius too cold.
The problem was easily fixed but it delayed sign-off on the property and added to Le Prou’s frustration.
She can afford a half-smile about it now that the club’s doors are finally open.
“It’s a nice feeling walking in and knowing that your girls are happy and they’re smiling at you and they’re telling you this place is amazing and they’ve never been in a club like this. It puts me on a high. It’s very rewarding.”
Le Prou is also happy to put the bickering with the Chow brothers behind her, for now.
She is a credible threat to their dominance of the capital strip club scene and they know it, she says.
She has been accused of poaching the Chows’ girls, and it is true that 32 of her 50 staff jumped ship from the Mermaid bar, but that was their choice, not hers, she says.
“The Chows want a monopoly on the market and they won’t play fair. But I’ve got big shoulders. I can handle anything they throw at me.”
The petty games that strip club owners play when one moves into the supposed territory of another is nothing new, says long-time adult entertainment mogul Brian Le Gros, who had a virtual monopoly on the Wellington game for decades before the Mermaid bar came along in 2001.
Le Gros, who left the capital shortly after to run the White House in Auckland, says the tactics can range from interfering with consent applications down to posting nasty comments on each other’s Facebook pages.
“It’s all bulls—, it never stops anything. It’s just what they do – self-preservation and all that.”