My new memoir, Rebel in High Heels, chronicles my life, including my battle against revenge porn, my party crashing escapades and my three-year relationship with singer Tom Jones. The revenge porn story has been covered in the media, but other aspects of the book have not. Because I regularly receive questions about the writing process and my relationship with Tom, I will try to offer some insights in this brief Q and A.
Q: Tell me about the process for writing this book.
A: I spent three years writing Rebel in High Heels. It required tremendous research because accuracy is important in an autobiography. Luckily, I am one of those people who never throw anything away. With respect to Tom, I had mementos from our time together: backstage passes, photos and a handwritten diary. Two weeks after our first date in March 1979, I returned to the hotel suite and discotheque where Tom and I had been. I took pictures. This enabled me (some 35 years later) to be accurate in the book about colors and furnishings and bring the experience to life for the reader.
The manuscript was originally 800 pages--too long for one book. I knew it had to be made into two or three volumes. About this time, I was fighting a very public battle against the kingpin of revenge porn. He was hacking into victims' emails, stealing their nude pictures and posting them online. His devotees were bombarding me with computer viruses and death threats. A stalker even appeared at my home. I worked with the FBI to nab this guy (he pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing). I also helped legislators pass anti-revenge porn bills. Twenty-four states currently have laws in place, and a federal bill will be introduced soon. I eventually wrote an article about my revenge porn fight. It went viral, and I was named one of "the 30 fiercest women in the world." This frenzy of activity led to phone calls from publishing houses and literary agents; they were interested in a book about my life. It was good timing since I already had those 800 pages.
Rebel in High Heels is about my experience as the Erin Brockovich of revenge porn, but it also details the first 22 years of my life, including my relationship with Tom. It is 300 pages long.
Q: How did you become interested in the music of Tom Jones?
A: This may be surprising, but I have never been a "music person." I don't listen to CDs. I don't go to concerts. I don't listen to music, ever. I prefer talk radio if I am in the car and cable news if I am passing time in front of the TV. It is ironic that I fell for a singer. Tom has an amazing voice, and I consider him to be the most talented entertainer in the world, but I was attracted to him due to what he said, not what he sung. I became interested him at age nine when I saw him interviewed on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" and when I watched him converse with guests on his ABC show, "This is Tom Jones." He seemed like such a sweet guy. He had a terrific sense of humor, and I liked his rhythm or timing (the way he moved his hands and head, and the way he walked and spoke). I have come to realize that this "timing factor" is what attracts me to someone. For example, I saw a video interview of my husband at a dating organization, and (just like with Tom) I fell for him before we met. I loved his movements, the way he talked and the things he said. I asked him out and was ready to get married two weeks later. We have been together for 21 years.
Q: Why do you think you have been able to remain a part of Mr. Jones' life for so long?
A: I think I was lucky, in part, because I was his "type." He might say he has a wide range of taste when it comes to women, and no doubt this is somewhat true. However, I believe he has a preference for short, blonde women. Men often go for women who are of the same physical type as their mom. Tom's mother was short, blonde and feisty--just like me. I had the honor of meeting her several times; she was a very special lady.
Also, Tom knew I was in love with him and cared about him as a person. My affection had nothing to do with his fame, money or singing talent. I came from a wealthy "old money" family in Atlanta, so riches were unimportant to me. Plus, I was friendly with tons of sex symbols and entertainers by the time I was dating Tom. I had no romantic interest in them. Tom knew he was special.
Q: How is your life better because of Mr. Jones and the relationship?
A: He helped me become the strong woman I am today. I was not always confident. I felt inferior as a child and teenager.
When I was young, the whole "being in love with Tom" thing was embarrassing. Everyone knew. I was taunted by family and friends. Fourth grade classmates wrote mushy love notes signed "Tom Jones." They stuck them in my desk at school and laughed at me when I found them. Bullying and public humiliation exacerbated my already low self-esteem. I viewed myself as not all that pretty and as overweight. (I was probably ten pounds more than I should have been). I never thought I could date Tom.
Everything changed when I went to my first concert at age 16. I did not attend for the music. In fact, I knew nothing about the artist, Jerry Lee Lewis. I only went because I had read an article which revealed Tom's favorite performer was Jerry Lee. When the show ended, a man named JD asked if I wanted to go backstage. I figured there was no harm and replied, "Sure." It turned out Jerry Lee wanted to go on a date with me. I declined.
JD grilled me afterward. He wanted to know who I found attractive, throwing out the names of popular sex symbols of the time, such as John Travolta, Robert Redford, and Sylvester Stallone. I said I had no interest in them. JD was baffled and asked, "Isn't there anyone?" Although hesitant, I revealed my interest in Tom. JD boosted my self-esteem. He said, "You could go out with him, young lady. You are beautiful, sweet and smart. Of course, he'd be interested. After all, Jerry Lee is interested, isn't he?" This made sense. I bolted from the building with new-found confidence and a desire to somehow meet Tom.
I had to teach myself how to gate-crash in order to get past security and put myself in Tom's presence. Believe it or not, I am listed as the fourth most notorious party crasher in the world, beating Bill Murray (#6) and Queen Elizabeth (#14) and the Salahis (#15). Celebrities sneak into events more than the average person, and many of my humorous party crashing adventures are revealed in Rebel in High Heels.
I embarked upon a number of "party crashing" shenanigans in an attempt to meet Tom. Many failed. All are detailed in the book. My first real conversation with Tom was in a hallway at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In order to get his attention, I pretended to be a showgirl. I wore outrageous attire: sequins, feathers and silver boots. I "accidentally" came upon him when he was walking from his suite to the dressing room. (In truth, I had bribed a bellhop to give me information about the path he took to the dressing room.) Tom and I chatted in that hallway. He seemed interested, but he did not ask me out. I restarted my shenanigans a year later when Tom was performing in Fort Lauderdale. This time Tom invited me to join him for dinner, and our three-year relationship began. I was 18 years old. It was a Cinderella story. He was my first boyfriend.
Dating Tom increased my self-confidence. After all, he was my "dream guy," and I had been thinking about him for ten years prior to our first date! He and other entertainer friends helped me escape emotionally from the snobby, money-obsessed society in which I'd been raised. Entertainers became my substitute family, so to speak. Plus I had endured a great deal of tragedy in childhood with my mom's suicide, my brother's death, and my father's verbal abuse. Surrounded by the love and support of entertainment friends, I was better able to explore who I was as a person and what I wanted to become. I credit Tom for helping me with that journey.
Q: Tell me a little more about party crashing. Besides meeting Mr. Jones, what were the benefits?
A: It began as a hobby in my teens, but developed into an excellent way to meet up with elected officials, A-list celebrities and CEOs. I was able to obtain exclusive interviews, push for legislation, get support for nonprofit causes and snag well-to-do clientele for business ventures. I crashed Secret Service four times, once to interview President Ronald Reagan. Many of the escapades are detailed in my book. A few are discussed in my Washington Post article.
Q: How do you hope this book will affect people?
A: Mostly my book is about inspiring readers to live in the bold zone. The bold zone is that area past the comfort zone where fierceness resides. It requires showing up in life, pursuing ones dreams and becoming a relentless force of nature. Perseverance is the key to success. If I had given up after one, two or ten failed attempts, I would never have dated Tom. I would not have defeated the kingpin of revenge porn. I would not have a Ph.D. or have been elected into political office. This book (and my previous books) would never have been published, and I would not be married to my wonderful husband.
I say to my readers, "May the fierce be with you."
Q: What is next for you?
A: It looks like I will have my own television show. It is in development with a network; unfortunately, I am not at liberty to provide details. I can only say that my four years on the NBC show, "The Filter," were unbelievably fulfilling, and I look forward to returning to the airwaves. I strive to educate, entertain and hopefully inspire.
I encourage everyone to be a Rebel in High Heels!