"It's difficult to describe the feeling, but when I'm swimming underwater it's kind of magical. I feel more comfortable and at ease, and a sense of freedom."
Meet 27- year-old Jessica Pennington, also known as Jessica Mermaid.
By day she works in PR and marketing in the railway sector, but when she's off duty she embraces a very different passion.
Pennington is a real-life mermaid living in Essex. She's also the founder of Merfolk UK, an events company for merpeople and merlovers.
Pennington told Business Insider she's always loved mermaids. "I can't remember a time when I didn’t love mermaids," she said. "I watched all the films, Disney's Little Mermaid, Splash, and an older black and white film called Miranda."
"A few years back I stumbled across a website selling free diving and mermaiding holiday courses in Gozo, an island off the coast of Malta. So I signed up," she said.
"They give you a tail and teach you how to swim and look graceful underwater. At the end you get a photo shoot and a certificate to say you're officially a mermaid."
Pennington said that her holiday cost £800, which included tuition, equipment, food, and accommodation, but she knows of some day courses in London where you can do the course for between £100 and £150.
She explained that there are different kinds of tails you can use.
Below is a fabric tail which her friend uses.
"These cost around £100-£200. They're not as powerful but I recommend them for beginners," she said. "They're light and easier to get out of and they come with a plastic fin in the bottom."
Pennington uses a more sophisticated tail.
Shown below, the pink silicone tail is made from a mould of her body.
"It's made of a very, very strong and powerful silicone rubbery material," she said. "There's no stretchiness and it's really tight so if you were an inexperienced swimmer and got in to trouble you wouldn't be able to get out of it easily."
It weighs 12 kilos.
"These kinds of tails start from around £1,500. They take around six to eight weeks to be made."
It helps to be a strong swimmer when mermaiding, according to Pennington.
"It's really important you have the right technique and the right training. I'd never recommend that you try swimming with a tail without being properly taught. It's like any kind of water equipment, if you're not using it correctly, it can be dangerous.
She added that free diving teaches you how to conserve as much oxygen, lower your heart rate, and propel yourself along with minimum effort.
Pennington said can hold her breath underwater for up to two minutes.
One of the hardest things about being a real-life mermaid is finding somewhere to swim. Pennington said that many swimming pools are reluctant to let mermen and merwomen swim with tails in their pools.
"Because it's quite an unusual hobby, they think they can't cover the risks or it's complicated to insurance," she said.
In fact, Jessica said that when trying to arrange a swim meet-up recently with some friends, one pool quoted her £10,000 for a swim — in other words, their average daily intake.
"From Facebook I'd met lots of mini separate communities all over the UK, but there wasn't a central place for everyone to go and meet each other," she said. "Before I went on the course, I'd never met anyone who loved mermaids as much as me."
"It was a great comfort for me to find a community and I can tell you there's no particular type of person, it's a real wide range of people."
Pennington held her first Merfolk convention in March 2017 and is planning another for April 7 2018.
"We had a head count of just under 100, including helpers and people who come just to watch," she said. "There were at least six men that swam, and several people travelled from Zurich and Belgium for the event."
Despite it being difficult to find willing venues, she said that she and a some merfolk are planning to meet up for a swim at least once a month from now on. She hopes that as mermaiding becomes better known, it will be easier to persuade pools to accommodate them.
"It's difficult to describe the feeling, but when I'm swimming underwater, it's kind of magical," she said. "I feel way more comfortable and at ease, and a sense of freedom. Any personal issues going on in my life just go away. It's my therapy.
"When you're swimming in a tail you feel quite a lot of power, gliding along you feel at peace, there are no phones or emails down there."