Here’s how the millionaire behind iconic male strip shows thrived amid COVID

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Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Billy Cross found a way to give the people what they wanted – chiseled Aussie hunks bumping and grinding on stage.

The driving force behind the powerhouse all-male strip shows Manpower and Thunder from Down Under smiles: “This will make you laugh but the guys were dancing in a G-string and a [surgical] mask.

“Then we introduced clear masks so you could still see that they were smiling behind the mask.

“A lot of our performance is about showing these great endearing smiles. So, we found a way to make it work.”

Cross’ cheeky COVID response is just the latest example the can-do attitude that has seen him amass a multimillion-dollar empire and bring stripping out of the shadows and into the world spotlight.

Thanks to Cross, more than 10 million people have ogled Thunder from Down Under’s antipodean Adonises during their 31 years in Las Vegas.


Male strippers from Queensland's Manpower.L-R: Bill Cross, Mark Dihm, Shane Herbert, Jamie Durie.
Male strippers from Queensland’s Manpower. L-R: Bill Cross, Mark Dihm, Shane Herbert, Jamie Durie.
Fairfax Media via Getty Images

“Thirty years ago, our shows were seen predominantly by women,” he says.

“It’s just how it was. The guys would never go. But the world is changing, and if you went to Vegas today our audience is 30 percent guys. Now they feel comfortable.”

Stripping itself has also moved with the times. When Cross first started dancing in the 1980s, the guys often maintained their looks with steroids and solariums. Today’s dancers instead rely on spray tans and “a bit of manscaping” to look their best.

Likewise, in the aftermath of #metoo, the entertainment industry is evolving to place a growing emphasis on the well-being of performers working in sexually charged environments. On film and TV sets, that has meant the instruction of intimacy coaches to choreograph sex scenes.

“We are not at that level yet, but will we get to that? Probably yes,” the 58-year-old married dad-of-two says, before adding that Thunder from Down Under isn’t your stereotypical seedy strip show.


Billy Cross found a way to give the people what they wanted amidst COVID.
Cross is certainly back with a bang. The surgical masks have come off and – in addition to opening in Nashville – Cross is plotting an expansion into Asia and Europe.
Sky News Australia

“Yes, the ladies and the guys [in the audience] get excited but not to the point where we need to have measures in place [to protect the dancers].

“It never gets to that next level and that’s because of the environment. If you are in a nightclub environment, you probably get more guys and girls who get out of control, but when you are in a theatre or a casino or a reputable venue, really, it’s just more of a cheeky: ‘Hey, don’t touch there’ [to get people to calm down].”

Certainly, films like Magic Mike starring Channing Tatum have ushered stripping into mainstream popular culture, making shows like Thunder from Down Under a destination for Hollywood’s A List.

“Just recently we had Britney Spears in, and Demi Moore and Shania Twain,” he says.


Billy Cross worked as a male stripper for many years.
Billy Cross worked as a male stripper for many years.

“Just two weeks ago we had Sting and his wife [Trudie Styler] in the audience. Without name dropping, I could go on and on. They feel comfortable here.

“It’s always the dream of any artist, actor or band to make it in America, and we have the keys to Las Vegas, and you get that after 21 years on the strip.

“You look at the other people who have got that, it’s Elvis, it’s Frank Sinatra, it’s Siegfried and Roy. It’s huge.”

After more than three decades in Vegas, during which time Cross quit performing to focus on managing the troupe, he was poised to open a new show in Nashville – America’s new go-to for bachelorette parties – when COVID hit.


Manpower has gone global.
Manpower has gone global.
Corbis via Getty Images

“And then, bang, the taps got turned off,” he shrugs.

Business reopened in 2021, Cross continues, with some changes.

“The show was limited to 50 people [from the usual capacity of 450], and we had a barrier so the guys couldn’t go into the crowd. So, we reduced our shows, but we made do.

“Our boys stayed in America and, for 10 months of 2020, they weren’t working, so we had to support them through that. Now we are back on a roll, and we’ve got momentum back.”

Cross is certainly back with a bang. The surgical masks have come off and – in addition to opening in Nashville – Cross is plotting an expansion into Asia and Europe.

Believe it or not, the general thrust of the routines translates into most cultures and languages. It’s within America itself that Cross has had to make the biggest modifications.

“In the Midwest or southern states, they won’t let them dance in a G-string – or, as they call them in America, a thong – so they have to wear little bootie shorts,” he says with a chuckle.

“The Asian countries we go to are very liberal. Of course, the host will have a couple of one-liners in the local language, which works really well. The quality and professionalism of our show works well in different places, so we don’t have to make many changes, other than covering up the butt cheeks [in more conservative parts of America].”


Thanks to Cross, more than 10 million people have ogled Thunder from Down Under’s antipodean Adonises during their 31 years in Las Vegas.
Thanks to Cross, more than 10 million people have ogled Thunder from Down Under’s antipodean Adonises during their 31 years in Las Vegas.
Corbis via Getty Images

Cross has also inked a deal for a TV show. Called Flip The Strip, it showcases the Thunder lads’ trade skills. Just like Cross himself and his 1990s Manpower sidekick-turned-TV-landscaper Jamie Durie, many of the guys are genuine Aussie labourers – which, he reckons, adds to their unique charm.

“So, the boys go in and renovate houses during the day and then take their clothes off on stage at night,” he says.

“It’s amazing … there’s so many elements of this business going to new levels.”

All these new moves means adding more dancers to his core crew of 28 muscular Australian men. And Cross trusts his wife Jackie with helping him decide who makes the cut.

“Times have changed from say 20 or 30 years ago when you had to be big and muscly [to be a stripper],” he says.

“These days the audience wants to see an athletic body, so you want guys who are fit rather than muscly. I know this sounds weird, but they also need a good personality.

“You might think what’s that got to do with what you do on stage? But someone’s personality really comes out in a performance, and no one wants to see an egotistical guy who thinks he is God’s gift on stage.”


Billy Cross says Manpower attracts celebrity guests like Britney Spears.
Billy Cross says Manpower attracts celebrity guests like Britney Spears.
Getty Images

Cross believes one of the things audiences love most about the Thunder from Down Under is that they are not “professional dancers, models and actors”.

“They are just normal, everyday guys,” he says.

“So we have got tradies, we have an ex-lawyer and schoolteachers.”

Cross, himself, was working on a building site when he started stripping on the side. Even in those early years, he saw the potential for his sideline to become a global phenomenon.

Cross, the son of Greek immigrants, details his remarkable journey from a Liverpool housing commission estate, via the Gold Coast (and an overnight stay in a Canadian prison cell) to become a global entertainment impresario, running music festivals and trading in property, in the first episode of new Sky documentary series The Secrets of My Success.


Demi Moore
“Just recently we had Britney Spears in, and Demi Moore and Shania Twain,” said Cross.
Getty Images,,

Hosted by Ross Greenwood, each episode features an Australian who has “made it”, resulting in some wildly different success stories. For what it’s worth, Cross believes his own rise can be traced back to one thing.

“I never listen to the knockers,” he enthuses. “Even back in the ’80s when people were saying to me: ‘Are you kidding me? This will never work. You’re just a bunch of male strippers.’.

“When you have a vision and a drive and a dream, you can’t listen to the haters.

“You need to have hustle and tenacity. I feel like I still have a long way to go.”

The Secrets of My Success, 8pm AEST, Sunday, Sky News Australia

Originally published as Cheeky effort which helped Manpower deliver during COVID.

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