Tina Bexson reports for the Guardian: ‘Taste of Tradition’ – Quitting smoking within the UK’s Asian communities

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For Asian men, smoking is second nature and a sign of belonging – but some areas in the UK are more committed than others in providing help for them to quit.

TINA BEXSON reports for the Guardian newspaper

Rufon Uddin is trying to give up smoking. He is finding it very difficult.

One of the biggest obstacles is being out with his friends in Newcastle upon Tyne’s West End where they all live and work. It is also hard because smoking is very much part of being a Bangladeshi man. It’s viewed with a strong sense of social acceptance, social bonding, and tradition.

“It’s very hard when they are all smoking and you are not, you feel apart as though you are missing out,” he says. “It’s also often the only real time when you can smoke properly because once our people get married, we wont smoke at home in front of the wife because she doesn’t like it.”

Nor can he smoke in front of anyone older than him because it is customary for Bangladeshis to never smoke in front of elders. “It’s a respect thing in Bangladeshi society,” Rufon explains. “I don’t smoke in front of my parents, even though my father smokes, and they know I smoke. And if I pass group of lads in their twenties who are smoking they will hide their cigarettes or put them out until I’ve gone past, out of respect for me. But I see lots of white people when they get to 16 smoking in front of their parents with their parents even buying cigarettes for them.”

But he can smoke at work. “95% of us work in an Indian takeaway or restaurant,” he says, “and there are many more opportunities to smoke at work than there are for white people whose day is usually more structured. As long as we go outside we can have a cigarette whenever we need.”

Although he recognises that giving up is ultimately up to the individual, he would like to join a local smoking cessation programme run by Newcastle and Tyne Primary Care Trust (PCT) to give him a head start. But it is only geared towards the white population and fails to acknowledge the different cultural concerns and problems facing smokers from his culture.

This is surprising because according to a survey by the Department of Health smoking is much more common amongst Bangladeshi men (44%) than among white men (27 %). For Bangladeshi men aged 50-74, the rate is a staggering 56%. This has serious health consequences. For example cardiovascular disease (angina, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes) is 60-70% higher amongst Bangladeshi and Pakistani men, than the general population.

These significant differences between whites and South Asian men and women mark a drastic need for culturally sensitive interventions in Newcastle, outlines research recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) from the School of Population and Health Sciences at the University of Newcastle.

Places such as Bradford, Birmingham and Tower Hamlets in London, are already running both successful and advanced interventions such as the campaigns that take place during Ramadam. And since the Department of Health launched the NHS Asian tobacco education campaign in August, local smoking cessation services run by PCTs are increasing in other South Asian communities throughout the UK.

So why not in Newcastle upon Tyne?

Judy Loggie, the manager of smoking cessation services at Newcastle and Tynside PCT, who has only recently took up her post, admits that they should be doing more. “We should be doing all this stuff, but we’re not. We did have Asian smoking cessation workers working on and off for two years, but it wasn’t a programme, it was just how we had responded to Asian needs so far. It’s not enough, and we need to do some more.”

Martin White, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Newcastle, conducted the BMJ research. He was struck by how “many white middle class professionals within health care will view South Asians as a singular population with the idea that they can develop a ‘one size fits all’ approach to interventions for them.”

“But it’s fundamentally wrong,” he adds. “For example, it doesn’t make sense that what should work for young male Bangladeshis who work anti social hours in the restaurant trade should work for elders sitting at home all day. They are almost different cultural groups.”

Since its almost expected for the elders to smoke, Shazan Uddin, a bilingual community health worker and cardiac rehab nurse for the Westgate Heartbeat project in Newcastle, says that it takes a major health crisis for many of them to give up.

Many of his clients are elderly South Asians with coronary heart disease and diabetes. “Usually they’ve either had a heart attack or are going to have heart bypass surgery before they give up,” he says.

Targeting those who aren’t suffering any ill health effects and who don’t want to give up is very difficult. “They say they’ve smoked all their life and don’t think its doing them any harm, it helps them relax. They’ve always got a way of justifying why they smoke and don’t want to give up”.

The situation isn’t helped by the acute lack of awareness of the serious health risks linked by smoking. DoH figures show that only 27% of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis associate smoking with heart disease.

Religion has little influence because despite tobacco being seen as Haram (not good says God) it is not specifically banned by their Islamic faith as alcohol is. Nor do their wives have much impact. “Their wives do put pressure on them but they say that they as men are the decision makers in Asian families,” says Shazan.

“Up until now there has been very little information available in Bengali advising them on the damage smoking causes and on how to give up. But they need more information but they don’t want any more of those leaflets, most of them don’t like reading anyway.” Because of these reasons, Shazan believes that any culturally sensitive smoking cessation programme would have to include structured group sessions.

Jamal Sarwar, 35, was one of the Bangladeshi advisors working for the PCT. Now he works as a community interpreter in the day and in an Indian restaurant in the evening. He is also a light smoker.

“It is absolutely necessary we have a proper smoking cessation programme in place. When I was working as a smoking cessation advisor we found that we needed a central place where clients could go and see a doctor, a nurse and where they could get advice, nicotine replacement therapy, counselling and join a group. But we did not have that.”

However Martin White acknowledges that there is the possibility of a programme being seen as “intrusive and patronising with people preaching to the Asian community”. “But on the other hand there are many people in the community who do want to give up.”

Jamal agrees. “They would welcome a Bangladeshi smoking cessation programme. There is nothing at the moment and leaving it purely up to will power is very hard. If the programme is geared towards my community then I don’t think it can be patronising at all.”

“Also the elders would only be happy on a programme with their own age group and taken by an adviser of their own age group. The same goes for the younger men who have different pressures and influences such as Indian films where the hero is always smoking. Our people need to feel the comfort of their own people.”

If he ever joined a smoking cessation programme Rufon would want the advisor to understand the pressures of working in an Indian takeaway or restaurant, and know what goes on in his community. “A person from a different culture wouldn’t,” he says, “but a Bangladeshi man would.”

Martin White argues that any future culturally sensitive programme in Newcastle must take on board the differences within the communities themselves if they are going to reach their target population and be effective. “UK investment is urgently needed in culturally sensitive smoking cessation interventions for South Asians that involve the government and national and local health agencies, particularly primary care trusts.” These requirements should be underlined by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, he adds, which obliges public authorities, including the NHS, to promote racial equality in access to services.



Tower Hamlets PCT funds a project serving the Bangladeshi community partnered by Queen Mary University of London and a community organisation, Social Action for Health. It offers a ‘culturally competent service’ that tries to meet the needs of the local community by using bilingual gender specific male and female advisors who are aware of the socio-cultural context of tobacco use and the impact this has on tobacco cessation for the Bangladeshi community.

Although smoking is acceptable amongst Bangladeshi men, in women it is regarded as taboo, and disrespectful. Only 4% of the women smoke. They prefer to chew tobacco in a mixture called Paan especially those aged over 55 and of whom its estimated that 56% chew. Chewing is just as harmful, contributing to coronary heart disease, and cancer of the mouth. “But we don’t want to take anything away from them, it’s traditional within their culture,” says Tobacco Cessation Advisor Shamsia Begum. “They’d have seen their grandparents do it. So our message is ‘enjoy your paan and leave out the tobacco’.”

The advisors try and distinguish what the main causes for the addiction are. For women, its often being in a different country without the freedom they are used to. Smoking is frequently linked to stress.

“So we try and divert the men to an alternative to cigarettes to relieve stress, such as exercise or a hobby,” Shamsia explains. “ It may also be appropriate to refer them on to another service too.”

All materials, including advice pamphlets, contact details and questionnaires, are printed in both English and Bengali.  An advisory group made up of smoking cessation advisors and community members meets quarterly to discuss and advise on new developments.

“We work on a locality basis,” says Ray Croucher, Professor of Community Oral Health at Queen Mary University of London, and the project’s joint manager. “We don’t wait for people to contact us – we recruit from the community by being present at, for example, a local food co-op and English language classes.”

Once clients have entered the Tower Hamlets programme they receive one to one counselling, nicotine replacement therapy and weekly advice.  “Then we continue to make contact in the community or, if they’d prefer, provide domiciliary visits. Our success rate is around 62%, compared to the national average of 48-50%.”

The approach is “holistic”, he continues, “and sometimes offers guidance on housing and benefits issues or facilitates access to dental care. Through liaison with environmental health officers we’ve also developed a Code of Practice for Retailers – traditional tobacco products imported from South Asia often have inadequate labelling about the health impacts of tobacco use.”


‘Understanding Influences on Smoking in Bangladeshi and Pakistani Adults: A Community Based, Qualitative Study’, by the School of Population and Health Sciences at University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, is available at http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/326/7396/962




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BIGGIE & TUPAC Review and interview with Director Nick Broomfield by TINA BEXSON For HOTDOG magazine

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Review and interview with Director Nick Broomfield by TINA BEXSON For HOTDOG magazine

The increasingly fearless director tirelessly tracks the lives and unsolved murders of the two rap stars and former friends, Tupac Shaker, and Biggie Smalls in a roller coaster ride of gang violence and rap rivalry, punctuated by Broomfield’s suitably subtle and deadpan narration. We’re in typical Broomfield territory. There’s the usual varied collection of idiosyncratic characters on the receiving end of his surprisingly effective fumbled questioning; the new insights including Biggie’s middle-class upbringing belying his Gangsta image, and Tupac acting out a scene from Scarface at a Harlem acting school. There’s also the incidental humour. Then there are the conspiracy theories, a la ‘Kurt and Courtney’. But here’s the difference: These conspiracy theories are so extreme and entangled that you wonder how the hell Broomfield coped with such an investigative challenge.

The assumed motivation for both killings – that they arose from the beef between West Coasts Death Row records, Tupac’s label, and East’s Bad Boy records, Biggie’s label – is swiftly dismissed. Instead the feud is widely rumoured to have been fuelled by the formers CEO, Gangsta Kingpin Suge Knight, to distract from his alleged scheme to murder Tupac, whom he owed millions in unpaid royalties. The subsequent shooting of Biggie six months later was seen to serve the same purpose – to divert further attention. Best of all, there’s the ongoing tale of police corruption, specifically voiced by ex-LAPD detective Russell Poole, that begs further questions in this convoluted exploration. Were some LAPD officers moonlighting as security for Knight and ‘signed up’ members of the related Bloods Gang? Did Knight also hire them to kill Tupac after the 1996 Tyson fight in Las Vegas? And to kill Biggie six months later after a Vibe magazine party? Then there’s the FBI. Why were they keeping Biggie under surveillance at the time of his murder, and why didn’t they intervene on that dark fateful night? It’s gripping stuff, though frustrating. You’re desperate to see justice done, or at least see some of the lose ends tied up. But this is ‘real life’, and there are no happy endings. Talking of endings, one of the final shots featuring a reference to the life expectancy of Snoop Dogg on Suge Knight’s Death Row website, is both disturbing and hilarious.

Interview with Nick Broomfield by Tina Bexson:

As a big fan of Biggie & Tupac’s music, “especially Biggie’s”, Nick Broomfield was intrigued by the murders from the off. “But”, he says, “I only decided I wanted to do the story when it became political, when it seemed members of the LAPD were involved, and the FBI might well be too.

“It was a mean task, and involved over 14 weeks of shooting. They even hired a private detective to get more information on the ‘Bookkeeper’ who took care of Death Row Records Dodgy books.”

“Then we got several breaks that had not been revealed before”, adds Broomfield, “like stuff that Kevin Hacky, Tupac’s bodyguard came up with, and what we got out of the Bookkeeper when we interviewed him in prison. It was very much an investigative piece, and I felt more of a responsibility to get it right instead of fiddling around as much as I have done in some of my other films.”

It never becomes crystal clear who can be held accountable for the slayings, but the film does ask questions about the involvement of Death Row Records and of specific characters like David Mack, Rafael Perez (both dirty cops), and Amir Muhammad. It also asks why the LAPD haven’t followed up the leads.

“The level of corruption in the police department is worse than it’s ever been”, Broomfield reveals, “But we’re hoping the film will add to the clamour for more of an investigation.”

He also believes the paranoia about black power in America is an ongoing concern.

“Biggie and Tupac were seen as politically wild. They had a lot of support and were taken very seriously. This was seen as being far more important to the FBI than the injustice of the murders.”

But despite the gravity of the subject matter, ‘Biggie & Tupac’ is splattered with humour which the director says, came mostly from the characters involved with the Hip Hop scene.

“People like Hacky, were so absurd. And you can’t believe how extreme it all is, and that makes it funnier.”

Visiting Suge Knight in a maximum secure prison (where he was being held on unrelated charges) is likened to being funny “like a horror show”. The cameraman was slightly overcome by the sight of hundreds of overly muscular men in the outside gym, and the resulting footage is rather wobbly.

“If you film in a combat zone, whether it’s a prison or whatever, some people manage to stay cool and go with what’s happening. Others end up like a deer in the headlights and don’t hear what you are saying to them. You feel horribly cruel because the more they fold, the more you have to give them new instructions, and it just gets worse and worse.”

“It was recommended this guy because I was told he’d filmed in a prison before. But on the drive up there, I discovered the filming he’d done was not only in an empty prison, it was for a soap opera.”

Although it was “a freaky film to make”, Broomfield was more frightened before the shoot.

“It’s then you think, ‘well what are the chances of something happening to me’. But I’m delighted to still be here, and delighted its finished. I couldn’t sleep for months because I didn’t think I could make it work. But now I can go out and have dinner without being completely crazed and obsessed.”

Broomfield explained that he won’t be getting into something as big straight away as his next big project is a feature film, tentatively called ‘Indecent Exposure’.

“It’s about the head of Colombia Pictures who blew his brains out in 1995. He was an embezzler through and through, somebody who pretended to be one thing but was something else. He was a difficult character to unravel.”

Viewers will look forward to the unravelling.


“Labyrinth”, a book by the Rolling Stone journalist, Randall Sullivan, which traces the murders will be published in the States on April 2nd. It is available on Amazon.


Ends (TB)

Tina Bexson critically investigates the growing recognition of one of the oldest arts . AS JP Morgan, First Billionaire said : “Millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do.”

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ASTROLOGY: Tina Bexson investigates the growing recognition of one of the oldest arts

Astrology has always lured the famous and influential from the likes of the late Princess Diana and numerous celebrities, to  politicians such as Ronald Reagan and, most surprisingly, JP Morgan and Margaret Thatcher. The latter apparently turned to a Daily Express astrologer to stargaze for signs of future dangers after surviving the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton way back in 1984. During World War two, all the leaders on both sides consorted to astrologers. Those believers who are still alive and kicking,  well they include, Putin. I think that’s all we need to know about current supporters. Putin? Yes, seriously! Its success in attracting such a diverse collection of people is becoming legendary. Perhaps you’d think the rest of us more grounded souls wouldn’t have much time for such so-called ‘silly speculation’.

You’d be very wrong. Over 60% of us not only fail to resist taking a daily peek at our horoscopes in our favourite newspaper, but increasing droves of us are seeking out personal one to one consultations, buying books and even taking up courses in an attempt to study it. In fact plans to make astrology a university subject are already well underway. Earlier this year a mystery benefactor donated half a million pounds to make astrology respectable. The Sophia Trust will be making the money available for an MA course. Astrology was thrown out of universities 300 years ago so if successful this first step of getting it academic recognition could have wide reaching consequences in astrology being taken seriously as a career.

Why? Because as with the dramatic embracing of alternative therapies, what has been labelled as the ‘new religion’ is also beginning to fulfil our need to find meaning and understanding in our lives beyond the material and mechanical interpretations we are surrounded with. Its rich symbolism encourages us to delve into our unconscious and feed our imagination. Unsurprisingly, musicians, poets, filmmakers and novelists have all been inspired by astrological themes in creating their art.

We are undoubtedly hungry for more, much more. But Roy Gillett, President of the Astrological Association of Great Britain says there’s a vast gap between the simplified Sun Sign stuff and ‘real’ astrology.  “There is a very powerful appetite with the general public for more knowledge of astrology. The problem is, the only way this can be easily satisfied is by reading the Sun Sign columns, and these are very superficial. It’s like comparing chopsticks to the world of music. But despite the lack of accessibility, the resistance from the media and scientists, those determined enough to find out more do. Perhaps there will be more opportunities in the future.”

In the meantime, the increased popularity and apparent respectability of professional astrologers of all persuasions, be they Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, or Financial, ensure they continue to make a living by offering us their pearls of wisdom.


Indian (Vedic) Astrology

Vedic Astrology is taken very seriously in India – it’s akin to a way of life. More commonly known as Jyotish, the science of light, it is even used to pre-determine arranged marriages. The prospective couple’s charts are compared so the pluses and minuses can be learnt allowing the opportunity to improve the quality of the relationship. People rarely make an important decision without consulting their family Jyotishi (practitioner of Astrology). And India’s university grants division has invited its country’s universities to set up departments of Vedic Astrology leading to doctoral degrees next academic year.

Komilla Sutton, an ex Bombay film star who now lives in England is a professional Vedic astrologer who works with international clients over the internet. She says that Vedic Astrology is a path of self knowledge which harmonises our material and spiritual sides. Unlike Western Astrology, which emphasises the significance of the sun, in Indian Astrology, the moon is of prime importance.

“We use a solar zodiac (connected with the moon being in a sign for a month) and a lunar zodiac (moon being in a sign for a day), and we combine the two together. The waxing and waning phases of the moon represent the cycles of life and death, transformation and change, darkness and light. The Sun signifies the soul as well as life’s mission, our Karma of this life,” Komilla explains. In fact the whole concept of Indian philosophy is that people bring some karma into their lives when they are born as though it’s a kind of genetic code.

Komilla’s main diagnostic tool is Mahurata, the electing of auspicious times for various events. It is the moment on time when the conditions are as near perfect for the start of your venture. Marriage is the most important of the Mahurata’s to be elected. Election charts are also done regularly for start of businesses, moving homes, and travelling.

“Most people contact me because they are at a crossroads in life or are going through a tough time that they don’t feel will ever change. My job is not to tell them what to do but to give them a kind of weather report as the cycles of time touch your lives in their own unique way. The reading gives them the power to understand their lives and will make them aware of their positive energy so they can enhance their life. People often don’t look at their positive chart at all, they only exaggerate their negativity. But I can’t give them the answer to their lives, they have to find that themselves.”

For information on Vedic Astrology and on Komilla and the various books she has written, contact her website: www.komilla.com

Western Astrology

Many people visit astrologers so they can be told what to do with their lives or how to meet their perfect astrological man. It will do neither maintains Peta High, Chair of the Astrological Association and who is both an Astrologist, and humanistic therapist. ”Deterministic and fatalistic astrology which gives people the feeling that they have no power over their lives is now very old fashioned, its completely rubbish. You might get the odd power tripping astrologer who does that but professional astrologers try to empower people with the information from their birth chart, which provides a blueprint of their psyche. It’s like being in a card game, you are dealt a hand and you play them whichever way you want. “

Roy echoes this. “Your are born with a pattern of things of things to experience but knowing what they are provides you with the freedom to master and change them. So it teaches you about what you have to challenge.

However finding out exactly what that pattern or blue print is, is a complicated process. Along with the time, date and place of birth, Astrologers take the position of the sun, moon and the 8 planets at the time of birth, along with which way around the earth was.

“This provides them with a unique series of archetypal pictures,” Roy explains. “Each concept has a meaning which tells them about the persons basic nature. They can then look at the charts for any time in the future and relate these to the chart of the birth and work out at which times in their life they have the best opportunity to really exploit their potential and over come their difficulties. That’s how it works. It’s very much like cooking the most complicated meal you have cooked in your entire life.”

Contact: The Astrological Association of Great Britain: 0208 880 4848 / http://www.astrologer.com

Financial Astrology

Financial astrologers (sometimes called mundane astrologers) claim to make forecasts on the climate, the stock markets, and the fortunes of world leaders, national and multinational corporations.

Christeen Skinner specialises in the study of planet cycles and their relationship with economic, social and political affairs. she says that correlations can offer a clear cut picture. “For example when planet Mercury is retrograde (appearing to travel backwards in relation to the Earth) there are often problems with communication, travel, postal services, and so on. But the skill lies in considering the many different cycles that intersect at any moment in any place in order to understand their combined effect.”

Her clients include international bankers, publishers, retailers, stock traders and many others. The Body Shop’s founder Anita Roddick, for whom she did a blind report for the Channel 4 Witness programme, described her as “a marketing genius”

“When I work with individual organisations, like say Marks & Spencer, I take the complex planet cycles to determine when a wave of positive energy is available to benefit them or when energy is more likely to work against them. ”

Some companies retain business astrologers to help them identify the best dates for the launch of marketing campaigns. “This approach takes into account what is happening astrologically at a given time and compares that to the cycles that were operating when the company itself was formed. The company can then convey its own mission statement at the same time as promoting a particular idea or product.”

“Styles, colours words and images can also be identified form the planets aspects, giving creative material to the industry. For example: Venus, the planet associated with fashion, makes patterns with the other planets throughout the year. Study of this cycle shows how trends are likely to develop and when a public mood might radically alter.”

Tina Bexson

Tina Bexson interviews Daryl Hannah on why she appeared in ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’, an improvised film about Los Angeles pole dancers and strippers

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The Making of ‘The Blue Iguana’: Interview with Daryl Hannah by Tina Bexson

In a strip club Deep in Los Angeles San Fernando Valley Daryl Hannah defies gravity as she gradually gyrates upside down around a tall pole, her long blonde hair cascading to the ground. A dreamy somewhat stoned smile escapes from her lips as Marianne Faithful’s “Angel” gathers momentum and she flips over onto her transparent platform shoes.

But hang on, what’s happening? Why have we cut to the dressing room? This isn’t sexy in the way we know it. It’s complete chaos. Pandemonium. There’s a saga about a missing g-string; a positive pregnancy test; and a dispute over where Nico, the visiting porn star, should sit.

This is ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’, a new film by Michael Radford, the filmmaker  who has managed to resist any form of categorisation. And this is no exception. It offers a sharp contrast to the fishing village of ‘Il Postino’, the group of decadent colonialists of ‘White Mischief’, or the Orwellian futuristic vision of ‘1984’.

Conceived entirely by improvisation, with both script and character emerging from the efforts of a cast (including Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sandra Oh) who were unafraid to delve into the contradictory darker sides of their psyches, ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’ is unique. Even Mike Leigh has never gone this far with his penchant for improvisation. But it offers a further deviation in its portrayal or rather probing of the unsettling world of strip tease for there’s the psychological exposure along with the physical.

“It’s not Striptease, the Demi Moore thing,” insists Hannah, (who plays Angel), as she takes an enormous bite out of a cream scone in the lounge of the Covent Garden Hotel, where I’m interviewing her this morning. “It’s amazing how the nudity becomes the background. That’s what the film was for, to find the people and not focus on the body parts.”

Though in all honesty it’s hard not to focus on them, they are in tiptop form, and this is undoubtedly a very sexy film. But every aspect was meticulously researched during the five months the actresses frequented Hollywood strip clubs to learn the lingo, the routines, the dances, the pole tricks, and the interaction with punters.

“ I had no choice but to do a lot of research because I had no idea what the world of an exotic dancer or stripper was apart from the clichés you get from cheesy movies”, reveals Hannah. So at 3pm everyday, after rehearsals, and when the strip clubs were closed for cleaning, she was taught the routines by the strippers she befriended. Some of them, mainly the stripper Nikki, feature in her documentary, ‘Strip Notes’, that she made during her time in the clubs.

“I was black and blue for two and a half months, I must have looked like I’d been brutally assaulted, but I got into incredible shape,” explains Hannah. You will no doubt recall her lithe athletic mermaid in ‘Splash’ or her acrobatic android in ‘Blade Runner’.

“Doing all those slow motion squats and presses mean you immediately get your thighs toned and it really builds up your upper body strength, your stomach muscles. Those girls don’t need to go to the gym because they’re in the ‘gym’ every night when they are working. The more experienced use it to do these miraculous things that look as though they are floating with no limbs attached, it’s sensuous, and very gymnastic.”

“I learned to do a dozen pole tricks upside down,” she continues, “you feel like a kid swinging around on the jungle gym, I really enjoyed it.” (So did Sheila Kelley, who played Stormy, in fact so much that she had a pole installed in her house after the film.)

Perfecting a suitably slinky, not to mention, stimulating routine is one thing but performing for real in front of a live audience is a real tester. Hannah did a few routines in a bikini bar but the girls in the clubs proper also threw her up on stage at the beginning of the night when the places were only littered with a few customers.

“Then they grabbed the front row seats and lined the stage with dollar bills. Most of my money was from them. All my nerves went because they were cheering me on and laughing with me, they kind of shielded me from knowing that there was anybody else there.”

One of these clubs had quite a high profile clientele: “I’d see a lot of people from my industry there. And even though I was in disguise and got away with it for a while, I didn’t want to push it too much because it was very important that my cover was maintained.” But in her documentary the club owner, Eddie, tells us that a punter told him that his stripper currently on stage “looked just like Daryl Hannah.”

The only time she really stripped in front of a big audience was in front of a bunch of extras in the film. “Here I wanted to show that Angel really knew what she was doing, that she’d been working for quite a long time, but I also wanted her to have a kind of ethereal dance routine, because it fitted in with her character, dreamy and flirty.”

“But I was kind of disappointed with myself. I was trying to emulate Nikki who you saw in the documentary, and who I got a lot of my characteristics and story ideas from. Most dancers have a really practised and studied hypnotic stare. Nikki was just the opposite, she would giggle and wave at people and carry on conversations. She’s silly and light and I really wanted to pull that off on stage as well. But I was so nervous when I was actually dancing that I couldn’t so I made another choice and decided to be the ‘stoned Nikki’ instead and just did my routine with my eyes closed. I wish I had been able to get over my nerves enough to be the way she is. “

Hannah says that she didn’t even think that those kind of characters existed in the world until she’d met some of the girls, and it was in the dressing room that she got an insight into their real desires and motivations, which she would then use later. Here it was mostly “bare naked ladies” who stripped off more than the physical layers as they laughed, swore, argued and occasionally punched.

“I was hearing all these funny stories in there. I’ve been in a lot of comedies (Hannah was in Roxanne with Steve Martin, Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and the romantic comedy Too Much with Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas) but I’ve never got to play a comic role. I’m always the straight man to the comedian, and I thought, this is a chance for me to be funny. Also Jennifer (this is the fourth time Tilly and Hannah have worked together), who usually plays a brazenly comic character, wanted to play someone a little harder, so we decided to switch places.”

Hannah is indeed very funny. Things happen to Angel, who is an endearing and curious mix of vulnerability and jadedness, a child-woman that Hannah naturally tuned into. There’s a great scene with no cuts, when she gets arrested for grass (partly based on one of Nikki’s experiences) whilst asking an officer to take a photograph of her in front of a huge billboard featuring her in an ad for the show. All the dialogue was improvised; created on the spot from the recesses of the casts’ imaginations. The rather confused Angel comes out with absurd lines: “Officer, is this going to be on the news and everything?” and “But I didn’t inhale.”

A Russian hit man taking ‘time out’ visits the club and develops an obsession with Angel, further fuelling her fantasy world. There’s some languid scenes of her outside the club attempting to smoke movie star style, clad in a ludicrous long white fluffy coat whilst he spies down on her from a window above. “When I was doing my research I would see the girls go outside for a smoke and that was their only respite. So even girls who weren’t smokers became smokers, including myself for the time I was making the film, because its your only chance to get some fresh air, and look up at the stars and imagine being somewhere else or someone else.”

Hannah, herself, became so embroiled in the construction of her character that she would often imagine what Angel’s reactions would be for many months after the film was completed. “Where ever I’d be, I’d start giggling to myself, thinking about what Angel would be saying right now, I could hear her takes on things, it cracked me up. You could throw her into any environment, in any country, with anyone, and she would be as funny and sad and as ridiculous as she is. But I’d like to only work like this, to have time to research and be so involved in the character that no matter what situation you’re in, you are the character.”

Radford’s decision to improvise on film was only made after they had started shooting a script taken from the scenes they had improvised in rehearsal (he’d had these transcribed and made into a script). But he missed the freshness and threw the scripts away and got them to re-improvise the scenes with new dialogue. “It was a totally insane idea to take on”, says Hannah, “but he’s so brave and it’s so cool he had enough respect with actors to give them that trust.”

Still, it was a big gamble. There was no guarantee the film would be made so none of the cast would receive any payment. Then they were told they’d be no financing until the financiers had viewed what they had come up with. Not everyone Radford was initially interested in was prepared to take that risk. But he was very happy with who he got in the end and has said that he’d always wanted to work with Sandra Oh and Jennifer Tilly. He has also said that “the biggest surprise was Daryl – she literally forced herself on me. She’s so interesting to watch, so brilliant and profound.”

Hannah certainly has no regrets, apart from not taking more time to understand the male psyche perhaps. “I had so much to learn: getting my character, story, wardrobe, my look, my routine, dancing, that the one thing I really didn’t spend time doing was understanding the customer and the relationship I was supposed to have with them.”

“But I certainly learned how to move sensuously with confidence. I’d always felt kind of awkward and geeky before when I tried to act or move in a sexy way. But you can analyse it and break it down and learn a few little tricks. On the other hand it’s not a job I would ever want. Being in the clubs was fascinating whilst doing research and making a documentary, but it was hard, those environments are hard on the soul.”

So is Hollywood and at least Hannah built up close bonds with the dancers, some of which are still there today. “They really support each other which is something I haven’t experienced in my profession amongst other actresses or movie people,” she adds ruefully.“ But what I found most surprising was their sense of humour and irony. I’d often hear them say (she adopts a drawn out tired voice) ‘I cant believe this, its Friday night, I’m in Hollywood, and I’m crawling around on my hands and knees – I’m a stripper!’”