'When I was 18, I went for a job interview. I ended up in a billionaire's harem.'

Jillian Lauren fell into a life of escorting rather accidentally. 

After dropping out of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts after six months at 18 years old, she began stripping at a club in New York. One day, she was told about a rich businessman in Singapore who was paying "pretty American girls" US$20,000 each to be full-time party girls for a two-week stint, entertaining men overseas. 

Jillian jumped at the chance to audition.

She passed – and at barely 18, Jillian found herself playing courtesan to one of the world's richest men in Brunei.

It was where she'd stay for 18 months, one of many girls in the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei's youngest brother – and renowned playboy.

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She knew early on that her job was essentially to be "some kind of prostitute", she shared on the What It Was Like podcast, with host Julian Morgans.

"I was being invited by the younger brother of the richest man in the world who was the Sultan of Brunei at the time," Lauren explained.

"Prince [Jefri Bolkiah, the former finance minister] was his youngest brother – the playboy brother of the family – and he got a little taste for American girls and ordered up a couple. 


"I just happened to be one of them."

She told her family and friends she was off to Singapore to film a movie. 

"My parents thought I was going to shoot a movie with Michael Douglas in Singapore," she recalled, adding that she was frightened entering an unfamiliar country.

While shuffling through the airport, Lauren couldn't help but notice the giant billboards of the Sultan and each of his wives.

"That was my first real feeling of, 'You f**ked up'... They took everybody's passports. There wasn't freedom to use the phone. There wasn't freedom to come and go," she recalled. 

"It was a palace and it was a prison. You're under guard at all times."

After waiting for hours in a gold-encrusted room, she finally met the man who she confessed would come to be her "saviour", Prince Jefri. 

Prince Jefri Bolkiah, 1997. Image: Getty.


Writing about her experiences in her 2010 memoir Some Girls: My Life In A Harem, Jillian shared she fell "victim to Stockholm Syndrome.

"I knew I was a hooker, but somehow I felt like a Cinderella."

Holed up in a palace with rooms the size of football fields, Italian marble floors and plush carpentry – where she recalled only escorts and "servants" lived – Jillian said her life in the harem involved parties every single night, extravagant shopping sprees and more than 40 women fighting for the prince's affections.

She was one of six Americans chosen to serve the prince, along with other women from the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. Rumours did the rounds that the royal was looking to crown his fourth wife, and the competition was fierce to win his favour.

"He would always take one girl out of the party every night," she shared on What Was It Like. "Who got taken out of the party became a whole thing, it was a giant drama."

Jillian says she won the prince's attention after singing one of his favourite Malay songs, and before long, she was plucked from her place among her fellow escorts to sit in the second-most prized seat in the house, next to a Filipino ex-television star named Fiona who had achieved the prized position by Prince Jefri's side.


Being one of the royal's favourites meant Jillian received special perks, including a shopping spree in Singapore with Fiona, during which she says an entire shopping centre was shut down so the pair could roam freely and shop without the crowds. 

At first, Lauren recalled being picky about what she'd let the prince buy for her – until a bodyguard for the harem pulled her aside.

"[He told me] 'You may only get to shop one time in your life. Take it all,'" she recalled on What Was It Like. "He was so sick of me being finicky. He was like, 'Take the stuff and run!'"

Jillian Lauren then and now. Image: Instagram/Getty.


Jillian says she fell for the prince in their time together, adding that it definitely had to do with the money involved and the experiences he'd gifted her. But, she says, it also came down to the person he was.

"When I think about how unhappy he was, it touched me in some way," she explained on the podcast. 

Being one of Jefri's favoured escorts opened up several other opportunities for Jillian, including accompanying him on a trip to Malaysia, she said. But during that trip, she says he rented her out to his brother, the Sultan, for sex.

Eventually, she fell out of favour with the royal, after returning to the States and attempting to go back to the harem after some time away. and said she made a mistake staying in the harem for as long as she did.

"It's a cardinal sin, especially for a narcissist," she said of her decision to leave. 

"When I came back, I just wasn't at the same level of position," she recalled. "There was a new [escort in favour]." 

But, she said, they had been friends. "I probably could've hung out there... because we were friends. I made him laugh. But in any case, it was over. It was time to go home."

And so she did just that, reflecting on what her life had become. 


"What happened to my dreams? What happened to my schooling? I was a person who really cared about something and wanted something and now I'm a person who I don't understand," she reflected. 

"It felt very hard for me to care about things again."

She also realised she was becoming "unstable" and "a little wild", and later detailed in her memoir that after walking way from her experience, she realised just how cruel the prince had been.

"If there is a choice between a monster and a playboy, always choose the monster. Monsters treat you better," she said.

Jillian eventually found herself again and met and married her husband, Weezer bassist Scott Shriner. Together, they adopted a child named Tariku, and they now live in Los Angeles.

She also wrote a memoir about her experience, but the reception was unkind. 

"I got a tough skin writing Some Girls," she said. "I got a lot of blowback for that. I wrote a pretty critical book about a Muslim dictator and I got a lot of slut shaming."

"I learned to hold my head up." 

As for the prince, he was alleged to have embezzled nearly USD$15 billion during his time as finance minister. Reportedly, he has not spoken to his brother since 2004.

"I made a life for myself that didn't have to look like [living in a harem]," she reflected. "... My takeaway was writing. My takeaway patience." 

Feature Image: Getty Images/