For the rest of the world Hugh Hefner was a colourful, womanising Playboy, famed for his many lovers and outrageous life; but for me, there was a secret side to Hugh that very few people got to know.
I first found the Hefner family through Hugh’s wife, Crystal Harris when she travelled to Australia during a separation from Hugh in 2012. She was a DJ performing at Sydney Fashion Week, and my work in the glamorous world of fashion and entertainment PR saw us cross paths.
We connected immediately; when she moved back to the mansion, I became a regular visitor to the grounds whenever I visited the US. By 2013 I was starting to base myself in LA for periods for my work, and from there I was introduced to Hugh himself and life in the company of the Playmates.
It was Crystal who introduced me to Hef, on an early tour of the mansion. The Playboy offices were in a wing of the mansion and Crystal had taken me there to introduce me to all the staff. As we left, we unexpectedly ran into Hef in the halls and he made a joke about how lucky he was to have Crystal back in the mansion after their separation; soon after they were engaged. It was clear he was in love.
The first time I stayed overnight at the house as a guest was a surprise. There were movie nights Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week, where we would sit down for dinner at precisely 5.30pm and Hef would ring the bell for the movie at 6.30.
After a movie, there was always the best cheese sandwiches and guacamole at the bar. The staff who worked there were part of the family and have been there for many many years - Joe the bartender I think just celebrated about 30 years with Hef.
One evening, myself and the other guests stayed back for drinks and instead of seeing me out, Hef and Crystal called down to the staff to deliver me the key to the guest suite and requested I stay the night to save me driving back to my hotel.
I stayed the night in Suite 2, and when I woke up the next morning it was like waking up in a fairytale.
I could hear the sounds of the animals calling across the grounds and view out the windows took in the sight of the magnificent pool and grotto, with the waterfalls running. There were over 100 monkeys and many rare birds on the grounds; it was the only home in LA that had a zoo and fireworks license.
But even at home, Hef was always surrounded by multiple security. When I stayed overnight and came down the hall from the bedroom, there was security at the top of the stairs. He was icon so there was always a lot of security. Later I would learn that to access the property we would have to speak into a big rock.
After that first night, I felt like a part of the Playboy family. There was something to celebrate almost every day and night.
Hef was a man of habit; Wednesday was his card night with his guy friends, and even on Christmas we would run the same dinner and movie schedule.Crystal loved Disneyland and we’d go all the time, with the special Disneyland Club 33 membership Hef gave her as a wedding gift.
There were Sunday ‘Fun in the Sun’ pool parties, and Hef would enjoy sitting out in the sun. He loved Christmas and all the holidays.
I spent New Years Eves at parties at the mansion too, but the 4th of July was a favourite of mine, with extravagant lollie stands and water slides then fireworks to finish the evening.
There were so many nights and days of celebration, but so many of my favourite memories are the quieter times, the normal family time we spent together.
On movie nights I would sit with Crystal and Hef on the main couch. It was always so beautiful and warm. Being part of life at the Playboy mansion was like being adopted by a big extended family when I came to LA.
Hef rarely left the grounds; but if we wanted to go shopping he would hire a limo and send us all out on a fun adventure. He made everything special for those around him. I remember going into his bedroom and his side of the closet was filled with the famous robe, many, many of them. I guess he didn't need a large wardrobe, as he spent his time in his iconic pyjamas and robe at home.
Hef created his own world at the mansion; it was his kingdom. His bed was surrounded by video cassettes and DVDs. He and the girls would watch films all the time. He had two big movie screens on top of one another in front of the bed.
He had an attic off his room where he kept all of his photos. Every night at the mansion there was a lady taking pictures for his scrapbooks, and Hef would go through them every Saturday to make the scrapbooks of memories. His “Scrapbook Saturdays” were a beloved pastime that he and Crystal would share together. There would be decades of scrapbooks in that attic. Pictures were a passion for him.
I was a guest at the New Year's Eve wedding of Hef and Crystal; the love between them was to be admired.
When Crystal was separated from Hef for a period, she heard his new girlfriends weren't treating him as well as he deserved and she missed him so much. After seeing that, it was so it was lovely to see them get married.
When he married Crystal, all the other girls went away. Once married, he was a one-woman man. Crystal took care of Hef’s every need and put her own life aside for him. In return. Hef looked after her and her family.
Crystal’s family often stayed at the mansion and he welcomed all her friends with open arms. All the old Playmates would come to visit when they came to town as well. Hef kept an open door for the Playboy family always.
He was the most hospitable and generous man to everyone around him. He would always make an effort to make everyone comfortable and take pictures, make jokes and show how much adored his wife. He had to have her by his side when the guests were there, always.
At home, Hef was like any other dad. I remember one night his son Cooper was over with his friends at the mansion, and they partied on into the night playing in the pool and drinking all the drinks. He was in trouble the next day for all the noise.
After the wedding, I arranged an “at home” photoshoot and interview with the new “Mrs. Hefner” for OK! Magazine. This kickstarted my career in the US.
I have the Hefner clan to thank for introducing me to the Jackson family and recommending me to manage and produce Paris and Kathryn Jackson’s first world exclusive interviews after the death of Michael Jackson.
I went on to work with the Jackson, Presley, Hilton families, Lindsay Lohan, members of The Rolling Stones families and more. The Playboy Mansion, Hef and Crystal definitely provided me with opportunities I could have only dreamed of, and memories I will forever treasure.
Hef was a warm, family man, whose great love was holiday celebrations and whose true fondness was for nights spent watching movies with his family and close friends in the warm rooms of the Playboy Mansion.
Of course, this is the fairy tale version of the Playboy Mansion... and to every fairy tale there is a darker side.
But these memories for me make up the most cherished chapter in the long story of my time in that sprawling, magical mansion.