The prostitute and the politician

Introducing the real Belle de Jour

Over the course of the last six years, during which she has written a best-selling book which has spawned a successful TV series (The Secret Diary Of A Call Girl), the celebrated call girl-cum-blogger Belle de Jour has successfully maintained her cloak of anonymity.

When you think about it, that in itself is a seriously impressive achievement in a twenty-first century world in which it is now virtually impossible for anyone of any notable interest to hide anything for six hours, let alone six days. And yet Belle has kept her identity secret – via a combination of careful planning, discretion (not even her agent knew her true identity) and a well-concealed money trail – which has eluded the attempts of the world’s journalists to out her.

Other anonymous bloggers have been quickly identified and exposed, often within days. But Belle has kept the newspapers, literary critics and a curious public in the dark. It has variously been thought that she was a well-known author under a nom de plume, a man writing titillating male fantasy for other men, or an entirely fictional creation.

For six years, we have all been chasing wild geese.

Until today.

In an interview with India Knight – one of the staunchest critics of Belle’s books – in today’s Sunday Times, Dr Brooke Magnanti, a 34 year old Bristol research scientist, has finally stepped out of the shadows and publicly claimed her alter ego.

The interview makes interesting reading. She is as articulate and intelligent as you would expect from someone with a PhD and a pre-Belle de Jour history of scientific blogging. And she also seems fully responsible for her own actions. One of the most common accusations levelled at Belle has been the way her blog has seemingly glamorized the sex trade, but she in no way denies the less salubrious side to prostitution; it is more that her experiences – some real, some fictional – were at the other end of the scale. The simple facts as Brooke/Belle relates them are that she became an escort as a means to make ends meet without the need for skills or training. It’s not necessarily a solution most of us would have adopted, but it suggests a degree of pragmatism over aspiration in terms of career choice.

Now, the exact nature of truth is always an elusive thing, and it can often be difficult to separate it from carefully crafted, self-serving fiction. Indeed, in the hours since the newspaper’s publication, several people have already come forward claiming to have been previously aware of Belle’s hidden identity, and the suspicion is that Brooke Magnanti’s revelations, rather than being purely voluntary, are little more than pre-emptive action. (The interview mentions the looming threat of a whistle-blowing ex.)

Regardless, it’s hard to criticise. Belle de Jour remains who she has always been; the only real difference is we can now put a name to her.

Palin bends the truth (again)

Another high-profile woman whose book, Going Rogue, is due to be published this coming week, is already guaranteed a place at the top of the bestseller lists.

Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential nominee. The darling of the conservative right, with her gun-totin’, moose-huntin’, anti-abortion hockey mom image. The embodiment of all that is evil to many others.

The Palin PR machine is already in overdrive. For instance, she will appear on Oprah tomorrow as part of a promotional tour which could easily – and probably accurately – be interpreted as the first step of a three-year campaign for the Republicans’ 2012 presidential nomination. Already we have seen teasers of some of the juicier morsels from her book, from which it is clear – if we did not know already – that Sarah Palin is a woman who (a) ensures nothing she does remains anonymous and (b) clearly believes in “blame first, accept responsibility later (preferably never)” as a modus operandi.

In Going Rogue, Palin squarely refuses to accept any responsibility for the Republicans’ failure at the polls last November, instead pointing the finger unwaveringly at John McCain, his aides and anyone else unfortunate enough to stray within her blast radius. Her abysmal performance in an infamous TV interview with CBS’s Katie Couric – memorably lampooned by 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live (and easily found on YouTube) – is explained away by Couric’s supposed bias and ‘badgering’.

Judge for yourself whether the exchange below is a result of bias and badgering, or the performance of a barely articulate individual who is dangerously out of her depth.

Palin: “Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land … boundary that we have with … Canada.”

Couric: “Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.”

Palin: “Well, it certainly does because our … our next door neighbours are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of … We have trade missions back and forth. We … we do … it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where … where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is … from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to … to our state.”

So, you tell me: Belle de Jour or Sarah Palin. Who, really, is prostituting themselves here? Who is distorting the truth more? And who would you trust? The established bestselling author recounting her time as a high-class escort, or the soon-to-be bestselling author attempting to rewrite history to further her unbridled lust for higher office?