It’s 7PM on a Tuesday, and I’m scritching someone’s skull as they’re led around on all fours on a leash. I can’t see their face – it’s covered by a diamante-encrusted mask – but when they nuzzled towards me, their chin nearly bumping against my crotch, it seemed like they wanted attention. A few metres away, two women in pink latex are buffing a man’s buttocks with latex grease, and someone in a diaper is telling an interviewer what piss tastes like. Everywhere I look, outer layers are being peeled off to reveal gleaming, skimpy outfits of rubber, leather and latex. This is the scene at the UK Fetish Awards.
Known as “the kinkiest awards party of the year”, the UK Fetish Awards were created to celebrate diversity in the world of kink, support fetish workers, and help break down the taboos surrounding BDSM. Basically, it’s like the BRIT Awards, but with fire play and aerial hair hanging instead of performances by Adele.
I’ve been invited to this year’s party by Countess Diamond, a professional dominatrix who will be interviewing all of tonight’s winners. “I want a body like that,” she tells me huskily, as, on stage, a woman in a silver body harness throws her legs over a masked man’s shoulders. “I’ve had two kids though,” she laughs. Well, I’ve had none, and I wouldn’t mind a body like that either.
While BDSM still carries the frisson of taboo, it has also become kind of trendy. Celebs wear latex now, models strut catwalks in gimp masks, and kink and polyamory have been sort of normalised. But at the same time, workers in the adult industry still face stigma, and fetish models frequently have their social media accounts closed down. So, are the fetish scene’s bright lights and big names pissed off by all this? Do they resent the newcomers or welcome them in?
“Lots of people say it’s become sanitised,” shouts Diamond, leaning in close so I can hear her over a pumping remix of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. “But, I mean, it’s a party and we’re all invited. You can still do your nasty shit behind closed doors, but it doesn’t mean you can pooh-pooh someone who wants to be open about what they do,” she says. “I don’t see sanitisation; I see freeness and people being open. And the more we talk about it, the less stigma there is as well.” On stage, the masked man is now pouring pink liquid over the woman’s face and chest, as she kneels in a transparent bathtub, with her legs and mouth wide open. “I wish people knew how wonderful it is to come to an event like this, and feel empowered to be like, ‘Yeah I’m kinky and I know it!’”
Diamond is hard-headed about some of the industry’s issues, though. “If you could buy porn that was fair trade, like chocolate, it would end the discrimination,” she says. She’s hellbent on changing the industry, and has an influential role on the board of the sex workers union. “We are all working so hard to get the recognition we deserve,” she says, “and support the people who are just trying to make a living in this little weird world.”
I dodge out of the way of a woman who has a glass in each hand and a third shoved between her enormous breasts, and find myself chatting with the girls at a table reserved for the high profile strip club chain, Platinum Lace. Angel tells me she’s been working as a dancer at the London club for around seven months, after moving over from Melbourne. “I didn’t know what to expect from tonight,” she says. “Everyone looks so hot!”
She’s not wrong, but there’s another word that springs to my mind: chaos. As the nominees for Best Newcomer are read out by this year’s hosts, Ruby Alexia and Riri Images, I spot a woman with closed eyes and crossed fingers, swaying slightly and chanting, “Manifesting, manifesting”. The award is given to a girl called Splosh Muffin, and a man with a soul patch and a large Jamiroquai-style hat pops a bottle of champagne. Someone tells me one bar has sold out of wine and is now only serving vodka Red Bulls. It’s 9PM.
The next few awards pass quickly, and every winner is gifted a Doxy Massager wand vibrator. Some of the winners use their time in the limelight to make a point. The Lifetime Award goes to Miss Kitty, who recently passed away. “We’re starting a movement called ‘For Kitty’,” her friends announce as they collect the award. “You must kick your slave or sub in the vagina or balls, and film it and upload it with the hashtag #ForKitty.” And then there is Best Fetish Model, which is won by the legendary Dani Devine, who ends her acceptance speech with a shout of, “Fuck the Instagram police!”
Backstage, Dani tells me she only landed from LA this afternoon. “Ten hour flight, straight to the venue, straight to the dressing room, getting dressed in my latex, doing my makeup” – which, by the looks of it, was no mean feat. She looks impeccable. But what’s with the Instagram beef? “I’m aggravated,” she says. “My account has [been taken] down so many times, and it’s always at crucial times when I’m releasing new merch or something. It affects my business. I have so much content I want to post and share with my followers,” she says. “And nothing I post is ever against the rules.” She thinks there’s a double standard at play. “A lot of mainstream celebrities wear latex, and post very similar content as I do, and they’re completely fine on the platform.”
She ends our chat on an upbeat note, though, encouraging any curious outsiders not to feel intimidated by the fetish world. “Everyone in this scene is completely friendly and accepting,” she says, passionately. “If there is one place you’re gonna be accepted it’s this scene. So do your thing! It doesn’t matter what you look like, your gender, your age, your size. This is the most accepting scene.”
At the bar, I speak to Albert de Symons, a nominee for Best Master. “The real key for me is that in most spaces there’s no basis of understanding about consent,” he says, while trying to order a bottle of champagne for his wife Adreena. “The kink community has had to have a more developed understanding around concepts of consent, communication, diversity, and inclusion,” he explains. “That’s the thing that’s really interesting. Like, everyone can fuck – that’s great, that’s fun – but what’s really fucking cool is creating spaces where adults interact in interesting, open and engaging ways.”
Albert knows this first hand: He runs parties where he raises money for youth trans education and homelessness. “It’s unironically called The Albert Show. But I’m not a narcissist, I’m very humble,” he says with a grin. “Hold my pickle for a second,” he asks as he whips out a large pickle in a bag from a pouch somewhere near his crotch. “It’s quite warm,” he laughs, winking as he points to the pickle’s branding: Big Papa.
Albert seems to view his whole life a source of amusement. By day he is the CEO and co-founder of Underpinned, an association for the future of work. “It’s funny because I operate at exact opposite ends of the world,” he says. “Like, I was with the head of Deutsche Bank’s investments and Sajid Javid for dinner last night, about an investment project, but [I was] talking to them about the Fetish Awards.” He’s always open about every part of his life, “largely because I’m really fucking confident, well-spoken and very white,” he says. “I’m like, ‘I might have just been fucked in the ass by my wife, but I can assure you, you are going to sign this deal!’”
Albert heads off to find Adreena, and my eye is caught by an older man staring up at the performers on stage with a blissful expression on his face, and an array of army medals on his chest. “They’re real,” he tells me. “A misspent youth. I should have been doing this,” he says, gesturing up to the woman being lifted off the floor by a rope attached to her hair. “I’m a funeral director by trade, so I’m not really in the industry, but I like it.”
Countess Diamond leads me through the crowd to introduce me to Andrew Crichton, aka Mr Doxy. In 2013, Andrew and William Garland launched the Doxy Massager wand, becoming the UK’s only manufacturer of vibrators – and certainly the only one emerging out of a family-run scaffolding business. Now, the Cornish firm produces up to 1,500 vibrators a week. They also stepped in to provide medical gear during the pandemic. “We’re virgins at the Fetish Awards, though,” says Crichton. “The fetish scene is becoming more open to the mainstream,” he adds, as a woman at the next table gives a guy a lap dance. “It’s totally booming.”
Countess Diamond leans in to burst Andrew’s bubble. “You need to move with the times,” she says frankly, before informing him that there’s much smaller and more powerful vibrators on the market now. “You want more power?” Andrew asks, sounding incredulous. “I want something discrete, travellable,” replies Diamond. Andrew mentions that they’re developing a USB-C product, aimed at Gen Z, but the Countess has another challenge lined up for him.
“When will you publicly support sex workers?” she asks, “I don’t see any tweets from Doxy that say, ‘Buy our sex toys and we’ll donate 10 percent to the sex workers union.’”
“How do you know there’s a sex worker’s union?” Andrew replies.
“I’m on the board!” shouts Diamond triumphantly.
I leave them to it and head to the dance floor. A few finance bros are dancing in a circle, making it look like any nightclub in any town – if it wasn’t for the couple on stage setting each other’s asses on fire. A man in his fifties wearing a leather corset and a codpiece introduces himself as “Trog. Like ‘frog’, but with a ‘T’ for Torture Garden.”
Trog offers to take me to Torture Garden’s next party, but I take this as my cue to leave. On the red carpet outside, a drunk guy is getting thrown out by bouncers. The music is still pounding as people pour out of the club and down Embankment. I head towards my night bus, and see a couple of women zipping their coats over latex harnesses. My ears are ringing, and everyone else, in their jeans and jackets, looks incredibly boring by comparison.
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