Wednesday 26 June 2019

Belle de Jour: 'Even a hooker can find love'

For years, the mysterious Belle de Jour intrigued readers with tales of her life as a London call girl, which have been turned into books and a TV series. Now, she has penned a guide to men. Declan Cashin spoke to the woman behind the pseudonym to find out more

Bille Piper,
who played Belle's character
in the TV series The
Secret Diary of a Call Girl,
based on Magnanti's blog
Bille Piper, who played Belle's character in the TV series The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, based on Magnanti's blog

Declan Cashin

When it comes to understanding the "odd and inscrutable species we call man", few people are as qualified to offer practical advice and guidance as Belle de Jour. Having worked for years as a high-class London call girl -- and written an anonymous blog about her experiences, which was eventually turned into books and then a television series -- she finally revealed her identity last week.

Belle is the nom de plume of a 34-year-old scientist, whose real name is Dr Brooke Magnanti. In her line of work, she has encountered, in her own words, "men of every conceivable shape, size and type. I've seen them at their most cocksure and at their most vulnerable"

What's more, she has also been in love and had her heart broken along the way. Now, Magnanti has mined all of her experiences to produce Belle De Jour's Guide to Men, a funny, frank and sharply written "tour of man -- his habitat, tastes and habits".

Magnanti's fans will be familiar with many of her sexual and emotional trysts first from her two best-selling memoirs, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl and The Further Adventures of a London Call Girl. Her books, and Magnanti's clever, witty voice, then found a whole new lease of life two years ago, when they were adapted into a highly rated TV series starring pop singer-turned-actress Billie Piper in the title role.

Guide to Men is not, however, a blow-by-blow sex guide per se (though both sex and blowing do feature at one point), but rather a Sex and the City-tinged self-help book-cum-dating guide told in Magnanti's sassy, finger-snapping, girl's best-friend style.

It's not all affirmative, preaching to the converted; in fact, Magnanti isn't afraid to make her female readers confront some of their worst traits -- be it nagging, passive aggression or lack of enthusiasm in bed -- in order for them to acknowledge, then challenge, their own culpability in any problems they might have in their relationships with guys.

Chatting to Weekend, Magnanti admitted that she has hung up her thigh-high boots for good to concentrate fully on her writing career, and indeed last year she published her first fully fictional novel, Playing the Game (which, rather confusingly, also features the character of Belle).

"I enjoyed my time in sex work for what it was, but wouldn't go back," she says. "Having said that, I assume I'll be saying the same about writing too someday!"

One of the first topics Magnanti turns to in Guide to Men is, naturally enough, sex. All of us, she argues -- women in particular -- should be having more sex, for pleasure, with more partners. Magnanti happily calls herself "a slag" because she rails against the shame that still seems to surround the act "that we're all built to do".

Women, she argues, are especially overly-concerned about their sexual reputations. "Last year, for the first time, I became friends with a group of other women," she says. "The extent to which they lied about their numbers was staggering.

"To be fair, I don't think they were changing the numbers maliciously. But they had certainly internalised certain messages and could tell you quite honestly why this or that one-night stand 'didn't count' and so on."

Magnanti's advice is for us all to just get on with it. "What are you saving yourself for exactly?" she asks. "Love? Love is love, regardless of whether you've slept with one person or one thousand. It would please me no end if we finally grew up and stopped equating purity with ability to love and be loved."

While we're on the topic, I have to ask her the key question: in cold, hard terms, how big a deal is sex in a relationship? Do we -- women and men -- put enough effort into both getting it and getting it right?

"It's a big deal for me," she replies. "Some people respond more to physical expressions of love, and I am certainly one of those.

"There seems to be a widespread assumption that the slow death of imagination and frequency of love-making is simply something that must be expected in relationships. I don't accept that. But in the end quality always trumps quantity (though as Stalin wryly noted, 'quantity has a quality all its own')."

Of course, to even get to that stage, a woman has to find a guy first, and these days it's arguably harder than ever to actually meet someone. Be that as it may, Magnanti says there's only one solution.

"Go on dates," she states. "Yes, it's artificial. Yes, it can be awkward. Yes, you meet a lot of losers very quickly. But if getting staggeringly drunk and throwing ourselves at the closest available face was actually working, we'd all be happily paired off by year two of university, no? Having multiple options on the go stops the desire to start putting pressure on a particular man to commit too soon."

That means that we all need to get better at dating and flirting in general. "It's all about practice, practice, practice," Magnanti says. "After splitting with my last boyfriend I spent about a year dating -- proper frocks-on-and-reservations-made dating.

"I did internet dating, blind dates, speed dating, the lot. It provided a lot of great material for my books and, more importantly, it allowed me to meet the amazing man I'm with now. So, if even a hooker can find true love, nothing's out of the question. But the perfect person is not going to come knocking on our door -- unless you're into Jehovah's Witnesses."

Magnanti is also quick to rubbish notions of 'The One' -- clinging to a belief that there's just one person out there for all of us. "Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but I don't buy it at all," she argues.

"Bottom line: I guess I could be tempted to say my current man is 'A One' -- somebody I love enough to do the work it takes for us to stay together. But pretending there is literally no-one else in history who could have fulfilled that role? Wow, maths education standards really have slipped!

"Not only is it unlikely, it's impossible. In much the same way the lottery is a tax on people who don't understand statistics, 'The One' is an emotional tax on the same."

On a similar note, Magnanti contends that a lot of women, and men for that matter, settle for 'good enough' rather than 'better', a recipe for unhappy, unfulfilling relationships if ever there was one. I think the great Western disease is, 'I'll be happy when...' as in, 'I'll be happy when I have a wedding', 'I'll be happy when I have a baby', and so on," she says. "A worthwhile life doesn't run to a schedule, and if someone else is going to judge you for not being married by 30, screw 'em. Their opinion doesn't matter. If you're going to judge yourself for the same... wow. Drop that cross already! Be happy now."

Since she brings it up, I mention that I know lots of cool, smart, attractive women who start panicking when they turn 30 because they aren't married with kids. Changing that trend is beyond any one woman's power, it seems.

"Trust me, babe, when we're all living to 120, then being over 30 will be like turning 16," Magnanti jokes. "Seriously, though, I know exactly the phenomenon of which you speak and it depresses me to see smart, beautiful women I love turning into monsters. Also, don't pretend the same thing doesn't happen to gay men!" Touché.

There is one particular section of the book that will no doubt have husbands and boyfriends across the land furtively underlining with a bright highlighter and leaving open for their other halves to see. This is where Magnanti tells her female readers that not only can they not change a man, but they shouldn't even try change him to begin with. In short, her wisdom on those habits that you'd like to alter in your man is: if you can't get over it, get out of it.

"Humans as a species have an infinite capacity for believing that if we keep doing the same thing over and over, we can expect different results," she explains. "From the crisis in the Middle East to the Clintons' marriage, we can see just how well that strategy works. And my goodness, does it make women unhappy. Men are always going to be men. Trying to make them anything different sort of defeats the purpose of heterosexuality, doesn't it?"

As our allotted time reaches its climax, I wonder if, after all her experiences -- personally and professionally -- there is anything about men that still surprises her?

"They are usually a lot sweeter than I give them credit for," she answers. "I've found that when I step back from providing all the romance all the time, my boyfriend surprises me that way.

"Men are very good at hiding that sweetness."

W

Irish Independent

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