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Famous sex worker outed as cancer researcher

Anonymous sex worker Belle de Jour, who became one of the first celebrity bloggers in the UK, has revealed herself as a research scientist. Brooke Magnanti, who works on cancer epidemiology, told the Sunday Times she began charging £300 an hour through an escort agency after becoming strapped for cash while finishing her PhD.

“I couldn’t find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn’t have my PhD yet. I didn’t have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva; and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would,” she told the paper. (A number of those commenting on the revelation have used it to highlight the poorly paid status of PhD students.)

The paper says she has informed her colleagues at the Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health, part of the University of Bristol, who have been “amazingly kind and supportive”.

She also told the Times, “I wanted to be a physicist, but that just didn’t work out.” Of the future she says, “I’d like to go back to studying cancer epidemiology and etiology: the causes of cancer and the diagnosis rates. They’re my thing.” (Full interview.)

The Belle de Jour blog enjoyed huge success and was produced as a book and later televised. However, it did prove controversial, with some critics accusing it of glamorising prostitution and even claiming it must have been written by a man.

On the original blog the following message is posted “Belle and the person who wrote her had been apart too long. I had to bring them back together. So a perfect storm of feelings and circumstances drew me out of hiding.” (Some reports say Magnanti revealed herself as ‘Belle’ because a former boyfriend was about to expose her.)

Reaction below the fold.

I have no problem with her becoming a prostitute, good for her if she enjoyed it and it worked out well… But what about the rest of us who are finishing up PhD’s, are totally skint, and don’t fancy having sex with guys for cash? If she was paid a decent amount of money when she was doing her PhD she wouldn’t have even gone into prostitution…

-Sunday Times reader Nat Ward

Certainly, the money is not fantastic and you have to work very hard, but the jobs are interesting, you get to discover new things, which is amazingly rewarding, and even to give something back for all the education you have received. Although I would not condemn Dr Magnanti, I also would not pat her on the back, since there are many examples of other people in the same situation who choose to employ their scientific training more productively and still make a living out of this, without the need to play the part of victims of an unfair system.

– Sunday Times reader Fran R-C

PhD, 6 years of post doc, 3 papers..I’d guess she is clever enough to know that she’ll struggle to make it in science and wants to get out of the vicious circle of low pay/little respect post doc after post doc (which was probably going to be her fate). Possibly a well staged media coup, but not one that should detract from the real issues surrounding the poor career prospects and lack of funding in Science, which resulted in this extreme example (although these escort agencies are probably full of students anyway).

– Sunday Times reader A.N. Other

With all due respect to Brooke, she’s kinda ruined my imagination of who Belle was!! Not by her looks, she’s very attractive, but by the fact that she’s a scientist!! lol.

Sun reader Jayke1981

This aspect of Dr Magnanti’s past is not relevant to her current role at the university.

– Spokesman for the University of Bristol (via Daily Telegraph)

Take away the contemporary spin, and not much here is new. Literary history, especially in the 18th century, is littered with writers who chose to write anonymously. At the low end they are all forgotten; at the high end they range from Jonathan Swift and Walter Scott to Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

– Guardian books critic Robert McCrum


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