PICASSOS in every room, gold-woven carpets and servants that wait on your every need: this may be the stuff of modern day fairy tales, but it was the life of American girl Jillian Lauren at the age of 18.
Only just an adult, Jillian spent her days in Asia locked inside an opulent royal palace, competing with a handful of the other chosen women, for the attention of one man: the Prince of Brunei.
After dropping out of theatre school in New York, Jillian was told she could make $20,000 for entertaining at the parties of a rich businessman in Singapore. Little did she know, it would lead her to 18 months in a harem belonging to Prince Jefri Bolkiah.
World of women
“It was essentially a world of women”, Jillian explained to me over our crackly Skype conversation.
“There was this one man who sort of came into our lives for just a few hours of the day so there was a lot of competition among the girls. Everyone wanted to catch his eye, really everyone wanted to be his favourite.
“It was always very surreptitious and there were shifting alliances amongst the girls.
“I had a kind of arch rival there who had been in my position before I arrived. She used to be his second favourite girlfriend and then I bumped her without really knowing it.
“She’d get the girls on her side, have little margarita parties by the pool and not invite me. She would just sort of wear at my happiness and self esteem in the hope that I would leave by myself.”
While they would entertain the Prince and his entourage at late night parties, Jillian and the girls were confined to the gold-clad palace during the day, where all they could do was workout, watch films and eat.
Not only did they strive for Prince Jefri’s attention but also his lavish gifts. Rolex watches, money, clothes and jewellery were also at stake.
In this surreal world of women, however, it wasn’t always a mean girls act.
“It was a really competitive environment in terms of the relationships between us girls, but there were some real friendships that arose out of it and I do think that women will take care of each other and that we did on some level.”
Jillian is now a writer, a mother and a wife but does not regret a single day she spent in that palace.
“My time in the harem in Brunei was a really great learning experience, it gave me a lot of great stories to tell and was a great teacher about human nature.
“It really helped me figure out who I wasn’t more than it helped me to figure out who I was. So I was able to then go away and find out who I was.”