February 11, 2009

Call Girl Conglomerate

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In today’s job market, many of us are probably rethinking our career goals. Prostitution may or may not have occurred to you as an option, but we’d be lying if we said it hadn’t occurred to us. These days, you can see a highly debated version of the high class prostitute lifestyle, one very different from Julia Roberts’ fairy tale, on Showtime’s series Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billy Piper, which is based on the true-life confessions of Belle de Jour, a call girl-turned-writer in London. Although Belle’s actual identity is kept secret, London’s most (in)famous call girl agreed to chat with The Sun about prostitution, her university days and how she would have made Twilight differently.

The Sun: Although prostitution obviously ended up leading you to a rather successful career — the blog, the books, the articles and column — from your writings it seems that it wasn’t your original plan. What did you think you were going to do after you graduated when you were still at university? If you now could talk to the university version of you, how do you think that conversation would go?

Belle de Jour: Like many people I had a vague idea of working in the area I studied (which is approximately what I do now that I am retired from sex work). Strangely enough, even before becoming a call girl, I have always supported sex workers. In fact, as a teenager, I wrote a letter to our local paper regarding the council’s consideration of a legalized red-light district. As a result, some of my mother’s colleagues tried to embarrass her, but she defended it saying I was raised to have my own opinions and stand up for them. And to be very honest, I think while [the] me of 10 years ago would be concerned with some of the choices I’ve made in my personal life, prostitution is not one of them.

Sun: From your blog, I’ve gathered that your parents still don’t know. Did you prepare any responses or better stories in case they found out? I ask as someone who has an entire list of, “It’s not what you think mom, actually…”

B.d.J.: If they found out I would tell them the truth (but probably ask them not to confide in anyone else). They deserve that much for, you know, the whole making and raising me thing.

Sun: Do you think certain things — phrasings, cultural differences — are lost to Showtime/American viewers?

B.d.J.: I’ve no idea, but I do know many changes were made for the U.S. editions of the books and I resented each and every one. I think making cultural changes to please an overseas audience amounts to dumbing-down — if people are interested in the books and show and want to know what it is really like in London, why try to change the language so it sounds as if everyone’s in Chicago? Bollocks to that.

Sun: What’s the response from your American audiences been like?

B.d.J.: Happily, it has been enthusiastic — and the critical reception has been good. I do think it makes a difference that it is shown on a pay channel in the U.S., whereas here people were up in arms a bit more about the fact that anyone could see it. Somehow after Kim Cattrall’s tits anything can and does go on cable. I like that attitude.

Sun: I’m not sure if you ever saw this post about a Penn student prostituting herself* but it caused a pretty big explosion in the Ivy League blogging world. The overall response/conclusion was that the whole thing was a hoax, which is similar to a lot of your responses, I gather. Why do you think people can’t accept that it’s true?

B.d.J.: In my experience, the people who shout the loudest about whether or not something like that is true are the ones with the most to lose — people who have made hay from half-baked and antiquated ideas of femininity, or similar ideas about feminism, the people whose world views would have to be seriously and fundamentally reconsidered if they were to accept that sometimes, and indeed more often than not, in the Western world among women who do it, prostitution is a choice. And a damned well-paid one at that. Alongside porn, it is probably one of the few professions where women consistently out-earn men at the same level.

Sun: Did you see Twilight? I don’t know if that got big over in the U.K. (it was huge here). What do you think of the phenomenon?

B.d.J.: Oh, it has been massive here, but I’ve not seen it. I don’t fancy the wan, fey type of man. Recast that with the starting lineup of the England World Cup 2003 rugby squad and I might be interested.

Sun: How accurate has the show been to your life? How involved are you these days in the creative process? Any times you’ve been upset with the direction?

B.d.J.: Accuracy has been sacrificed to the demands of television drama, but the flavor is mostly correct. It is based on my life but [is] not my life — but it is certainly the life of someone very, very like me who could conceivably exist. In that way I have been pleased with the result. I am only involved at script-approval stage, and have met the writers. I was a particular fan of the original writer, Lucy Prebble, whom I felt best understood what I have been trying to say.

Sun: Do you think the show could have [been] developed over here? Would it have been appreciated? Accuracy gripes aside, how do you feel about Pretty Woman?

B.d.J.: Possibly, though not in the same way — as it is illegal in most parts of the U.S. that would have changed the content significantly. I particularly admire Mistress Matisse, a blogger and professional dominatrix in Seattle, for her musings on the subject of how sex workers subvert the law. And I saw Pretty Woman again not long ago — and hated it. Though Julia Roberts did look lovely; I’d forgotten how pretty she was.

Sun: If you could have had any other career, what would it have been?

B.d.J.: I’m happy with the career I have now — the “legit” one. I am considering some alterations to it, but it is a direction I’m pleased with. To turn the question on its head, you could never, ever have paid me enough to be a temp, which is what most other girls in London in my situation would have done. That is a line I never would cross.

*See the article at:

For more on Belle’s life and writing, head over to belledejour-uk.blogspot.com, or pick up one of her books in any major bookstore. Secret Diary of a Call Girl’s second season is currently airing on Showtime. Catch it Sunday nights at 10:30.