By Louise Howeson
To nightclubbers Jayne Brown is the woman who hands out the tequila shots. Having worked in Basildon clubs for 26 years, she is a familiar face to partygoers at the weekend.
But no one would know that, back at her gothic home in Southend, the 45-year-old has a very different hobby.
The rogue taxidermist likes to stuff dead animals, but not only that, she creates weird and wonderful creatures by combining body parts that in reality would be impossible.
Jayne says: “I do like the macabre and my house is very gothic and a little bit colonial in style. Personally, I am quite theatrical and artistic and love being glamorous, but I don’t mind getting my hands dirty.
“I love animals and I feel that what I do brings them back to looking beautiful. We are recycling the animal.”
To date, Jayne has created a dragon made from a bearded dragon and a bat’s wings, a unicorn using a lamb and has been asked by one cat lover to turn his pets into gloves when they die.
Jayne says: “I was asked to take part in a Channel 4 show, All Creatures Great and Stuffed, earlier this year and they asked me to make a flagship piece, which has since been sold.
“I made a unicorn using a lamb that had recently died on a farm. The thing was it was white and I couldn’t get the farmer’s markings off it, so I had to dye the lamb black. He looked like a horse, a poodle cross, so I thought I could make it into a unicorn.
“Now, this lamb was a boy, he had testicles, so I had to get rid of that, got rid of the skin and used the rest to remodel the lamb’s nose. I called the unicorn Richard.”
Jayne is very open, honest and passionate about what she does. She eventually wants to retire from her job at the bars and make rogue taxidermy her full-time job.
After taking part in the show and making commissions and her own pieces using her “fertile imagination”, business is already booming, with one national newspaper calling her the UK’s leading rogue taxidermist.
She stresses that she loves animals, and any idea of hurting them is abhorrent to her.
She explains: “I have always loved animals and natural history – they are my passion. People come to me with their dead pets, but other animals are roadkill or reptile feed, such as rabbits and mice that are out of date. They would usually be incinerated, but they are good to use for taxidermy. People assume you want to go out and club animals over the head to stuff them. The Victorians did that, but it’s not my cup of tea.”
Jayne also wants to dispel the myth that taxidermists are all men, and put as much distance between the industry and Alfred Hitchcock’s famous killer, Norman Bates in Psycho.
She admits the traditional taxidermy fraternity are not particularly keen on their rogue counterparts, but says it is an area that is growing.
She says: “The traditional taxidermists didn’t like the programme I was on, but the industry is moving forward. I am a member of the Guild of Taxidermists and the art is appealing to more people.
“An artist called Polly Morgan, who was picked up by Damien Hirst, does something similar, but instead of making the animals look like they are alive, she creates artwork that celebrates their beauty in death. It’s become a real trend.”
Jayne’s first foray into taxidermy happened eight years ago when her mum passed away.
She says: “I wanted to buy something significant with the money my mum left me to remember her by, something dramatic, and a full mounted lion was it. I bought the lion off eBay and I know Mum would have loved it. She’s the one who got me my job as a shot girl at a local nightclub 26 years ago, after seeing an advert in the Echo.”
By coincidence, the person she bought the £2,500 lion from lived just a few streets away from her and offered to show her the art of taxidermy.
Jayne says: “I do love my job at the clubs, but when I retire, which I do want to do, I need something to move on to. Rogue taxidermy is my next stage.
“The woman I bought Aslan from showed me the basics and the rest I learned off YouTube.
“He needed a bit of restoration, so I went into all the supermarkets and chemists that sold dark blond hair dye and bought the lot.
“You should have seen the shop assistants’ faces when I told them what it was for.
“The principles behind rogue taxidermy are the same as standard taxidermy. I am quite traditional, so I make the mannequins myself out of cotton wool and wire, though you can buy them. You skin the animal, de-fat it, make the mannequin, stitch it all up and do the artistry. How long it takes depends on what you are working on. A mouse only takes three hours, whereas a lamb takes 40 hours.”
The thought of skinning and defatting an animal is enough to make many people’s stomachs turn, but for Jayne it is a process she enjoys.
She says: “I am not sqeamish, but my partner Vince is. We’ve been together 16 years and I admit it took a while to persuade him I was doing the right thing.
“When I met Vince he was a vegetarian, but he has now come round to the idea. He can’t disagree with me anyway, because he may end up in a jar.
“He is quite sqeamish and when I am working – I work from home – he’d rather not watch. Though he does find it interesting now and has bought me a few pieces of taxidermy. I do have a real human skull and Vince was worried about having it in the house and how it may haunt us!
“I am sure some people will find me unusual, but I can’t change who I am.”