Friday, November 27, 2009

Belle de Jour on TV!

Famed British erotic author Belle de Jour made her TV debut last night as herself: Dr. Brooke Magnanti.

Brooke, 34, appeared on Sky Arts The Book Show in the UK, and was questioned by The Book Show host, Mariella Frostrup. (Note: The interview will be replayed at various times, but can only be seen in the UK and not in the U.S.)

“In her first ever television interview since revealing her true identity, former call-girl Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour) confesses all,” The Book Show touted on its website.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Belle de Jour had been the nom de plume of a celebrated erotic author, and award-winning blogger, who was also a London call girl for two years.

On Nov. 15, Belle revealed her true identity through a voluntary interview with the London Sunday Times. Brooke’s specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and is now working at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health. She is currently part of a team researching the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.

But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a prostitute via a London escort agency; she started blogging as Belle de Jour — after the Buñuel film starring Catherine Deneuve as a well-to-do housewife who has sex for money because she’s bored — shortly into her career as a call girl, after an incident she thought funny enough to write down.

She charged £300 ($530) an hour for her services, of which she got £200. The average appointment lasted two hours; she saw clients two or three times a week, “sometimes less, sometimes a great deal more,” she has said.

As Belle de Jour, Brooke, of Bristol, England, has written four books and an award-winning blog about her work in the sex industry. The media furor triggered by her decision to disclosed her true identity continues across the UK.

Asked by Mariella Frostrup what was the scariest part of “coming out” to international attention, Brooke responded, “I might lose my job. Everything just took off.”

The publicity was so intense that requests for interviews poured into Brooke’s employer, not just to her publisher and agent.

“I said yes to everything,” requests for interviews, etc. “A lot of other employers might not have been comfortable” with all of the publicity. “I’m quite lucky in that regard,” Brooke said.

Brooke told Frostrup how she had decided to write her erotic blog. She described going to a photo shoot after first working for the escort service. The sexy photographs taken of her in lingerie would later be posted by the agency on its website, so clients could see who was available to request.

Brooke said it wasn’t being photographed that got her attention, but the photographer who, “Might have been something out of a dominatrix-submission fantasy.”

“Hilarious,” Brooke chuckled remembering it. “I couldn’t really tell my friends.”

Brooke said she already been blogging as herself, posting musings on science, so she knew how the process worked.

“I thought it (photographer) might be a funny story for people to read,” Brooke said.

The rest, as they say, is erotic blogging history.

Frostrup was interested in a comment Brooke had made that her alter ego wasn’t really her.

“I turn on an aspect of my personalty,” a lot of jobs are like that, Brooke noted.

“It’s not that Belle isn’t me,” Brooke explained. “It’s an aspect of my personality. Belle is the more confident part of me.”

Brooke said Belle is not that part of her that when she opens the door she wonders, “Do I think I look all right? Belle has to walk in and feel she looks all right.”

“I had to make sure that I connected with that before walking into an appointment,” Brooke said, because clients really reacted to body language. “I had to make sure I was putting that part of myself, the confident bit across.”

Asked if she had any regrets, Brooke replied, “I don’t, actually. I know that sounds very strange.”

“Obviously, there have been drawbacks,” Brooke said, then was thoughtful. “But, my life has changed so much. Where I am, what I’m doing, the relationship I’m in...all of that wouldn’t have come about,” but for the book.

“Really, everything came about because of the a result of the circumstances surrounding the book,” she said. “My experiences.”

Brooke is very aware that her experiences in the sex industry may not be the norm. She was never injured, and enjoyed the work.

“Can’t regret what’s gone on in the past,” she said. “I’m lucky in that regard. My experience, let’s not mince words, I was very luck. I was very well handled...I managed to get out before it became the bulk of my lifestyle. It served its purpose, as any short-term work would do.”

The most interesting response, to me, occurred when Frostrup asked Brooke if she missed the life, being on the game.

Brooke was thoughtful for several seconds before answering.

“I miss the moment when you walk into the hotel, and you instantly click on, and you recognize where you are. Sort of feeling – I’m about to do a job, and I’m about to do it well. I get that same sort of satisfaction from the job I do now.”

After which, both women laughed. “Are you aware that you’re unusual?” Frostrup asked.

“Yes,” Brooke answered quietly, smiling. She said the last job she’d held before moving to London was scrubbing out toilets in Scotland. “This was a step up from that.”

Brooke said that over the years, she’s received a lot of emails from young women asking if they should go into the business.

“You have to know about yourself. If you have to ask it – probably no,” Brooke said.

(FYI: Other program guests appearing in individual segments in Episode 7 were: UK TV funny man David Mitchell, this year’s Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel and Irish author Eoin Colfer. The Book Show airs in the UK at 7 p.m. every Thursday on Sky Arts 1.)

Even though I hadn’t known Belle’s name until she disclosed it, I have always known her. She has become a dear friend through her writing. She has written about her sexual adventures and misadventures while having worked in the sex industry, but so very much more. In truth, Brooke has always written about life.

What sets her writing apart is not merely the topics, and the point of view, but the way she writes. She has a unique style, an unforgettable voice. Equal parts humor, wit, wisdom and shining, literate brilliance, there is unflinching truth within her writing. All the time, somehow managing to be incredibly entertaining.

In addition, she is a sex-positive woman who likes men! I don’t mean just in bed, but as a species. Can you imagine? In this day and age of constant man bashing by so-called feminists, it’s refreshing to read a different approach.

In her new book, Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, Brooke discusses sex, among other topics. In a recent interview with the Irish Independent, she told journalist Declan Cashin that all of us – women in particular – should be having more sex, for pleasure, with more partners.

Brooke happily calls herself "a slag," because she rails against the shame that still seems to surround the act, "that we're all built to do."

"Some people respond more to physical expressions of love, and I am certainly one of those. There seems to be a widespread assumption that the slow death of imagination and frequency of love-making is simply something that must be expected in relationships. I don't accept that. But in the end quality always trumps quantity (though as Stalin wryly noted, 'quantity has a quality all its own'),” Brooke told the newspaper.

Brooke is also quick to “rubbish” notions of 'The One' – clinging to a belief that there's just one person out there for all of us, Cashin wrote.

"Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but I don't buy it at all," Brooke declares.

"Bottom line: I guess I could be tempted to say my current man is 'A One' – somebody I love enough to do the work it takes for us to stay together. But pretending there is literally no-one else in history who could have fulfilled that role? Wow, maths education standards really have slipped!

"Not only is it unlikely, it's impossible. In much the same way the lottery is a tax on people who don't understand statistics, 'The One' is an emotional tax on the same," Brooke told Cashin.

Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, published by Orion Books, hit store shelves in the United Kingdom on Oct. 1. Not yet available in the US, it is widely available across the pond at UK bookstores, or via Amazon’s UK division.

When you’re there, be sure and check out Belle’s other books: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, September 2005; The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl, May 2007; and Playing the Game, June 2009. Not a ringer in the bunch – trust me!

— The Curator

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