‘Not every man can be a Hunk of Desire’
The Hunks of Desire have been in the media after a court case arising from an alleged incident at an Ann Summers party. So what’s life like for Ireland’s male strippers?
Naked ambition: Dan Paul. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Tonight at Dublin’s Red Cow Inn, to celebrate International Women’s Day, over 200 women from Dublin’s Russian and Romanian communities will scream as hunky “navy officers” wiggle their shoulders and disrobe. If, as an aficionado of military drills, you find yourself thinking – “I don’t recognise these manoeuvres. What navy are they in?” – you’re probably in the wrong room.
In a hotel in Temple Bar, I meet Dan Paul, member and manager of the stripping troupe Hunks of Desire. The Hunks cropped up in recent media reports of a court case arising from an Ann Summers’ party they performed at in Dublin’s Loughlinstown Inn.
A handsome Romanian 30-something with slightly accented English and a tightly cut Mohawk, Paul has a background in dance, choreography and fitness instruction and has a day job exporting timber. He cofounded the Hunks, aka “Ireland’s Hottest Beef”, in 2002.
He’s here, a little incongruously, in the company of a retired Irish quantity surveyor with ash on his forehead. “I’m not a stripper!” the older man says. “We’re just meeting for dinner. I’m a friend of the family.” (Later, he tells me that Paul is “one of the kindest chaps I know”.)
Paul’s a little wary. “ The Irish Times doesn’t usually write about strippers and that sort of thing,” he observes.
I’m trying to change all that, I explain. So he tells me about his stripping career. It all began, he says, in 1998 when on a holiday in Portugal.
“I’d done dance at school and there was this opportunity to strip in a nightclub,” he says. “It was scary. You couldn’t even hear the music over the screaming. My adrenalin was pumping. But it was fun. It was nice to have a round of applause and be in the middle of the attention.”
Since he set up the Hunks, they have done everything from 12-man tours of Europe, in which they wrangled beds on stage for props, to two-man stripograms for hen parties in the bar across the street.
Sometimes he gets sent photos from men who want to become “hunks” but who, he says, “do not really look like strippers”. The look on his face suggests this is a significant understatement.
Other wannabe strippers are good-looking but freeze on stage. “Not everyone can do it. Some guys are just made for it. In the end you have to get naked. You’re not going to stay naked the whole night. It’s a flash, but part of the shows are full monty . You have to be okay with that.”
There’s a pace to each performance, he says, and an element of showmanship and choreography.
“Tonight will start with four monks entering the stage,” says Paul. “Gregorian monks with the full hoodies and the face covered and Gregorian chanting playing.”
But they’re not real monks, right?
He laughs. “No, they’re not real monks. But they are blessed,” he adds meaningfully. At this point, he explains, the lights go dim, smoke emerges and one of the monks reveals an army outfit under the monk suit (he’s an army chaplain, possibly).
The early parts of the show have little actual stripping. “If you do the full monty too early it ruins the fantasy,” he says. “So [at first] it’s just macho moves, synchronised dancing and the right music. The most we would do would be to take the shades off or the hat off.”
And that has an effect? “It has a big effect,” he says firmly.
“We have different acts,” he says. “Firemen, policemen, cowboys.” What’s the most popular costume? “Girls love sailors,” he says and shakes his head in wonderment. “If I did something wrong in my career, it’s that I didn’t become a sailor.”
Audiences differ from place to place, but all ages are represented (“sometimes grandmothers and granddaughters at the same show”) and all tastes are catered to.
Occasionally things get a little hairy. “They can be like hyenas. They jump on stage. They pull off your glasses and your hat. One girl is pulling one side of the jacket and the other girl is pulling the other. You’re trying to perform.”
It sounds scary. “It is scary . . . but they’re not trying to hurt you. Usually you’re more worried about losing parts of the costume. They’re expensive.”
What have his girlfriends thought over the years? “They haven’t always been happy. But I’ve been doing this for such a long time they have to accept me the way I am.”
His parents, who live in Romania, are fine with his career path. “But they’re both doctors and I’m sure they’d prefer me to be a doctor.”
I’m sure sometimes you’re a doctor, I say. “That’s the one costume we’ve never used as a matter of fact. I did do a doctor once on Halloween. But it was a weird Frankenstein doctor. You wouldn’t want him treating you.”