House mistress

Lisa Lashes has gone from flogging Watchtower to earning thousands as a top DJ. She tells Julia Stuart how she lost - and found - her religion
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The Independent Culture

It is the middle of the afternoon in a Birmingham nightclub, and men are covering the walls with white drapes in readiness for tonight's sold-out event. Soon, clubbers in their thousands will pour into the venue for a night with one of the world's leading DJs.

It is the middle of the afternoon in a Birmingham nightclub, and men are covering the walls with white drapes in readiness for tonight's sold-out event. Soon, clubbers in their thousands will pour into the venue for a night with one of the world's leading DJs.

When the lights go down, male fans hold up banners asking the woman behind the decks to marry them. No wonder - Lisa Lashes likes nothing better than squeezing herself into a little bondage number before getting onstage. What they might not realise, however, is that the DJ that they have crowded in to see has a gloriously naff past. Not only did Lisa Lashes - real name Lisa Rose-Wyatt - work in the accounts department of Marks & Spencer for six years, but she also used to be a Jehovah's Witness.

Today, the hard-house DJ earns up to £10,000 a night, and her Lashed- branded club nights always sell out. She has played in the States, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, and has had residencies in fickle Ibiza. Not bad for a DJ who had her first experience on the decks when a friend's boyfriend brought some round because his mother wouldn't let him play them in the house. Just eight years on, and she has racked up the biggest-ever selling hard-house single, "Unbelievable", which sold over 25,000 copies; seven compilation albums on Euphoria, the hard-house brand, which have been the biggest-selling albums in the world of their kind; and is now about to bring out her first Lashed compilation.

Despite the gloom, Lisa is wearing shades. It is not a affectation, she insists, but an attempt to disguise the fact that she isn't wearing any make-up. She takes them off to reveal the long - but bare - lashes that inspired the moniker that she adopted when her career started at Pulse in Birmingham.

Lisa, who grew up in Coventry, heard about the club's new Sunday Central night and asked if she could be a resident DJ. To her amazement, they said yes, despite the fact that she'd never played outside her bedroom.

"The Spice Girls were very big at the time, a lot of clubs wanted girl DJs, and there were only a handful in the country," says Lisa, who now lives in Leicester. "I loved the fact that a DJ could captivate a whole audience just by what they were playing, and could change the atmosphere in a club with just one record. I liked that control. I knew that I wasn't ready with a musical style, but I knew what people wanted because I'd been a punter myself. I'd go to the pound shop and buy my records and play them out. The club opened at midday and closed at midnight, and 3,000-4,000 people would queue round the block on a Sunday morning to get in. It was a bit like going to church for me."

Lisa, the daughter of a builder, was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. "On a Sunday, I used to go to all of the prayer meetings and then go knocking on people's doors with my parents. Now and again, I'd to do a little reading out of the Bible. They were all such nice people. I don't agree now with what they stand for, because I don't think there's going to be a paradise at the end of the world, but it was nice being brought up like that."

Did she encounter a lot of closed doors? "Not really, it wasn't always cold calling," says Lisa, who is in her late twenties but won't give her precise age for fear of alienating her younger fans. "Because people had been doing it for years and had their own patch, you'd visit people that you knew wanted you in their houses, so you didn't have to force your way in. Sometimes it was people who were lonely and liked someone coming round."

Lisa's parents split up when she was 11, but she continued to attend meetings. Over the next couple of years, however, her interest waned as it had been her father who had encouraged her to go. By the age of 14, Lisa was drinking cider and smoking down the local park, like many others of her age. At 16, she joined a youth train- ing scheme at Marks & Spencer, and, two years later, was taken on in the accounts department. "It was a bit boring really, but it was a good job, it paid well and I had a pension. I quite liked it. The people were nice."

Meanwhile, at Sunday Central, she was playing alongside such names as Paul Oakenfold and Judge Jules. Within a year, she was getting bookings from clubs around the country. Her reputation grew and she left the department store. By 2000, she was ranked ninth in the world by DJ Magazine - the first woman to get into the top 10.

But Lisa's career almost went horribly wrong in 2001, when she flew into Auckland. A sniffer dog alerted customs officials to two Ecstasy tablets in an unopened birthday card that a clubber had given her. Insisting that she knew nothing of its contents, she was arrested and held at a police station for four hours. She managed to persuade the authorities to let her work that night, and a police officer stood beside her during the set in case she absconded. At court the following day, she was told to donate £500 to the Salvation Army.

Lisa escaped a conviction, much to the relief of her fans around the world, including Duncan Dick, clubs editor of Mixmag, the dance and club magazine. "She's the biggest female DJ in the world, and will sell out all over the world," he says. "She's very important because she's got character. There's a new breed of DJ at the moment who are very technically proficient, but they don't have that larger-than-life character, which is what dance music really needs because you don't have front men.

"The Lashed nights are the most exciting thing in that part of clubland right now. They're like an extension of Lisa's personality, and it's her personality that clubbers really go for."

With only five or six A-list female DJs in the UK, compared with about 40 men, has she experienced any prejudice? "At the beginning, I'd go to a record store and they'd to give me crap, probably because I was a girl. I'd say that I was looking for some hard house, and they'd give me chart stuff. I'd say, 'I know the stuff under your counter is for guys, but I want it'. I've also had the odd promoter go, 'You earn too much, you don't need any more make-up'. But I just go, 'Yeah, whatever, hand over the money'."

She adopted this same direct approach when she spotted her now boyfriend on the dance floor while working. She beckoned him over and passed him a note telling him to meet her by the toilets in 10 minutes. They've been together for four years.

Lisa may be living the high life, but does she take drugs? "Not anymore. When I first used to go out in 1991, you don't stay up all night for no reason. But since it has been my career, for eight years now, I don't do anything."

She hasn't, however, left all of her past behind her. "I do sometimes have the Jehovah's Witnesses in if they knock on my door," she says. "I like talking to them, they're really nice people. And I'll buy The Watchtower."

Get Lashed Anniversary Christmas party, SeOne club, London Bridge, 18 December. 'Get Lashed in the UK', mixed by Lisa Lashes, released on Resist on 31 January