Tom Jones was my first boyfriend; we dated for three years

Some people call me the “Erin Brockovich of revenge porn” because I fought a misogynistic website and help victims remove their humiliating, nude photos from the Internet. But prior to my clash with cyber-crime, I was a rebel in romance.  

I’ve never embraced pop culture’s philosophy about traditional dating roles and the need for game-playing. I don’t believe women are designed to be passive and weak—essentially prey—while male suitors boldly select the gazelles of their choice. I support gender equality and encourage women to persevere, be fierce and actively pursue their romantic dreams, even when those dreams seem outlandish. 

I had my own outlandish dream at the age of nine. I hoped to date—when I was older, of course—Welsh superstar and sex symbol, Tom Jones. Naturally, I did not believe this could happen. 

Although Tom was twenty years my senior and lived nowhere near my home state of Georgia, I foolishly announced to family and friends that I was in love with him. Mockery, teasing and insults followed. My fourth grade classmates called my crush, “stupid.” They stuck gushy poems (which they signed, “Love, Tom Jones”) into my desk at school and erupted in laughter when I found them.  

Home meant more embarrassment. My brother caught me kissing the TV set during Tom’s weekly variety show in 1969 and taunted me, “You’ve got a boyfriend. His name is Sony. Don’t you think he’s a little square?” and “You got mononucleosis from the boob tube. Eww, gross. That’s obscene.”

At sixteen, my romantic feelings for Tom had not vanished and neither had the criticism. My father—who had always described show business folks as “low class and inferior”—seemed to think his own daughter was more inferior. He stared at me and asked, “Why would he [Tom Jones] want to go out with you?” 

I did not condemn family and friends for this abject pessimism because I thought they were right. Self-esteem was like the unicorn in my bathtub. It did not exist. My bedroom mirror convinced me that I was ten pounds overweight and not-so-pretty. I was an inferiority complex embedded within an imperfect body, trapped within a community of naysayers. 

My life changed drastically that summer. 

It was the night of my first concert. This was not a Tom Jones show; the entertainer was Jerry Lee Lewis, known for the songs, “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” Following the performance, I was plucked from the audience, invited backstage and asked to join Jerry Lee for dinner. I declined. However, what ensued was a heart-to-heart chat with Jerry Lee’s friend, JD. This white-haired man infused me with much-needed confidence. He was the Santa Claus of compliments; and I found myself embracing the “I think I can” mindset. JD treated me like his pupil, convincing me that I could land a date with Tom.     

“You could go out with him, young lady,” JD said and added a sprinkle of logic. “Of course he’d be interested. After all, Jerry Lee is interested, isn’t he?” 

It made perfect sense. If Jerry Lee was interested, maybe Tom would be as well. For the first time, I felt pretty. I was able to embrace my inner peacock. I thanked JD and scurried from the concert hall, ready for my new adventure. 

Strategizing seemed integral to success. A person cannot normally approach a celebrity, brush aside gigantic security guards, casually say, “Hey, how about a date?” and expect a favorable response. So, I plotted. And I schemed. And I plotted some more. I even took Welsh lessons, unaware that Tom did not know the language. Months later, when I was seventeen, I flew to Las Vegas where Tom was headlining at Caesars Palace. 

Charlotte Laws and Sir Tom Jones in 2010
Charlotte Laws and Tom Jones in 2010
I spent a full week in tenacity mode. I was like a heat-seeking missile. I sat ringside at Tom’s show. I bribed a bellman to give me Tom’s suite number. I met Tom’s mother. I gave flowers to his parents. I crept through secret passageways in an effort to finagle myself backstage. I sat on the floor outside Tom’s suite, waiting for him. I phoned the dressing room to ask if I could drop by. I even donned a provocative showgirl costume with a feather headdress and “coincidentally” ran into Tom in the hallway. We chatted for five minutes. Unfortunately, all of my carefully contrived schemes crashed to the ground like broken kites, and I returned to Atlanta.  

Although I had failed, I was not discouraged because the most important component for success—persistence—was wholly intact. I believed—or at least hoped—I was the “little Atlanta girl who could” go out with my dream man... eventually. I restarted the shenanigans a year and a half later when I was eighteen. Tom was scheduled to perform in Fort Lauderdale. So, like before, I strategized ferociously. I fasted for seventeen days on nothing but water in order to lose weight. I snagged a ringside seat at his show, pretending to be the winner of a beauty pageant. I secured a hotel room adjacent to Tom’s suite. I procured backstage invitations from the theater manager and two musicians. But, this time my plans did not fail. Instead, they were unnecessary because Tom, in fact, had his own plan.    

He saw me sitting ringside at his show, remembered me from Vegas and asked his publicist to invite me backstage. I fidgeted on a velvet couch in his dressing room while I waited for him to emerge from the back room. I had waited almost ten years for this very moment. Insecurity pulsed through my veins. Would I blow it? Would he like me? Maybe I was ugly. Or fat. Perhaps I should have fasted for eighteen days or nineteen. I felt like that nine year old child who had been told, “stop dreaming,” more times than there are days in a year. 

Tom eventually joined me on the couch, and he recalled what I’d told him in Vegas. I was astonished. He remembered my name, my hobbies and details about my parents. He had truly noticed me at Caesars Palace, and I suddenly realized that my perceived “failures” were not failures at all. They were stepping stones to my fantasy date. They were pivotal moments, lifting me closer to love. 

I thought I was in love with Tom at age nine, but I knew I was in love with him that evening. There was never one second of disappointment. Tom was exactly as I’d always imagined. We had dinner in the dressing room, and then a limousine took us to the discothèque, Studio 51.  

At Studio 51, Tom snuggled up beside me. His arm caressed my shoulder, and his fingers played with my long curls. He sipped Dom Perignon, and we chatted. I was euphoric, and I felt like a princess until… panic hit me. I suddenly realized I would have to make a decision that night about whether or not to stay with Tom. I had never had sex and had no idea what I would do when he made a pass at me. It was not a question of “if.” I was certain it was “when.” This was a big step in my life. Would I say yes? Or no? I wondered how “maybe” would play. I wished I could phone a friend, but that was impossible. I glanced at the shadowy ceiling of the nightclub, longing for guidance from the universe. My brain was in shambles. It was experiencing ecstasy, followed by “freak out,” followed by more ecstasy, followed by another round of “freak out.”  

Tom and I left Studio 51 and ended up in his hotel suite. I still had no clue what to do. Tom nibbled on grapes in the dining room, while I retreated to a couch in the darkened living room, staring at a blank wall and hoping for a miracle. Finally, I stood and walked slowly towards Tom, repeating in my head, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” 

When I reached him, he asked, “Are you going to stay tonight?” I suddenly knew the answer.
And the rest is history as detailed in my memoir, Rebel in High Heels.

Charlotte Laws, Ph.D. is the author of the tell-all memoir Rebel in High Heels, which details Laws’ romance with Sir Tom Jones, her dangerous battle against “the most hated man on the Internet,” and her other outrageous adventures. Laws—known throughout the world as the Erin Brockovich of revenge porn—has been an NBC commentator, California politician, private investigator, FBI lecturer, and magazine covergirl. You can follow her on Twitter @CharlotteLaws 

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Bill Cosby and Drugging: My 34-Years-Old Secret

“Did I ever drug you?” Bill Cosby joked when I entered his dressing room at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, in February 2005. He was performing at the venue, and it was “between shows.” I was accompanied by my husband and stepdaughter.

Bill Cosby and Charlotte Laws
His comment was meant to defuse tension because a woman had just come forward, saying she was drugged and raped by him. It was obvious that Bill was feeling uneasy about negative media attention. I wondered if his decision to hang out with me and my family one-on-one for 45 minutes was part “damage control.” I was not his close friend; I was more of a friendly acquaintance. Perhaps “friendly acquaintances” can expect more attention when 34-year-old secrets are involved.

Bill knew that I knew. I could feel it. I had known the truth since that memorable night in 1981. Bill had drugged my close friend, whom I will call Sandy, and then had sex with her.

Bill met Sandy in the casino at the Las Vegas Hilton around 1979 or 1980. She was in her late teens or early 20s, thin and medium height with hazel eyes and straight brown hair that fell just below her shoulders. They immediately began a consensual intimate relationship. At the time, Sandy was sexually adventuresome, dating a number of men around town.

Sandy was not a would-be actress and had no major career aspirations, other than possible enrollment in the U.S. military. She did not date Bill with an eye toward professional advancement, and to my knowledge, he made no promises of this sort. She simply liked his company. She also came to appreciate the few hundred dollars he gave her following each date.

“I don’t know why Bill always leaves me money,” she told me. “He must think I’m a hooker. But I don’t want to tell him the truth, because I like getting the cash.”

Sandy had no job and lived in a downscale apartment in a dreggy section of town. Those extra dollars came in handy at rent time.

Sandy introduced me to Bill in 1980. I was 20 years old. The three of us sat alone in his dressing room at the Las Vegas Hilton. He coached me on my college plans. He was the incarnation of the wise and protective patriarch, a role he would play on a national scale when “The Cosby Show” launched in 1984, making Cliff Huxtable a household name. I particularly appreciated his commitment to causes and his down-to-earth nature. He was not only an incredible talent; he was a caring and generous soul.

“If you grow your hair down to your waist, I will give you $2,000,” Bill told Sandy.

She did not react with enthusiasm. But then again, she was not a bubbly person. Her temperament was more like a panther: sleek and even-keeled.

Then he looked at me and smiled, “What’s your favorite clothing store?”

“Suzy Creamcheese,” I said. This was a popular local boutique.

“If you help Sandy grow her hair down to her waist,” Bill said to me, “I will buy you $1,000 worth of clothes at Suzy Creamcheese.”

I figured Bill had a “thing” for long hair in the same way that some men have a “thing” for feet.

Sandy never grew her hair. She was not motivated by money. But she did come to me one morning a year later to tell me that something bad had happened. Bill had drugged her. She was not angry. She was baffled, stunned, even shaken by the experience. Plus, she felt betrayed.

“Bill drugged me last night, and then had sex with me,” Sandy confided. “I just don’t understand it. It’s not like I would have said no to anything.”

He had given her two pills and said, “These will relax you.” She trusted him and swallowed them. She figured they were vitamins or herbal medicine. They did not relax her; they flat-out knocked her unconscious.

“He didn’t need to do it,” she repeated. “I just don’t understand why.”

Did it turn him on to see a woman “out cold” or was this all a mistake? Maybe Sandy’s body had reacted to the pills in a bizarre and unexpected way. I was willing to give Bill the benefit of the doubt, although Sandy felt his actions were intentional.

She did not view the encounter as rape, because she was already in an intimate relationship with him. I likewise did not categorize it as a sex crime, because it was Sandy’s experience, and she had a right to define it any way she wished. I was only the bystander, the friend, the shoulder to cry on. Of course, now that I am older, I look back and realize that when a woman is unconscious, she cannot ever consent.

Sandy had no idea what happened to her that night. She knew it involved sex; she could tell by the way her body felt afterward. It never occurred to either of us that Bill might be drugging other women. We both assumed the encounter was a “one-off.” After all, Bill was charming, intelligent, attractive and famous. He did not need to sedate women in order to secure dates. He could not possibly have a dark side.

I moved from Las Vegas in 1982 and fell out of touch with Sandy. But I stayed in touch with Bill. One evening we were alone in his dressing room.

“Have you seen Sandy?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I haven’t seen her in years.”

It occurred to me that the “drugging date” may have been their last.

In an effort to elevate Sandy a few notches, I disclosed, “She was never a hooker. You probably thought she was.”

“Really?” He was expressionless. I could not tell whether he already knew or was surprised.

“She needed the money for rent,” I added. “That’s why she never told you.”

He nodded, indicating he understood and was copacetic with it.

In 2005, I had arrangements to attend Bill’s show in Oakland and to go backstage with my family. But days prior, I got wind of the allegations against Bill. I was shocked and in a quandary. For the first time, I realized that Sandy’s ordeal had not been a “one-off.” Plus, I was a witness. I could corroborate this woman’s story. But should I? Was it better to leave it to the courts and law enforcement? After all, I was not a victim. Bill had always treated me with respect. He had given me advice and been generous with his time. He had never offered me a pill.

I was also unclear how to handle the backstage mingle. Should I cancel? Should I question or confront him? Should I be polite? I chewed on this for hours, finally deciding to keep the arrangements.

After Bill tossed out his opening line, “Did I ever drug you?” I took a seat across from him in his Oakland dressing room. I introduced him to my husband, Charles, and my stepdaughter, Sibylla.

“What style do you think this is?” Bill asked in an upbeat way, alluding to the room’s furnishings.

“Art Deco,” Charles replied.

“What do you do, Sibylla?” Bill asked.

“I’m an astrologer,” she replied.

“Sibylla is going to tell you if you’re going to be a success,” Charles said. Bill laughed.

“Charles is not only funny,” I finally spoke. “He can recite entire Shakespearean plays.”

“You like that, don’t you?” Bill grinned at me. He loved the idea that poetry had swept me off my feet.

“You can make up anything at this point, and she’ll think it’s Shakespeare,” Bill winked at Charles.

The conversational tone had been set; it was friendly and humorous. There would be no confrontation or interrogation. We calmly discussed politics and national news stories — except, of course, that certain news story about a certain comedian. It was the elephant in the Art Deco room. We also talked about the criminal justice system and Bill’s favorite subject: education.

Ironically, Bill was concerned that certain reform schools might be pumping youngsters with drugs.

“Could you check into this for me?” Bill asked, since I wrote a newspaper column.

I said, “Sure.”

I did not say, “I know someone else who has been pumping youngsters with drugs!”

I was usually a rebel, outspoken and controversial; but on this particular evening, I opted to be pleasant. I gave Bill a friendly goodbye hug, still uncertain whether I should come forward. It was not long before a number of women corroborated the first woman’s account about drugging and rape, and I assumed my testimony was not needed.

I assumed wrong.

In the years since, I’ve tried to reach out to Sandy to get further details of her story. But I’ve never been able to track her down. Her full name is common, and some people aren’t as easy as a Facebook search. But I’ve never forgotten the conversations we had, or the ones I had with Bill later.

In November 2014, media outlets reported that the victims had never been taken seriously. Sexism was apparently the broom that had swept their allegations under the collective American carpet. It took a male — comedian Hannibal Buress — to peel back the wrapper, to put the issue in the spotlight and make the public examine it.

Edmund Burke once intimated that bad things happen when good people do nothing. Since I want to be a good person and I don’t want bad things to happen, I have decided to tell my story. I realize I am late. I realize I am not a victim myself. And I realize I did not help my sisters in 2005 when they needed me most. But I also realize that it is better to be late than silent.

Although Bill has refused to comment on the allegations, I’d like to pose some questions, echoing Sandy’s sentiment of “Why?” Why drug a willing sexual partner, especially when you are a man with an otherwise good and caring heart? Why risk a successful career and a phenomenal legacy on a couple of stupid, little pills? And why turn a country that loves you into one that is no longer sure?  

Why, Bill?

Please tell us why.
Charlotte's experiences with Bill Cosby are detailed in her new memoir, Rebel in High Heels. This story originally appeared in Salon. You can follow Charlotte on Twitter @CharlotteLaws

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