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
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