Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bland de jour


Well there goes the fantasy. All those men imagining call girl Belle de Jour as some pouty Billie Piper type and it turns out she's a normal-looking doctor called Brooke.

The identity of Belle was a well-kept secret until two days ago. Her blog about life as a high-class escort became a best-selling book and a TV series starring Piper.

Belle retained her anonymity and because no-one knew what she looked like, she was a blank canvas for other people's fantasies.

When she finally exposed herself in a Sunday newspaper, it was not in the way some of her fans might have liked to daydream. It turns out that the reality of the woman who has been accused of glamourising prostitution is fairly prosaic.

As Belle, she was seen as a sex kitten stalking the five-star hotels of London. She charged £300 an hour. Because she was worth it. As portrayed by Billie Piper on TV, she was smart, discreet and equipped with a wardrobe of silk corsets.

In real life, Belle is Dr Brooke Magnanti, a research specialist in neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology. She says she turned to prostitution to fund her PhD studies in the less than glittering West Country city of Bristol.

At a stretch you might call her a hot nerd. But the streetwise vixen some of her more ardent followers might have pictured? Probably not.

The manner of her first public outing was not a sexy reveal. The first picture of the doctor who turned tricks -- no point in mincing words -- had her in an oversized cardi, long woolly scarf and demure sweater dress.

She says she feared an ex-boyfriend was about to out her in a newspaper interview so perhaps she decided to get there first. All of a sudden, Belle de Jour became a very real person. If you listened carefully, you could almost hear the shattering of a thousand male delusions.

She has proved that while fantasy might be a potent aphrodisiac, the reality is nearly always a good deal less sexy. Start thinking of the prostitute as a real woman with an ego and a life outside the hotel bedroom and the titillation is gone, isn't it?


When Belle's blog started gaining notices, some people thought it was made up because it was well written and portrayed prostitution as a sort of lifestyle choice. (The nom de plume was significant as it brought to mind Catherine Deneuve's sexy, bored housewife in the 1967 French film of the same name).

Now that we know the truth behind it, it's almost too much information. I'm sure it's ruined the fantasy for some folk to know that the happy hooker was just a broke medical student with a way with words.

Magnanti doesn't come across as a victim of circumstance. Whatever you feel about her lack of regret at how she sold sex for 14 months, at least she's not changed her tune just because her pseudonym is blown.

Anonymity was, she says, no fun. "I couldn't even go to my own book launch." She has told her colleagues and family about her past and they are all fine with it. Even her mum.

I just wish she'd come out sooner. Now that the mystery is gone, we can see that it's just another story of prostitution and in the cold light of day, there's nothing vaguely glamorous or sexy about that.

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