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The first thing you notice about Viktoria is her eyebrows. Neatly arched as if in perpetual amusement, they perch neatly under her precision-tooled fringe. The second thing you notice about Viktoria is her very proper English accent, so cut-glass you could slice your finger on it and not notice until you’d bled to death. Thirdly, you’ll notice her clothes – she’s one of the best-dressed girls you’ll ever meet, sharp as a pin whether she’s wearing a demure 1940s-style dress or a tightly-laced corset and nipple tassels.
Pretty much the last thing you notice is that Viktoria has one leg. Even when, as at the Bizarre photoshoot, she takes off her prosthetic leg and balances on one limb in a perilously high heel. She looks surreally beautiful, like a David Lynch heroine or leading lady from a Tim Burton film. It’s as if her missing limb has just made the rest of her even more perfect.
Viktoria is the ultimate Bizarre girl. She’s sexy as hell, designs outfits for Torture Garden and makes twisted cabaret music. And, at just 21, she’s already had one hell of a life.
Viktoria was born in the city of Daugavpils in Latvia, but says that, even in her home country, she always felt like an outsider. As well as being in the Russian-speaking minority, the people in her city were also very conservative.
So when, as a kid, she started running around with dyed red hair (courtesy of her hairdresser mum), a yellow Prodigy hoodie and green platform shoes, she was frowned upon. “My views on life and what’s deemed acceptable never fitted in,” she says. “I’ve always been sexual and open-minded, so I’d naturally think a lot about sexuality and lesbianism. I didn’t research these things as such – there was no internet and I didn’t read books on the subject – it was just organic for me.”
She was also sick a lot as a child, spending long stretches of time in hospital. An accident at birth and a series of botched childhood operations meant her leg was thin and deformed, which only added to her feelings of isolation. When Viktoria was just a few weeks old, a doctor told her mother she’d be blind, deaf, dumb and most likely have Down’s syndrome. It was suggested that Viktoria’s mother should put her daughter in a children’s home.
“Mum lost consciousness – she couldn’t believe it,” says Viktoria. “If you’re ill in that part of the world, that’s it – you’re a retard for the rest of your life. You get grandmothers sitting in the courtyard, and if there’s a lady who walks past with a limp they’ll say, ‘God, look at her, she’s actually got a husband. How did she do that?’”
But at 12, Viktoria’s familiar, if slightly dank, world was turned upside-down. Her parents split up and her father moved to London, and her mother also relocated to the UK soon afterwards. They lived, as many struggling new immigrants do, in a tiny, depressing B&B, ferreted away near Waterloo in London. Viktoria didn’t speak a word of English, and didn’t go to school. After four months they moved to the suburbs, and eventually Viktoria started her UK education.
She was, unsurprisingly, a target for bullies. “It was hell. I was a ‘Russian lesbian Cruella de Vil’,” she says. “I had short peroxide-blonde hair and wore loads of make-up. I was 12 or 13, but looked a lot older and the boys really fancied me. All the nasty English rudegirls didn’t know what to do with me. It was bizarre. School was the most traumatic thing in my entire life. I feel so sorry for anyone who goes through that kind of shit – it’s fucking hell.”
Bullying at school sent Viktoria careering into the arms of craziness. She smiles ruefully and says, “I hit a low point around then and completely went off the rails. I left home and disappeared for six months – boozing, drugging, whatever I could do. It was so bad.” Her parents were understanding, but obviously concerned, especially as Social Services were knocking on the door and the family still didn’t have proper leave to be in the country. Viktoria’s mum took her daughter out of school and into home education.
Viktoria’s first foray into the grown-up world of fetish was when she sneaked into legendary London club Torture Garden when she was 14. She went with a stripper friend. “I’d looked at a few websites,” she remembers, “and because I’d always been so extreme, I just fucking went for it, and turned up in a little PVC corset, topless and with a little leather tie.”
She describes the experience as “fantastic. When you go somewhere like that for the first time it can be quite surreal. I left thinking it was the most comfortable place I’d ever been to. Not necessarily because it was so freaky, but because it gave me the freedom to be whoever the fuck I wanted to be. You feel that even more if you’ve been constantly pigeonholed. There, you’re free to be someone who wears PVC or pees in diapers – whatever floats your boat.”
In the fetish scene, Viktoria found a home. In the dark club, no-one noticed her damaged leg – and even if they did, they didn’t give it a second glance. She became a cyberpunk, hanging around London’s Camden Town and doing “all the things I wanted to try”. It was around this time, at the age of 15, that Viktoria decided she wanted an operation to remove her withered leg. She’d been asked to do a lot of modelling work, but didn’t feel confident enough to pursue it. Her boyfriend at the time thought Viktoria’s decision to have her leg removed was “revolting”, and thus became an ex-boyfriend. However, Viktoria was told by doctors that she was too young to make such a major decision – years of waiting lay ahead.
Perhaps because of her outsider status, both in Latvia and when she moved to London, Viktoria developed a chameleon-like ability to reinvent herself and fit seamlessly into whatever cultural group she chose. It’s something that living in London with its diverse scenes and endless clubs fosters. “If I decide to change my taste in music, or dye my hair red, I want to be able to,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to try and pin me down. London’s the most fantastic place for that.”
Over the next few years Viktoria hung out at Torture Garden, becoming friends with the promoters. And, at a time when “the last thing I wanted was a fucking boyfriend”, she hooked up with David, the man who runs the club. She now styles the Torture Garden fashion shows, models for them, and helps design outfits (she came up with the idea for the black and white gear on the opening page of our feature). She says that TG is like a “celebrity mini-world on a baby scale” as there are just four people who run the empire.
Almost a year ago, Viktoria finally had her dream come true and underwent a major operation to remove her deformed leg. She didn’t see it as a negative process, rather something to make her more perfect – having the limb removed was like having a rotten tooth extracted. “It was symbolic of many things,” she says. “Before I had it done, I saw myself as an unfinished person. If you looked at me as a marketing project, my skills, personality and appearance didn’t go together.”
Viktoria remembers coming to after the operation. “The most fantastic moment I’ve had was waking up in the hospital,” she says with a cheeky grin. “Everybody else was freaking out. But I woke up and was the happiest little bunny you’ve ever seen. I was trying to speak to the nurses and couldn’t wait to see it. My boyfriend pulled the sheets back, and I saw this big bandage with a little stump poking out. It was so cute. It was the biggest release you could imagine.”
The operation was a turning point in Viktoria’s life and she has nothing but positive things to say about it: “Since the operation, there hasn’t been a single day where I’ve thought I shouldn’t have gone through with
it. I do sometimes still wish I had a normal leg – but not my old leg.”
She now has two legs, one with a high heel and one she can wear with flat shoes. Although every time we meet her, she’s wearing sky-high heels – we somehow doubt the flat leg sees much action. Most excitingly, she’s having a custom leg made by Torture Garden regulars she met while in hospital.
When Viktoria talks about her new leg, her face lights up and it’s like she’s talking about a close friend. “It’s really cool,” she beams, “it’s going to be nude leather, with a corset-like laced top. It’ll look like something Alexander McQueen would design.” You might expect her relationship with her prosthetic legs to be strained, but it’s more like a love affair. “They enable me to do exactly what I want to do,” she says. “I can move with them in ways I never could with my old leg.”
Viktoria purrs sexuality, a trait not generally associated with amputees. She says, “After my operation, every morning I’d put my make-up on and take time to do my hair. The other women who were on the ward said they found that pretty inspirational. There was one girl who’d been in a train accident, and she’d lost a leg and some fingers. She said I completely changed her attitude towards losing her leg. Actually, I took her to Torture Garden after we got out of hospital and she loved it!”
Becoming an inspiration to other people in a similar position doesn’t faze Viktoria. “I’m happy to be seen as a role model,” she says. “It makes me happy to get MySpace messages and emails from people in a similar position, telling me they’ve been inspired by my story.” She’s also pleased with another kind of attention she’s had since the operation; amputee fetishists adore Viktoria, and she’s got no problem with them. “As long as the attention is positive, I’m happy,” she smiles.
However, she doesn’t understand people who want to have a limb amputated without medical cause. “One guy sent me a message recently, telling me he wanted his foot amputated. He just really dislikes his foot – there’s nothing physically wrong with it – but he feels like it doesn’t belong to him. I sent him a message saying I believe there needs to be a medical reason to have it amputated, not just that he feels it should go. I don’t want to be held responsible if he wasn’t thinking straight and decided to get rid of a healthy part of his body.”
Viktoria has also received attention from the art world. She’s a fan of Trevor Brown and Ray Caesar, both of whom famously feature doll-like girls missing limbs in their pictures. She made contact with them after her operation as she thought they’d “find it hilarious” that the kind of beautiful creatures they’d conjured from their imaginations existed in real life. And she was right.
Trevor Brown was among the first to leave a comment on her MySpace blog that described her operation, saying “Wow, you’re amazing! Limblessly in love! Your modelling career is about to explode.” And he was right.
Since her operation, Viktoria has been making up for lost time and has shot a whole stack of pictures. She’s also making plans for a career in music. After a few years playing in bands she’s decided to go solo, and is working on new songs that sound like a mixture of “Goldfrapp, Amy Winehouse, and Judy Garland, but with modern elements.”
As we said, Viktoria is a total Bizarre girl. Talented, beautiful, sexy and sweet, but underpinned with an edge of steely determination borne from a tough background.
Just as a little pinch of salt makes toffee taste sweeter, so a hint of evilness makes a girl attain perfection. And, to us, Viktoria is utterly perfect in every way.