I know the precise moment I decided not to die. I was lying on my back, staring at a lizard on the wall. I had been watching him all day, in between taking heroin. The reasons I wanted to die are complex. The reasons I decided to live were simple: I realised that no one would ever find my body and my life would mean nothing. I was 23. Having made the decision to live, I discovered that it wasn't mine to make.
I landed in Hong Kong in the summer of 1982. When I stepped off the plane the people stared at me: I had bleached-blonde hair and stood nearly 6ft 2in in my knee-high boots. The sun hit me like a brick, straight between the eyes. The heat wrapped itself around me like clingfilm. Welcome to Hong Kong. Until then, I'd thought it was in Japan.
When I look back, I marvel at my audacity. But, at the time, it wasn't so strange. I had had a fractured childhood. We moved once a year because Dad was in the police force. Some schools were nice, some not. I left school with one GCSE in art, low self- esteem and an inherent wanderlust. At 17, I was an au pair in Sweden, then I was a barmaid and a DJ in Bavaria. I worked as a cocktail waitress, dessert chef and model. My parents voiced their concerns but I had the usual teenage issues and thought I knew best.
I chose Hong Kong because back then it was still a British colony and people told me the "old-boy network" would look after me there. I checked into the YWCA and trawled the modelling agencies, but ran out of money before I got beyond my second modelling job.
So I caught a tram down to the Wanchai district and saw a glitzy-looking nightclub. I asked the doormen whether there was any work there. Then a petite woman, dressed in a cheongsam, appeared. She was welcoming and friendly. She said she had just the job: I was to be a hostess. I had no idea what it entailed. I went into a backroom filled with more than 100 women – all but two of whom were Chinese. I changed into an evening dress and waited until my number was called. It was incredibly surreal.
I was lonely. I was not part of the elite expat circuit, as most of the Brits I had met there were rude and snobbish. So I worked at the club every night – talking to strangers was better than talking to no one. I went out to dinner with them. I got taken to other nightclubs. I had fun in a way. There was a respectful distance between hostess and customer. It was never seedy. There was no intimacy between girl and client, not in the club itself. Anything else happened outside and was not discussed. I worked with two other Westerners. One made back-to-back appointments offering sex. The other never had sex at all. I was somewhere in the middle. I had the occasional boyfriend.
I had only been there two weeks when I met Teresa in a bar. I asked her if she had any speed. I had been a dabbler in drugs all my teens and used speed to keep myself thin.
"Just have local speed. Wanna try?" "It's not heroin is it?" I asked warily when she explained that this "local speed" was smoked rather than snorted.
"Not heroin," she lied.
Within a couple of weeks I was hooked – it was the basis for the bizarre relationship I was to begin with Teresa. It turned out she was in trouble with Triads. Triad was a word no one spoke out loud. They were, and still are, an integral – and deadly – part of Chinese society. They control the drugs, prostitution and loan sharking. But they also run taxi firms, own nightclubs, make films and are in every part of normal society.
Teresa's friend had borrowed from Triads in a casino and Teresa had stood guarantor for the debt; then the friend fled and left her with it. I paid off the rest of her debt with money I had saved. I'd have done anything to keep her near me. I was dependent on her supplying me with heroin and she was dependent on me financially. The Triads had beaten her so badly that she walked with a stick and could no longer work. She moved in and became my maid.
To cut costs we moved to a small desolate village where I was the only white person. The locals called me the gweilo – the white ghost. It was hell. Typhoons raged outside and the aircon didn't work. We were cut off by landslides. I worked only when bills needed to be paid. The rest of the time I lay on the bed and fixed all day long. But I was petrified; constantly hyperventilating and feeling very alone. In that room something inside clicked and I realised I had to take responsibility for my own life or I would die there.
I set about finding help for my addiction in the form of the government methadone programme. But Teresa was not happy. She was so persuasive – "Just take a little, will help. Methadone can't work on its own." And I gave in. Day and night she had people coming to our house. Heated conversations would follow; heroin would be left for me. I sat in my room listening, terrified. I had to escape Teresa. Somehow, she was controlling me. What I didn't know was why.
I fled the village and went back into town and back to work in the clubs. Teresa looked for me relentlessly. She found me once. She'd been badly beaten and begged me to come back. I felt sorry for her but knew I had to survive. I ran away from her again.
In a club I met Philip, a prominent lawyer and part-owner of a nightclub. We became lovers. It was he who found out the truth – Teresa's debt involved more than money; I was part of it. Her job was to keep me controlled, increase my heroin addiction until I was compliant enough, then I was destined to be shipped out, possibly to Taiwan, where I would be held and used sexually – sex trafficking may not have had the press then that it gets now, but it was rife. Fortunately, in Hong Kong everyone either owes or is owed a Triad favour. For Philip, I was that favour. I was eventually allowed to return to the UK.
Now, 26 years later, I live in Devon. I walk my dogs and have two children – a teenage son and a 22-year-old daughter. Both of them are reassuringly straight and sensible. I never thought I'd live such a happy, calm lifestyle – in fact, I never thought I'd live this long. I go to the gym most days and the strongest thing I indulge in is a glass of Chardonnay.
A few weeks ago I sat my mother down and told her about my life – the heroin, the hostess bars and the heartache. It was time.
I have been back to Hong Kong. Strangely, it holds a great place in my heart. It took me to the edge of the cliff and allowed me to look over. Then it gave me a choice – did I want a future? Not many people get to put things in that kind of perspective.
' The Trophy Taker', a thriller by Lee Weeks set in the Hong Kong underworld, is out now (Avon, £6.99, www.leeweeks.co.uk)Reuse content