Half a lifetime ago, Jillian Lauren, 36, spent a year in the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei's decadent youngest brother. Now an Eagle Rock mom of one, married to Weezer bassist Scott Shriner, she looks back at her year of living dangerously in a new memoir — "Some Girls: My Life in a Harem" (Plume) — which will be released Tuesday.
Let me get this question out of the way first: There have been controversial memoirs published recently that weren't grounded in reality. Why should we believe you?
My book has been fact-checked by my publisher, and I have documentation. I have passport stamps, I have photographs, journals I kept the whole time. Just from an artistic standpoint, and I hope this comes across, this book was an exercise in honesty for me on a personal level and a creative level.
You wrote that you were part of the second wave of American women.
First, really, in terms of wave. I wasn't the very first American woman.
There was an earlier shipment?
There was literally one woman. There was the woman who recruited us and she was not involved with the prince. She brought a friend of hers along, and I was the next person to go.
How were women recruited?
It was very much a word-of-mouth scenario. My friend who worked at an escort agency heard from her friend in L.A. who knew this woman who I called Ari in the book. We were invited to this audition. I think as the decadence progressed and more and more women went — eventually I left and didn't come back and it got crazier and crazier, from my understanding — I think there were more people recruiting. It always stayed word of mouth.
So what was the prince like? How old was he?
He was in his early 30s at the time. And I thought that was very old and distinguished. He was a complex character. And for that reason I think he was fascinating. He was very bright and well educated. And he was sneaky and manipulative and he was a womanizer.
I Googled him and saw that he's always described as "the playboy prince." What was life there like?
Life in Prince Jefri's harem was sometimes boring and sometimes surreal and luxurious and sometimes it was lonely and sad and the girls were mean.
It sounds like a lush version of "The Bachelor."
It kind of was. It was probably filmed just as much too, because there were cameras everywhere. We were being filmed by hidden cameras all the time in every room we were in.
So you had no privacy at all. What were they looking for?
I don't know whether they were looking for some breach of security or they were looking to watch us do some kooky things …
What was the prince's palace like?
He had a number of palaces, so the palace that we were staying at, I describe it in the book as a resort in Fort Lauderdale as imagined by Aladdin. There were guest houses with domes and some that just felt like a really tacky place in Bel Air. Gold everywhere. There were eight guest houses …
And then there were acres and acres of landscaping and tennis courts, two separate pools, a gym, badminton courts and the main palace, which was a couple of different buildings, with a bowling alley. But the room where we spent most of our time was a party room overlooking the squash courts. And there was a karaoke machine and a big screen in front of the room and a dance floor. There was a DJ and a party every night. Every night at 10 o'clock without fail we were there.
So he spent the early evening with his family?
I don't know when he was with his family. I can't imagine, because each wife had a separate palace. He had three at that time.
What was a typical day like?
We would wake up quite late, because we'd be out until 3, 4, 5 in the morning at the parties. We'd order all our food the night before. We could order anything we wanted, and there would be these big tins on the kitchen counter. We never had to reach inside a refrigerator even. And we would eat and then we would either watch movies or go to the pool or go to the gym. It sounds like a vacation, and sometimes it felt like a vacation.
A vacation from what, though?
Sometimes it felt like a really well-landscaped prison. I felt trapped.
I'm guessing it would be hard to find a sense of purpose there.
Yeah. And the relationships between the women were very volatile. So to then be in such close quarters with all this drama was hard for me; I'm not inclined toward that.
Did you like this guy?
I liked him and I hated him. He was this incredibly unattainable figure, and I wanted to win. I wanted his approval and I wanted his love. I thought I loved him. I know different things about love now.