STORY: TRENT DALTON | PHOTOGRAPHY: HEATH MISSEN
Somehow I knew this would end in a sex dungeon. My own stupid fault for asking Travers “the Candyman” Beynon for bedroom advice. We were hitting 180km/h in “The Beast”, the infamous Gold Coast playboy’s gold and black Lamborghini. Beynon suggested my well-mannered and pedestrian love-making ability was me being unwilling to bust through the boundaries of political correctness. “You need to come to the master bedroom tonight,” he said. So here we are, heading upstairs to descend into hell.
The Candyman’s regular Friday night knees-up has been pumping for three hours in the sprawling riverfront mansion they call the Candyshop Mansion, a $3.7 million Hugh Hefner-meets-Hercules palace built on the back of Beynon’s booming tobacco-store empire; on the back of a product killing roughly 15,000 Australians each year. Everybody’s loose. Everybody’s free. Follow the music, trance and hip-hop, through the living room with its marble statues of Roman gods, yellow and white marble flooring, red velvet curtains, faux Louis XIV armchairs and numerous portraits of lusty, naked, ancient Roman women.
“Another drink, sir?” asks a waiter in formal dress. Stay sober and you might just get out of here alive. “Maybe later, thanks.” Past a framed portrait of Napoleon. Climb a spiral staircase to the top floor. The master suite’s ceiling is made entirely of mirrors. There are three king-sized beds fitted with small holes that puff out clouds of mood smoke. Along one wall is a surreal Dali painting blended with a series of naked women in archedback ecstasy. A woman with bright red hair hangs from a stripper pole in the corner. Along another wall is a series of make-up stations where eight young women in lingerie and heels preen before mirrors. Beynon’s wife, Taesha, is among them and so is Beynon’s live-in girlfriend, Nisha. They both wear pink Candyshop Mansion dressing gowns over black leather lingerie.
“I want to show you something,” says Beynon. He’s dressed in a white business shirt, expensive grey vest and slacks, one of his favourite red-pink ties, leaning against a door on rollers built into the bedroom wall. “Open the door,” he says.
“What’s in there?” I ask.
“Go ahead,” he smiles. “Open it.”
The door slides right.
“Oh. My. God.”
A tool room of sorts, an X-rated Pandora’s box, its walls lined with cupboards of chains and leashes and alien sexual objects – unholy moulded rubber implements that defy physics; the dark blueprint designs of twisted fantasists brought to floppy plastic life; the rough-sketched schoolboy dreams of Beelzebub come true.
Beynon smiles, turns his eyes to a machine in the room. A kind of mechanical horse meets bicycle meets Meccano set meets giant black rubber penis co-engineered by Da Vinci and the devil himself. You think this man can’t go any further. You think he can’t get any worse. But he can. The Candyman can. “No boundaries,” he says.
Beynon picks up a small black box, the control switch that brings the machine to life, makes it go backward and forward. Backward and forward. Backward and forward.
The previous day, 7am. Taesha (pictured second from left, with Luciana and Valentino)andNisha are fixing breakfast for four kids. Tanned bodies and school lunchboxes. Brady Bunch meets Baywatch.
Beynon’s teenage children from a previous marriage, Valentino and Luciana (also pictured) – an aspiring Victoria’s Secret model – help stepmum Taesha and an elderly nanny wrangle Beynon’s and Taesha’s two angel-faced toddlers, Velicia and Serafina, who keep throwing themselves over their dad’s muscle-bound body.
“Did you see the coin?” he asks. Everything you need to know about Travers Beynon, he says, is in the coin – the large, Roman-style bronze coin affixed to the mansion’s black entry gates. On one side of the coin is a profile of Beynon above two words, “Work Harder”; the other, a shades-wearing party machine above two words, “Play Harder”.
“One side is the entrepreneur and the family man,” he says. “The other side is the Candyman.”
The Candyman is the increasingly unwieldy and provocative suited sex monster who exploded into global pop culture last year with a single Instagram photo showing the playboy walking Taesha around the mansion’s grounds by a leash.
Depending on your point of view he’s either the walking embodiment of everything wrong with the world today, or the man who’s putting the “Oh!” back into the Gold Coast.
The Candyman is a construct. Beynon, 44, pieced him together slowly, like he pieced together the elaborate gold-flecked Italian mosaic lining his grand backyard pool; still a part of himself but a part that’s been amplified, enlarged. It’s a living, breathing, screwing marketing campaign circumventing anti-tobacco advertising laws to regularly plant his company’s message – in short, that it’s your moral right to choose to kill yourself slowly – directly in the minds of his growing global legion of 617,000 social media followers. He’s a PR-fed toxic monster and he knows it; a social media mutation from the same 21st century cesspool that spat out Kim Kardashian’s oiled rump.
“If you read the papers around the world, anything bad that happens started from me and came from the Candyshop Mansion,” he says, devouring his eggs. “They said it was a collar and leash. Now, have a clear look at the photo. It’s a bikini strap. Because of one photo, it doesn’t mean I’m walking my wife around the house on a leash.”
Beynon rubs his eyes. “I got to bed at 2.10am,” he says. “I need assistance, stuff to go to sleep, it won’t happen otherwise.” Something dawns on him, some deep realisation. “I’m thinking work has become play and play has become work,” he says. “I’m in bed at 3am, I’m working, you know. It feels like work.” I’m not following.
“I’m talking about work as in play,” he says. “In the bedroom. Four [lovers] is just another night. It’s like trying to juggle paper balls in a storm with a blindfold.”
Right now, the construct, it seems, threatens to consume the creator. Sometimes he doesn’t know where the Candyman ends and Travers Beynon begins. He swallows six tablets. “I don’t ask, but they’re keeping me alive,” he says.
For all his sex and dirt and intrigue and bluster, the Candyman remains a coin that’s been flipped before. Travers Beynon is the more interesting study, a one-of-a-kind curiosity, a businessman who suspects he’s living with at least one, maybe several, undiagnosed behavioural disorders; the son of relentlessly driving parents at once burdened by the weight of success and addicted to it.
The Candyman’s casual playboy persona, says someone who worked with him, cloaks a ruthless businessman whom former employees are scared to talk about for fear of retribution. Last year, A Current Affair aired an unfavourable piece on Beynon by journalist Leisa Goddard. In response, he held a party at which guests were entertained by a mock murder scene in which Beynon shot a woman pretending to be Goddard, as Goddard’s voice was played through a speaker. The journalist was then subjected to online taunts from Beynon.
“For those of you that didn’t catch me firing my money shot all over Leisa’s face,” he wrote on Instagram, beside a view of the staged assassination. He calls it “guerrilla marketing”. Leisa Goddard calls it harassment. “It’s offensive,” she says. “What Beynon’s doing under the guise of guerrilla marketing is being a vile online troll. He’s feeding into this frightening ‘bro culture’ where it’s acceptable to use social media to publicly shame, sexually objectify and attack women. It isn’t acceptable.” That’s a view echoed by Queensland’s Minister for Women, Shannon Fentiman, who says Beynon’s “hyper-masculine attitudes underlie the epidemic of violence against women we face”.
The critics can talk all they want, shrugs Beynon, as long as they’re talking about him. A permanent lack of sleep gives him a manic buzz that makes him walk fast and talk faster. Between detailed accounts of his daily fitness regimen, he’ll drop rapid-fire reflections on childhood. He drifts into a story about how he was five years old and he wouldn’t sleep so his parents locked him inside the family car overnight and he held his breath for so long he burst the blood vessels in his face so his parents wouldn’t subject him to such terror. But then he realises he’s digressing and his conversation shifts back someplace else.
Growing up in suburban Melbourne and, later, south-east Queensland, he was a gifted AFL player. And so desperate were his parents to turn that talent into a career, he says, they bandaged a football to his hands every night when he slept.
“My mother and father were pushy,” he says. “It wasn’t until Mum died last year that I realised how intense and driving she was.”
His wife, Taesha, takes a seat at the table. She’s in her mid-20s. They met in 2009 at one of Beynon’s pool parties, events of such legend on the Gold Coast that a German documentary crew recently flew 14,700km to capture one up close.
His last “Release Your Inner Beast” mansion party in December saw 500 revellers partying among hired elephants and crocodiles and dancing bondage queens before the party was stopped by a hammed-up squad of “Fun Police” demanding “conformity and submission”. It was started again by the heroic Candyman who arrived by a flying fox to blow the fun police away with a bazooka.
“She was pretty done up,” Beynon says of the first time he met Taesha. “She wore chicken fillets.”
“Nooo,” she clarifies. “It was a water bra. I tricked him because then he thought I had big boobs.”
“I had to pay for some more,” Beynon shrugs.
And somewhere Taesha’s granddad, Graham Appleby, winces. On A Current Affair last year, Appleby referred to Candyshop Mansion as a “borderline cult”. “Shattered, absolutely shattered,” he said. “I don’t spend a lot of time looking at the [social media] photos because it breaks my heart.”
Here’s a statue of Neptune overlooking a Gold Coast canal.Here’s Beynon’s pet male pig, Chauvinist, in its backyard pen. Here’s the home cinema playing his favourite movies, The Great Gatsby and Rocky.Here’s the garage with the Harley, the Rolls-Royce, the Bentley, the Ferrari and The Beast. Here’s the fountain he built in honour of Rome’s Trevi Fountain, “The Travi Fountain”.
Beynon hands me his phone: “What’s that say?”
A random quote: I’ve been fighting to survive since I was a child. I’m not a survivor. I’m a f–king warrior. “I broke my back playing football,” he says. “All I wanted to do was play football and it was taken away from me. I was 17. My whole life was taken away from me.”
Then salvation, the lifeline that was his own chiselled face, his own spectacular abdominal muscles, his own perfect body. “Elite Model Management,” he says. He modelled for a decade. He’s often called the heir to his parents’ tobacco empire but, in truth, he says, his parents started the company in 1991 with a $100,000 loan from him.
He invested modelling money in beachfront property in his mid-20s. “Come 2002, beachfront properties had tripled and that gave me the money to get into the business and take 51 per cent,” he says. “I had to have 51 per cent because my father was quite strong and my brother and sister were in the business so I had to have the last say.”
The subject turns on a Roman coin. “You coming to gym today?” he asks. He points at my small but growing man boobs, maybe the only pair of breasts he isn’t fond of. “We’ll work chest today.”
Three six-figure numbers fill the top left corner of Bryn Sharp’s office whiteboard. “This is me and Travers arguing over the budget for his next party,” says general manager Sharp, standing in the company’s head office in Upper Coomera. “It was $250,000, then $350,000, and then he came in and scribbled $450,000. We’re making a quarter of a billion annually. We have over 200 employees. We started this business with one store. We plan to hit 300 by December.
“How do you grow in a market where you can’t advertise? The only way to increase your sales is to get more customers into your stores. No more science to it than that. The Candyman drives people into [the tobacco stores.] It’s absolutely linked.”
Beside Sharp sits Suzie Ozioko, Beynon’s HR manager and legal counsel. “My day is putting out fires,” she says. “Fires we start ourselves.” Last month, the Federal Court found Beynon’s empire engaged in deceptive and misleading conduct while poaching franchisees from tobacco rivals.
Beynon leaving court in Brisbane last month.
Back in his sweeping corner office, Beynon is defensive. “We’re responsible retailers of cigarettes,” he says. “It’s not about selling to kids or to push the cigarettes. We’re pushing free choice.” I ask him about the Gold Coast underworld. Have crims tried to muscle in on the Candyman’s lolly bag? “I’ve had a couple turn up to the mansion,” he says. “They come to cause some trouble. I think I win them over because I’m charismatic.”
The connection in itself is an insult and he’s frustrated by it. “I’m a legitimate businessman. And the tall-poppy syndrome means people don’t want to believe I’ve done it the hard way.”
He slides me an A4 poster, a mock prison snap of Beynon against a wall filled with descriptors often levelled at him: “Playboy, perfectionist, party animal, alpha male, leader, risk taker, father … ” “I’m the guy in the house of mirrors and you don’t know which one is me,” he says. He might just be right when he says he has nothing to hide. He’s sinned so much, so publically, that maybe the only things left to conceal are secret wells of vulnerability that he harbours alongside the devilry.
He’s at his most believable when he’s driving one of his prized automobiles and he’s not so much the cocky, one-note Gold Coast millionaire playboy as a cashed-up knockabout bogan dad who can’t believe his luck.
His candour means consistency, his kids say.
No surprises, even in a crazy sex mansion full of surprises for everybody else. Beynon told Valentino and Luciana his master business plan long ago. “We’ve grown up with Dad being so different,” Luciana says. “We’re just used to it. Now we’re older and we can see what he’s done, we realise he’s doing it all for us.”
Candour, says Taesha, makes their decidedly unconventional open relationship work. Full disclosure. “He’s so honest because he works on trust,” she says. “He needs it to feel safe.” It’s his best trait, Taesha says. “And the fact he can make a woman explode,” she adds.
“What’s normal?” asks Beynon (pictured right in his modelling days), slamming the accelerator down on The Beast, hurtling to his gym via the Pacific Motorway. “Husband and wife isn’t necessarily normal. Society’s evolved enough to accept same-sex marriage. Well, this is samesex marriage, plus one. Two girls plus me. My wife is happy with it. It’s not like I’m doing it behind her back. How many guys are doing it behind their wives’ backs and judging me? Gimme a break. I’m not hurting anyone.”
He slams the accelerator again and the car speeds toward several family cars turning unexpectedly into a roundabout. We’re saved only by the car’s impossibly assured braking system.
“I genuinely thought you were going to kill me then,” I confess. He laughs confidently. But he knows he can’t sustain all this. The Candyman can until the Candyman can’t. His great adventure will end in some twisted, high-speed car wreck; or in some twisted, sleepless, 30-woman-orgy, sexmachine, heart-attack nightmare. He nods his head. “I know I might regret how I lived one day,” he says. “But, you know what, I’ll never look back and regret how I didn’t live.” After an exhaustive hour of weight-lifting, Beynon exits the gym in his favourite old blue singlet.
A young regular spots him walking toward The Beast in the parking lot. The young man saunters around the car, pulls out his phone: “Do you mind?” Beynon shakes his head, no. The young man takes a selfie by the car. His name is Philip Tolo. He points at Beynon. “This guy is living the dream,” Philip says. “It will never be possible for me to get to his level.” Beynon gives him an eyebrow-raised head shake that suggests anything is possible in a popcorn world such as this, then strides around to the driver’s side door.
He’s in a rush now because it’s 5pm. Girls are already arriving at the Candyshop Mansion for the Friday night knees-up. The nanny has already picked up the kids for babysitting. The Candyman has a sex-dungeon party to host and he wants to show me the master bedroom.
As I slip into the passenger side of The Beast, Philip rushes in close to give me an urgent word of advice. “Don’t you ever forget this day, man.”