Writer of pop­u­lar blog re­veals her true iden­tity

The high-class call girl Belle du Jour, holds a PhD, write LAURA TOPHAM and HE­LEN WEATHERS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

FOR six years, her iden­tity re­mained a closely guarded se­cret: a tan­ta­lis­ing mys­tery for all those hooked on the stock­ings-and-stilet­tos tales of high-class call girl Belle de Jour. A male fan­tasy with her Chanel nail var­nish, lacy knick­ers, sex­ual tricks and vast knowl­edge of French cin­ema, the anony­mous au­thor of the best-sell­ing mem­oir The In­ti­mate Ad­ven­tures of a Lon­don Call Girl prompted a frenzy of spec­u­la­tion.

Was Belle real? Was she, in fact, a man with an ex­cep­tion­ally fever­ish imagination? Af­ter all, her sen­sa­tional di­ary, which started life in 2003 as an award-winning blog and in­spired a glossy TV drama star­ring Bil­lie Piper, was con­sid­ered by some to be al­most too good to be true.

Well, now the truth is out and it is al­most stranger than fic­tion. For not only is Belle de Jour real, but it emerges she is a high-fly­ing, 33-year-old aca­demic by the name of Dr Brooke Mag­nanti.

A pe­tite, Amer­i­can-born blonde, she has a PhD from Sh­effield Uni­ver­sity in in­for­mat­ics, epi­demi­ol­ogy and foren­sic sci­ence, and works at the Bris­tol Ini­tia­tive for Re­search for Child Health, re­search­ing the ef­fects of ex­po­sure to pes­ti­cides on foe­tuses and in­fants.

But she’s now re­vealed that, as an im­pov­er­ished stu­dent, she worked from 2003 to late 2004 as a £300-an-hour pros­ti­tute through an es­cort agency, pock­et­ing a third of the fee for her two-hour ses­sions with clients, whom she met two or three times a week.

Dr Mag­nanti “outed” her­self this week in a re­mark­ably un­crit­i­cal, three-page in­ter­view in a broad­sheet news­pa­per.

“Some sex work­ers have ter­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ences. I didn’t,” she said, swat­ting away crit­i­cism that her di­aries glam­or­ise a seedy, danger­ous in­dus­try.

“I was un­be­liev­ably for­tu­nate in ev­ery re­spect. The peo­ple at the agency looked af­ter us ap­pro­pri­ately and in­structed us ap­pro­pri­ately and weren’t go­ing to put us in harm’s way if they could pos­si­bly avoid it.”

How many men did she sleep with for money?

“A lot. I can’t hon­estly re­mem­ber. Some­where be­tween dozens and hun­dreds,” she says.

“I couldn’t find a job in my cho­sen field be­cause I didn’t then have my PhD and I got through my sav­ings a lot faster than I thought I would.

“Yeah, you could work be­hind a bar, but how many hours would you have to do to pay the rent? I couldn’t get an over­draft, though once I started de­posit­ing so much cash, they of­fered me a mort­gage within three months.”

Why has she outed her­self now? “I don’t want this mas­sive se­cret over me any more. It’s chang­ing the way I be­have around peo­ple, the way I con­duct my life,” she says.

Men­tion was also made of a for­mer boyfriend “with a big mouth, lurk­ing in the back­ground”.

Could this be the man she re­ferred to as The Boy in her di­aries, her for­mer boyfriend of seven years, who comes across as, in his own words, “a lum­ber­ing idiot”?

The man for whom she did not wear “work knick­ers” but, ac­cord­ing to Belle’s blog, “boyfriend knick­ers” (“Small. Thongs. Take-it-off-with-your-teeth type stuff ”).

A man de­scribed as so keen on bear hugs he could squeeze a rab­bit to death. A man whose bed­room ac­tiv­i­ties were pored over by mil­lions of read­ers.

Step for­ward The Boy, whom we can re­veal is a 35-year-old of­fi­cer in the armed forces called Owen, who will soon be serv­ing in Afghanistan.

He met Brooke in Sh­effield in 2002 – the year be­fore she started her blog – when she was study­ing for her PhD and he was work­ing as an en­gi­neer.

He was aware of Belle’s true iden­tity from the start, and the es­cort work, but ad­mits he was so blinded by love that he re­fused to read the blog in

‘Yeah, you could work be­hind a bar, but how many hours would you have to do to pay the rent?’

de­tail un­til they broke up.

Un­til then, he’d as­sumed she was paid only for her scin­til­lat­ing com­pany. He sus­pected her of sleep­ing with some clients, but thought this was be­cause she was at­tracted to them, rather than be­cause money changed hands.

Mag­nanti told him – as the me­dia storm about Belle’s iden­tity raged – that she’d sen­sa­tion­alised what had re­ally hap­pened with her clients in or­der to cap­i­talise on the sit­u­a­tion.

Given Belle’s as­ser­tion on her blog this week – “The non-Belle part of my life isn’t the only ‘real’ bit. It’s all real” – Owen now be­lieves she was be­ing eco­nom­i­cal with the truth.

He says he has spent years try­ing to pro­tect her se­cret and is stung by the sug­ges­tion that he’s the one with the “big mouth” when, he claims, he had to smooth things over and beg for si­lence when Brooke let the truth slip out ac­ci­den­tally to friends.

In­deed, the Mail can re­veal that a more re­cent boyfriend bragged to his mates that he was sleep­ing with the real Belle de Jour and it was one of those friends who passed on her name to the news­pa­pers.

Hope­fully, this is not the boyfriend Mag­nanti re­ferred to as “T” in her in­ter­view this week, when she said: “He knew I was Belle be­fore we started dat­ing prop­erly. He told me some­thing that showed he trusted me, and I felt I could trust him back by telling him.”

When the Mail tracked down Owen, he re­fused to talk about his for­mer girl­friend. He has re­lented only be­cause she has outed her­self and, in do­ing so, outed him to his fam­ily.

We have agreed not to iden­tify Owen by his full name, be­cause to do so would re­sult in im­me­di­ate dis­missal from the army. But make no mis­take, his fam­ily and many of his mil­i­tary col­leagues and friends – who re­mem­ber Mag­nanti at­tend­ing reg­i­men­tal din­ners – know who he is.

“I was shak­ing when I read her con­fes­sion. I can’t be­lieve she has done this,” says Owen.

“She has brought the Sword of Damo­cles down on her­self. While she thinks she hasn’t been cut, I think she’ll find that she has when she goes for an­other job in a cou­ple of years.

“At least she has her lit­er­ary ca­reer to fall back on, but what about me? Brooke has outed me to my friends and fam­ily without giv­ing me any warn­ing. Peo­ple who have never read her blogs can look them up and see that The Boy is me.

“She has made a great deal of money from Belle de Jour, but I haven’t re­ceived a penny and my life has been com­pletely af­fected.

“She never asked if she could write about our life to­gether and I feel hu­mil­i­ated. She hates me be­cause she thinks I leaked her name, but I still love her and think about her ev­ery five min­utes. I was plan­ning to pro­pose and had two rings made. I buried them on a beach where we used to walk to­gether.”

Re­luc­tantly, given Mag­nanti’s star­tling ad­mis­sion, Owen now ac­cepts the woman he adored was sleep­ing with clients at the same time she was seem­ingly in love with him.

“When she took the es­cort job, I begged her not to sleep with any of the clients. I re­mem­ber stand­ing in a Lon­don street say­ing: ‘Please, please, please, just keep that for me be­cause sex be­longs in a loving re­la­tion­ship.’

“She smiled at me, gave me a hug and a kiss and said: ‘How sweet, of course.’

“I be­lieved her. Af­ter that, I didn’t ask about the work

‘Please, please, please, just keep that for me, be­cause sex be­longs in a loving re­la­tion­ship’

be­cause I didn’t want to know.

“I chose to be­lieve she was a mod­ern geisha rather than a high-class call girl, paid to chat to clients over a drink or ac­com­pany them to black-tie events.”

But what on earth drove such an ac­com­plished and ed­u­cated woman to not only un­der­take sex work, but glam­or­ise it through her blog?

A highly suc­cess­ful, widely read and in­tel­lec­tual woman with sev­eral de­grees, Dr Mag­nanti was born in Florida, the Jewish grand­daugh­ter of Ital­ian im­mi­grants.

She at­tended Clear­wa­ter Cen­tral Catholic high school and went on to uni­ver­sity in the US.

She moved to Bri­tain as a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at Sh­effield, where she em­barked on a PhD in com­puter vi­su­al­i­sa­tion, an­no­ta­tion and databas­ing of hu­man skele­tal re­mains.

Mag­nanti first de­vel­oped an ap­petite for blogs in Florida, where she started a web­site re­view­ing veg­e­tar­ian restau­rants. She also be­gan a blog in 2002 about au­top­sies and a third where she posted short sto­ries.

The name Belle du Jour is taken from the ’60s film star­ring Cather­ine Deneuve as a bored house­wife who turns to pros­ti­tu­tion.

Owen re­mem­bers how thrilled Mag­nanti was when she won a blog award in 2003.

With book deals on of­fer and money sud­denly pour­ing in, Mag­nanti was re­luc­tant to kill off Belle – even af­ter she’d given up the es­cort work her­self – be­cause her cre­ation had be­come the goose lay­ing the golden eggs. – Daily Mail

A TRUE TALE: Bil­lie Piper starred in a glossy TV drama, Se­cret Di­ary of a Call Girl, in­spired by the pop­u­lar Belle du Jour blog.

BELLE OF THE BALL: Dr Brooke Mag­nanti

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