By day she’s a mild mannered baker turning out some of the most delicious and imaginative delights from her shop in Battle but when night falls Tarnya Allen takes on a whole new persona as she morphs in to Skarlett – The Bombshell from Hell.
Tarnya never set out to become a professional wrestler. Like so many things in life it all happened by accident, through a chance meeting, by someone suggesting she keep them company at a training session they wanted to go to.
When she took her fist tentative steps around the training gym she could never have imagined the impact that she would ultimately have on what was to become her chosen sport; for not only has Tarnya/Skarlett made a huge competitive impact on the UK’s professional wrestling world she has made an even greater impact in redefining the role of women in what was once seen as a male dominated sport. Tarnya has moved women out of the sidelines, away from the supporting roles and put them very firmly centre stage playing major parts in some of the major storylines.
Tarnya was working as what she describes as an ‘alternative model’ when wrestling first entered her life. She was on a photoshoot for Bizarre magazine and met a fellow model who was heading off that night to do some wrestling training and suggested Tarnya go along too – that was to be the turning point of her life.
“I didn’t think it was something you could do in this country so I went along and almost immediately I was hooked; I loved it and I loved everything about it…” she says.
Looking back Tarnya realises that some of her early success was undeserved and that she was being booked by promoters more for her looks than for her in-ring abilities. It wasn’t long before she was appearing on TV, on The Wrestling Channel, in a show called Chick-Fight TV, “…it had something of a cult following,” she says with a laugh.
She was getting praise and says now she was believing what she was being told: “I thought I was the mutts nuts.” That meant that when she met people who were not so fulsome with their praise she took it badly, “I got a reputation for being arrogant,” she says now.
Even in those early days Tarnya wanted to play a bigger part in the shows she was booked for: “A that time women wrestlers were just a side-show, women’s were seen as the ‘popcorn’ matches, to go on during an interval and the stories women were given were poor. Were doing things like bra and panties matches or the story would revolve us fighting over a man or through jealousy – the woman’s product in those days was terrible,” she says.
It was around this time that she met her husband-to-be Stu: “We clicked as soon as we met,” she says.
They went on a tour together that included some of wrestling’s biggest names; Scotty Too Hotty and Doug Williams were on the bill. By this time Tarnya was being recognised by other wrestlers as someone who wanted to learn, someone who wanted to perfect her craft and on that tour the big names who were on the bill took her to the side and gave her advice and guidance on how to improve what she was doing, “sadly that created jealousy among some of the other girls,” she recalls.
Then one night Stu dropped a bombshell: “He took me out to dinner and then during the meal told me quite bluntly that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was – I didn’t take that well,” she says.
Stu offered to help with her training and told her not to argue with him. He advised her that she needed to go back to square one and start again, with a critical eye they watched some of the early stuff she had done on TV, “it was very humbling” says Tarnya who explains that for the first time she started to understand where her shortcomings were.
What lay ahead was a lot of hard training and hard work. She became fascinated by the psychology of the sport and began to think more about what she was doing and how she doing it.
“What I realised was that when I started out there was so much I didn’t know. I realise now that the first school I went to wasn’t actually that good but I didn’t unerstand that at the time. For people who want to get in to wrestling today I’d say ask questions, do your research and find the best people to train with if you are serious about making progress,” Tarnya says.
As her ability grew and developed so did her reputation and as her reputation grew so did her confidence. She wants to be seen as ‘a wrestler’ not as ‘female wrestler’. She now competes on level terms with men and her alter-ego Skarlett is now headlining shows, something that would have been impossible for a woman 20 years ago.
“I’ve gone from being the ‘popcorn match’ to having one of the biggest followings in the country and that has allowed me to work to achieve the goals I set myself to improve the opportunities that exist for women in wrestling, I hope what I can provide is a strong female role model.
“When I ultimately step down I want to be able to say I’ve made a difference for women, that they are getting better opportunities with greater respect and recognition,” she says.
Skarlett is still in demand for matches all over the country but her other passion these days is teaching; passing her passion and commitment on to a younger generation. With Stu they run a school in Hastings twice a week at the Fighting Tigers gym and they stage special shows to give their students the chance to put all that they learn on display in front of a real, live, paying audience.
“We’re proud of trainees and take what we do very seriously, there is an important pastoral role for us to play, we need to create a space where people know they don’t have to worry about coming to us with a problem. We hope the EWW family will watch out for each other, whatever we are doing,” Tarnya says.
In October EWW, the promotion that the couple run, will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a special all-star show at Sussex Coast College, Skarlett The Bombshell from Hell, should have been playing a big part but for the moment Tarnya is sidelined with a broken leg and hoping that her fitness will mean the healing process will be quick and she can be back in the ring by the time the show takes place.
It’s not just inside the ring where Tarnya has made a difference for women in wrestling she says that in recent years there has been a big shift in the make up of the audience attending EWW shows: “These days 18-35-year-old women are coming to the shows with their girlfriends, that didn’t happen before.”
Tarnya says there are two big elements required to be a wrestler; there’s the physical side and then there is the creative side. For her the creative side came easier and when you visit her cafe in Old Ladies Court just off Battle High Street you can see her creativity at work, she’s a third generation baker as says her mother and grandmother would be very proud to see what she has achieved in the world of baking.
And for anyone who attended the EWW show in Battle Memorial Hall earlier in the summer Tarnya’s wrestling creativity was on display for all to see and was a clear demonstration of why she has transformed the role of women in professional wrestling. Her story telling ability throughout her match was sublime and her performance at the very end was as great a cliffhanger as any you will see in film or TV and left the audience desperate to know what’s going to happen to Skarlett next?
Tarnya and Stu’s EWW stages its 20th anniversary show in Hastings in October