The incomparable erotic author Belle de Jour, otherwise known as Dr. Brooke Magnanti, was back in print with two great, but quite different, British interviews about her work in the sex industry.
Last year, Belle step out from behind her famous pen name and revealed her identity. Brooke, of Bristol, England, is a noted scientist whose specialist areas are developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She has a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science and had worked at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health as part of a team that researched the potential effects on babies of their mothers' exposure to toxic chemicals.
But, from 2003 to late 2004, Brooke worked as a high-class call girl for a London escort service. She has written an award-winning blog and several bestselling books based on her experiences as a high-end call-girl in the sex industry. Her writing also formed the basis of the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, now in its third season on Showtime, and starring Billie Piper in the title role of “Belle.”
Recently, Brooke took a hiatus from penning new entries for her award-winning blog (where she says simply, “Belle de Jour is the pen name of Brooke Magnanti, a UK-based writer and science researcher. Interests: whisky, taphonomy, PGP encryption"), and from commenting on Twitter, or other social media outlets, except for an occasional tidbit or comment.
Since I began my blog, I had unerringly reprinted her own amazing blog posts, along with any interviews that featured her. Despite her generally dropping out of active public sight, I remain unabashedly supportive of Brooke in all of her endeavors.
The following article appeared Sept. 16, in the U.K.’s Telegraph and is my favorite that has been done. It is a wonderful attempt to get to know Brooke, not Belle, for a change. I congratulate its author, Jessica Salter, for writing it.
I say this because in my view, it would be a very serious mistake to shackle this talented woman to the sex-book genre only – Brooke’s abilities far exceed the titillation of the senses, but also titillation of the mind.
The second article appeared in today’s Yorkshire Post, and relates to sex-industry topics. It is a much more traditional interview approach, so less illuminating.
Let me be very clear: I am thrilled to read in and all articles featuring Brooke discussing her sex-industry experience, but I would also be just as thrilled to read any feature in which she talks about – or especially writes on – any topic because she is simply just that good. Frankly, Brooke Magnanti is unforgettable.
Please read the Telegraph’s article in full below, or at the newspaper’s website:
Telegraph, UK, Sept. 16
Brooke Magnanti, author, blogger and former call girl
The 34-year-old discusses growing up in Florida, why she became a call girl and how her secret identity was revealed
By Jessica Salter
[Note: All photographs that appear in the article below were taken by Lucy Levene, and appear as they do at the website.]
Dr Brooke Magnanti, 34, a research scientist with a PhD in informatics, epidemiology and forensic science, is better known as Belle de Jour, the anonymous blogger who wrote about her life as a high-class call girl. Her blog spawned two books, which were adapted for the television series The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper. She unmasked herself last November, and currently works for the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health, studying the effect of pesticides on children’s brain development. Her latest book, Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men (Phoenix), is out now.
Routine I’m usually up by 7am but it takes me an hour of holding a cup of tea and listening to Radio 4 before I can do anything useful. Then I answer some emails, do a bit of writing, and then go to work at about 10am.
Florida I bought this citrus crate label (pictured) on eBay and framed it because it reminds me of growing up in Clearwater in west Florida, where you saw the crates of oranges and these labels everywhere. When I grew up, most of Walt Disney World hadn’t been built yet, and the area was just beaches and orange groves. When I go back I can still see little bits of old Florida poking through.
Fire Before I moved to Sheffield to start my PhD in forensic pathology, I left most of my things at my mum’s house in Florida and just took a suitcase and a bunch of books over to England with me. A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from my auntie. The first thing she said was, 'Don’t worry, your mum is OK,’ but she was calling to tell me that the house had burnt down and everything had gone.
Gourd One of the few old things that I still own, and that I take everywhere with me, is this little gourd (pictured), which has seeds inside. My uncle lives in Ecuador and he sent it to me when I was about five.
Rowing I started rowing when I got to Sheffield and one of my memories of living there was when the river was frozen over and we had to smash through the ice with the boat. This tankard (pictured) is from one of the regattas we won.
Cash flow After I had written my thesis I moved to London to find a job because I’d pretty much run out of money. I couldn’t get a bank loan or an overdraft because of my student visa, and I couldn’t get a job in science because my PhD hadn’t been awarded yet. A friend gave me a cheque for £150 to help out. I just looked at it and thought, 'But what about next month?’
Call girl In 2003 I met a well-heeled couple in a restaurant and we went back to their place. Afterwards the man called me a cab and shoved loads of notes in my hand, but it was only when I was inside that I thought, 'This is more than the cab costs.’ Then it dawned on me that working as a call girl wouldn’t be so much different from that evening. It was something I was willing to try, and if I didn’t like it, no one had to know. I charged £300 an hour, of which I got to keep £200 (the rest went to an agency). The average appointment lasted two hours and I saw clients two or three times a week until I gave up a year and a half later.
Birth of Belle I started the blog because I wanted to talk about what was happening to me. I’m very used to chatting with friends and suddenly I had all these anecdotes that I couldn’t tell anyone. I had already been writing a blog about science and another one about whisky, so I knew how to write them. I kept the science one going for a while because I didn’t want anyone to figure out the two were linked and work out who I was.
Chest of drawers I bought this chest of drawers (pictured) with the money I won for a blogger prize. This was before the books so I thought if nothing else came of Belle, in years to come I’d have something to show for it.
Relaxing hobbies My grandmother taught me how to knit. I find it so relaxing and I’ve usually got some kind of project on the go – at the moment it is a jumper (pictured). The really irritating thing is you can’t take your needles on flights any more, which is where I used to do most of my knitting. I love to bake as well.
Coming out A British blogger called Darren worked out my identity in 2004, because he’d followed a previous blog that I’d written, but he kept my secret. Unknown to me he had set up a widget that alerted him whenever my real name was Googled along with Belle de Jour’s, and he didn’t get any hits for five years. But last October he started getting odd hits and he traced the IP address to a tabloid newspaper and told me via Twitter. A few weeks later a reporter broke into my workplace. I decided to beat the tabloids to it and go public.
Relief The strangest part was telling my mum. She now lives in New York and I kept trying to call her but my phone kept dying. I knew I had a deadline because an interview with me was coming out in a newspaper so I ran out and bought a new phone. I thought this is definitely not the type of conversation to have on email. She was great about it but it was a very strange moment when she called me back, having bought and read my books and given them to my grandmother.
The following news feature below appears in today’s Yorkshire Post, or at its website:
Yorkshire’s National Newspaper
Yorkshire Post, Sept. 21
Why money has stripped away class barriers in the sex
By Grace Hammond
In recent years, the middle classes have been busy monopolising areas they previously feared to tread.
Once sleeping in tents was only for those unable to afford to holiday abroad. Now you can't move on the average campsite for well-off families wanting to get back to basics. Dog tracks have seen an influx of professional punters and even bingo has be come a mecca for the middle classes.
Now in what may well be the final frontier, it seems they are also taking over the sex industry.
According to recent research by the University of Leeds, one in four lap dancers have a degree – and one of the most striking details of the Wayne Rooney affair was the background of two women he allegedly took to the Lowry Hotel.
Both had been brought up in middle class families, yet for one reason or another found themselves working as escorts, leaving their embarrassed parents to issue public apologies.
"Obviously, the economy is the key," says research scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti, aka Belle de Jour, whose infamous blog about her life as a call girl was made into a TV series starring Billie Piper. "More and more women are realising that the stereotype of the drug addicted streetwalker does not always (or even often) apply, and are voting with their wallets, so to speak.
"We've come a long way in accepting people for doing what is, let's face it, a legal and storied profession."
While inner city red light districts may still be the preserve of a vulnerable underclass, lap dancing clubs and escort agencies have a far wider cross-section of employees. It's easy to see why. The dancers questioned in the Leeds survey took home an average of £232 a shift. With most working between two and four shifts a week, an annual income of between £24,000 and £48,000 is more than most part-time jobs would ever pay.
For some, the sex industry may provide a good wage, but the seemingly endless supply of women wanting to sign up is bad news for campaign groups like the Fawcett Society and Objects, which believe they are little more than a form of commercial sexual exploitation.
While many may end up working as lap dancers and escorts of their own free will, there are concerns a significant number will become trapped in the job, unwilling to move on because of the money.
"No one should be forced to do any kind of work that they really don't want to do, simply to survive," says Catherine Redfern, of The New Feminist Movement, "and obviously this applies whether a woman has a degree or has no qualifications at all. The idea that this is more of a concern just because women with degrees are doing this work, is abhorrent.
"The fact that it's predominantly female students, and not male students who are doing this, highlights the entrenched sexism of the sex industry.
"It promotes the idea of women as passive sex objects to be looked at by men. We need to question why this is considered the norm, how society is set up to encourage men and women to see their sexuality in this rigid, binary way, and encourage a much more diverse view."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Magnanti, who was completing a PhD at Sheffield University's department of forensic pathology when she became a call girl, takes a far more pragmatic view.
"I guess I was the only person in the country who wasn't surprised at the survey's results," she says candidly. "Stripping and sex work are a lot like waiting tables – some people have what it takes to do it for life, but most people are just moving through it on the way to another career.
"Many of the women I met in the business were well-educated enough to know a minimum wage job couldn't possibly fund their futures.
"In my opinion, it says less about women and feminism than it does about education and government priorities. I'm sure the survey results would have been very different if the study was conducted back when students had grants for university fees.
"However, when it comes to sex and people's private lives, it is absolutely hypocritical for others to judge.
"There isn't a person in this country with a spotless past if you look hard enough."
As Belle de Jour, Brooke has written four books in addition to her blog about her work in the sex industry. Her fifth book, Belle's Best Bits: A London Call Girl Reveals Her Favourite Adventures.
Here is a description of that book, provided by Orion Books:
“From the summer of 2003 Belle charted her day-to-day adventures on and off the field in a frank, funny and award-winning diaries. She was the first to reveal (among other things) how she became a working girl, what it feels like to do it for money, and where to buy the best knickers for the job. She also discusses her efforts to change from 'working girl' to working girl, whilst sneaking off to visit clients in her lunch hour. From debating the literary merits of Martin Amis with naked clients to smuggling whips into luxury hotels, this is a no-holds barred account of the high-class sex-trade, and an insight into the secret life of an extraordinary woman.”
Her other books are Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men, 2009; 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. There is not a ringer in the bunch – trust me!
Also be sure to check out her op-ed articles on a variety of topics including reforming libel law in Britian.
[Note: The top photograph of the beautiful Brooke was taken by Geraint Lewis]
— The Curator