A very peculiar engagement: Charles had a sex change... then hated being Samantha so became a man again. Now he's getting married
7th November 2010
When millionaire property developer Charles Kane steps out with his new fiancee, people tend to either stare or discreetly do a double take.
It may be because Victoria Emms is a striking redhead and, at 28 to Charles’s 50, is young enough to be his daughter.
But they both suspect it is because they look - to use their own words - ‘eccentric’ or ‘odd’.
In Victoria’s eyes, Charles is ‘all man’, but others may disagree.
Born Sam Hashimi, the businessman and divorced father-of-two had a sex-change operation in 1987 to turn him into glamorous interior designer Samantha Kane.
He spent £100,000 on cosmetic operations and tooth veneers to create the ‘ultimate male fantasy’ and was so convincing as a woman he had no trouble attracting men, and was briefly engaged to a wealthy landowner.
Then, in 2004, after seven years of living as a woman, he decided he’d made a horrible mistake; the result -he believes now -of a breakdown following the acrimonious end of his 12-year marriage and estrangement from his children.
Initially thrilled by his transformation, life as a woman quickly paled despite a jetset lifestyle in Monaco.
He hated the way female hormones made him moody and emotional. Shopping bored him and sex was a disappointment.
No matter how feminine he looked, he felt he was merely playing a role.
So, five years ago, Charles spent a further £25,000 on three operations at the gender clinic at London’s Charing Cross Hospital to turn him back into a male.
His breast implants were removed and male genitalia re-constructed from skin grafts.
The trouble was, he wasn’t the man he had been before.
When I first met Charles two years ago, he cut a rather sad figure rattling around his £2.6 million West London property.
Though dressed in a suit, he looked neither man nor woman, and vestiges of his beautiful alter ego Samantha remained.
His attempts at dating women, he told me, had met with outright rejection and humiliation and he feared he would never find anyone brave enough to love him.
This time, I return to find him smiling next to his fiancee, Victoria, a single mother to her son Albert, two-and-a-half.
They met at an art gallery in her home town of Malvern, Worcestershire, in June 2009 and last month she accepted his proposal of marriage.
Truth be told, they do look rather odd together. She looks even younger than her years, while Charles’s dyed blond hair is reminiscent of the style he sported as Samantha Kane.
Though he is wearing a beautifully cut suit, he has teamed it with a pair of dusky pink, suede moccasins.
If this bothers Victoria, she doesn’t let it show. Instead, she proudly shows me her diamond engagement ring and insists Charles is a far better boyfriend for having once been a woman.
Because, unlike other men, she says, he truly understands women’s needs.
Describing him as her ‘soulmate’, she says: ‘I have always liked arty, intellectual, older men and when we first met we were immediately attracted to each other.
There was a spiritual connection. I didn’t know anything about him or his past. His hair was a bit feminine, but I just thought he was a pretty-boy type.’
On their first date, Charles told Victoria about his two sex-change operations and she says it didn’t put her off at all. ‘I thought this is someone who has really experienced life and is a very sensitive, understanding, wise person,’ she says.
‘I am quite a passive, feminine person, and it is Charles who is the dominant one in t
he relationship. He’s very much a man’s man, but he’s also a very good listener and gives me fantastic advice.’
Advice which apparently extends to clothes, hairstyles and make-up. While Charles is adamant he would never want to be a woman again, he admits there’s a part of Samantha that he misses.
'Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and I’m in the unique position of having taken a very long trip to Venus before returning to Mars.'
Charles says: ‘When I told Victoria about my sex change, she didn’t make her excuses and leave.
She thought it was a plus point. I would never want to be a woman again.
Certainly not. But I keep Samantha in a little compartment in my brain, which I occasionally visit when I want to understand how Victoria is feeling.
‘Before, when I was Sam Hashimi, if a woman tried to talk to me about her emotions she may as well have been speaking to a Martian.
Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and I’m in the unique position of having taken a very long trip to Venus before returning to Mars.
‘If anything, I think the age gap is more problematic. Victoria will only be 38 when I’m 60 and although people say I look younger than my years, we joke that she’ll be wheeling me to the local old people’s home.’
Victoria was seven when, in 1989, Sam Hashimi -then the macho 29-year-old head of the investment arm of a Saudi owned-company - was briefly famous for launching an unsuccessful takeover bid for Sheffield United FC.
She has seen old news footage of Sam Hashimi, complete with glasses and moustache, and says she could never have fallen in love with him. Charles Kane, in her opinion, is a much improved version.
Unrecognisable: Sam with his fiance Trudi at their engagement party in 1982 (left) and (right) after spending £35,000 on ten operations to complete the gender realignment, including £10,000 on genital surgery and £3,000 on breast implants
So what kind of woman would want to marry a such man? A woman, it seems, with her own complicated body-image issues.
For it turns out that Victoria is a ‘recovering anorexic’. Both she and Charles believe their ‘mutual struggle with body form and image helped romance to blossom’.
But is this a solid enough foundation for a happy marriage?
Victoria, the daughter of a builder and a nurse, was admitted as a teenager to an eating disorders unit weighing just four-and-a-half stone, and almost died. She blames her illness on her shy, introverted disposition and being bullied at school.
‘I think there is an element of understanding between us, although we have quite different issues,’ says Victoria.
'I've always like arty, intellectual older men...Charles is so romantic and passionate.'
‘I still have issues with food and there are some days when I don’t feel good about myself. I will look in the mirror and see a fat person.
'I have a fear of developing womanly curves, but Charles has given me a lot of confidence in myself.’
Victoria broke up with the father of her son, Albert, when their child was three months old. They’d been together for two years, but Victoria says that until she met Charles, she found men unfathomable - romantic one moment and detached the next.
‘Charles is romantic, passionate, affectionate and loving,’ she says. ‘To me, he is more masculine than most men, in that he is responsible and takes charge of things, but also very modern and sensitive.’
Charles adds: ‘There are some people who go around thinking, “Oh, I am so perfect”, but neither of us thinks like that. I do have my doubts sometimes whether I am 100 per cent adequate as a man, but she assures me that I am.’
Surely Victoria’s family - having lived through the trauma of her anorexia - must have their doubts?
‘My father Peter is a very open-minded person, and so is my mother, Coral, because my older brother Matthew is openly gay. When I told them about Charles, they went: “Oh, right, that’s interesting.”
‘My family have lived through my anorexia. They have seen me lying on a bed, being fed through a drip in my nose and saying: “I love you all, but I have had enough. I want to die.” They are happy, if I am happy and Albert is happy.
‘I’ve had a couple of acquaintances who have questioned it, saying “I wouldn’t bother with him” or “That sounds a bit odd to me”, but I don’t listen. I think people are frightened to be anything other than normal or what they perceive to be normal, but I love Charles and he loves me.’
Samantha Kane hated the way female hormones made him moody and emotional, and sex was a disappoinment
One naturally assumes, given their separate body issues, that sex does not feature high on their list of priorities, but they both insist it does. Charles says: ‘If two people love each other, they get pleasure from anything. It’s how much you want to be with a person, rather than the body parts, that matters.
‘I was worried about being naked in front of Victoria for the first time, but she says she didn’t notice anything amiss.’
Tactfully, Victoria adds: ‘The first time we made love, Charles insisted on having the lights off, but the truth is I didn’t even notice anything unusual. I still don’t.
'When you love someone, you find them attractive no matter what. Every man is different.’
The couple are planning a church wedding at the end of next year, and Victoria will move into Charles’s West London home with Albert once renovations are complete to make it ‘childproof’.
Although Charles says they could push the boundaries of medical science by having a child together by IVF, they have no such plans.
Albert’s 30-hour birth was so traumatic, Victoria is not keen to go through it again. Charles, while looking forward to being a step father to Albert, also wants to spend more time with his adult children.
He is thrilled that after 15 years of estrangement, he is now reconciled with his 24-year-old son, a student at Oxford University.
‘We get on very well and my son, having been confused by my sex change, is now very accepting of me,’ he says. ‘He is a great guy and looks just like me . . . when I was Sam Hashimi.’
‘I feel my life has finally come full circle. One side of me is controversial, playing against the rules, but the other side is very traditional. I am essentially a family man and that side becomes stronger as I become older.’
‘Based on my own experiences, I believe sex-change operations should not be allowed, and certainly not on the NHS. I needed counselling, not a sex-change.'
These days, in a nod to his experience as Samantha, Charles prefers to pursue a more creative life than his former career as a businessman.
He has written his first novel, Once Upon a Time In Baghdad, based on the true story of his childhood in Iraq, and has completed a film-making course.
He is currently seeking funding for a documentary titled The Sex Change Delusion.
‘I feel very philosophical, rather than bitter about what happened to me,’ he says.
‘Based on my own experiences, I believe sex-change operations should not be allowed, and certainly not on the NHS.
‘People who think they are a woman trapped in a male body are, in my opinion, completely deluded. I certainly was. I needed counselling, not a sex-change operation.
'In many ways I see myself a victim of the medical profession. Even with the glamour of Samantha Kane and the £100,000 I spent on myself, I had people shouting abuse at me and builders throwing stones at me from rooftops,’ he says.
‘I became a woman. It didn’t work for me. I changed my mind. It’s only a fool that doesn’t change their mind when they know they are wrong. It took tremendous courage to say: “No, sorry, I will change back.”
‘I feel very lucky to have found Victoria, but always in the back of the mind there is the thought: “Why should she want me when she could have a real man?” ’
Despite the obvious affection between them, one can’t help but wonder - given the journey that has brought them to this point - whether their union will succeed in the long-term.
Yet if nothing else, their relationship brings a whole new dimension to Samuel Johnson’s observation that second marriages are ‘the triumph of hope over experience’.
Third time lucky? From left, Sam Hashimi, post-op as Samantha Kane, and as Charles Kane with his fiancee Victoria Emms
‘I’ve always liked arty, intellectual older men’
‘Charles is so romantic and passionate’