She needed money fast — her PhD studies coming to an end. The answer, of course, prostitution. Britain’s a-twitter over the revelation that Belle de Jour, a best-selling author who blogs about sex, is really a science researcher.
One of the best kept literary secrets of the decade was revealed last night when 34-year-old scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti announced she was the writer masquerading as call girl Belle de Jour.
The author behind the bestselling books detailing her secret life as a prostitute decided to come out to one of her fiercest critics, Sunday Times columnist India Knight, after claiming anonymity had become “no fun”. “I couldn’t even go to my own book launch party”, she said.
Until last week, even her agent was unaware of her name. But now Magnanti, a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology in a hospital research group in Bristol, has spoken of the time six years ago she worked as a £300 an hour prostitute working through a London escort agency. Magnanti turned to the agency in the final stages of her PhD thesis when she ran out of money. She was already an experienced science blogger and began writing about her experiences in a web diary later adapted into books and a television drama starring Billie Piper.
Magnanti says she has no regrets about the 14 months she spent as a prostitute. “I’ve felt worse about my writing than I ever have about sex for money,” she said.
Magnanti said she was working on a doctoral study for the department of forensic pathology of Sheffield University in 2003 when she began her secret life. “I was getting ready to submit my thesis. I saved up a bit of money. I thought, I’ll just move to London, because that’s where the jobs are, and I’ll see what happens.
“I couldn’t find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn’t have my PhD yet.
It’s an interesting challenge for women (and men) who choose the long, costly and demanding road of prolonged academic study. I was on the phone last night to a friend, 30, who is finishing up her Phd and also needs to make money. She can’t get a job in her field until she’s fully credentialed but can’t get more funding to finish. She, however, is working in a bank.