Imra Heger spoke to East Lancashire's lady detective...
THE fact you’re reading this here today is thanks – in part – to film star Minnie Driver.
At first, private detective Rebecca Jane turned me down – she had been invited to sit on the sofa at Lorraine Kelly’s ITV breakfast show.
Then, just before setting off from Barrowford for London, Ms Driver muscled in to take the East Lancashire sleuth’s slot. That’s how Rebecca ended up with me parked on her couch, and the British actress/singer on Lorraine’s.
“I got dumped for Minnie Driver, but it’s fine, it’s what happens on TV,” said Rebecca, putting the final touches to her make-up. Would she have been caught mascara wand in hand by Lorraine I wonder? Rebecca, 28, looks every inch the founder of the Lady Detective Agency, ‘the UK’s leading female-only detective agency’ and employer of an ‘elite team of gorgeous girls’ despite having given birth to baby Peaches just six weeks ago.
From her flowing red tresses down to the high-heeled boots, her appearance is flawless. Her banter is, too. She’s easy to talk to, quick to laugh. I imagine she’s very adaptable to different environments and social circles. And quick to apply or whip off hair extensions, she tells me — a bonus for a private investigator who has to be able to change appearance on the go. This side of her job may well be where her college education in performing arts pays off.
So does everyone near where she lives know about her profession, now that she is heavily promoting her new book The Real Lady Detective Agency? And is there much call for her services in East Lancashire, I ask?
The recent publicity has thrust her into the spotlight, it turns out. Asda in Blackburn and Accrington sell out all the time, apparently. Mums in the school playground recognise her. But the road to writing detective-dom wasn’t easy. Literary agents turned down her book, but then a bidding frenzy started which was won by Harper Collins. Were they the highest bidder?
“They ended up being the highest bidder, because I forced them there,” said Rebecca, who made ‘a nice amount of money’ developing property before getting on the case of ‘anyone who has been lied to, cheated on, duped or double-crossed’, as the book says.
Is she used to getting her own way? “Yes,” she admits.
It’s the same in her marriage to policeman Ben. As a cricketer for Great Harwood last season, he won the ‘toilet award’ – a wooden, doll’s house-size loo – also known as the ‘under the thumb award’, bestowed on the player who does everything his wife tells him to. He was also named player of the year though.
Next season, Ben joins St Anne’s Cricket Club. Rebecca, who hates shopping, will spend Saturdays watching him, with their little Peaches, and her six-year-old daughter Paris. Cricket is more family-friendly than football, she believes, the language is better than on the terraces at Accrington Stanley or Blackburn Rovers. They’re a close family, the private investigator and the policeman enjoy each other’s company and they have no secrets for each other “It’s an easier life”, said Rebecca.
It wasn’t always so. Husband number one cheated on Rebecca while she was pregnant with Paris. They got back together, but then she had an affair with a married man. Eventually, she split from both, and the experiences spurred her on to become a private investigator. After ‘lots of research and a couple of training courses’, she set herself up in business four years ago ‘trailing errant husbands through the streets of London, following suspected cheats on stag parties, trekking through muddy fields on wild goose chases and attending parties with diamond dealers’.
And, yes, ‘lots goes on’ on her own, unassuming, doorstep.
“We investigate the most normal people,” said Rebecca. And normal people enjoy a fair bit of curtain twitching, too which makes surveillance difficult at times.
“They say Neighbourhood Watch is dead, but I couldn’t agree, they just don’t advertise it anymore.”
As for gadgets used on the job, always intriguing to outsiders, Rebecca agrees. these are mainly small video and voice recording devices shaped as a key fob, pen or box of tissues. Wigs only come out occasionally, and a mac isn’t obligatory though Rebecca is featured in one on the cover of her book. It’s a Burberry, she tells me, worth £800, and was sadly only on loan for the shoot.
If that all sounds very exciting to you, you’re not alone. It’s dealing with wannabe private investigators that now forms the largest part of the business. During one month last year, Rebecca received 300 enquiries from ‘all kinds of weird and wonderful’ people wanting to work for her. But she already has between 15 and 20 anonymous assistants who do the day-to-day work on her books, and offices in Manchester and London, though she can’t reveal the addresses.
So for those who want to go it alone, and follow in Rebecca’s footsteps, there is her online training course for £350, or a two-day course in person costing £850. For those who simply want to relish Rebecca’s true stories, there’s “The Real Lady Detective Agency: A True Story”, published by Harper Collins.