Ask a call girl

How realistic is Showtime's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl"? We went to the true experts: Real upscale escorts.

Published August 5, 2008 11:07AM (EDT)

I assumed the Showtime series "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" was yet another hackneyed, over-the-top hooker story intended to shock the masses. But by the second episode, I was addicted. The imported British comedy, which ended its first season on Monday night, has proved well crafted and witty, keeping the harsh and gritty edges of London rather than presenting it in Vaseline-smeared Playboy soft focus.

As a high-class call girl named Belle, the excellent Billie Piper is young and handsome but also a bit worn-out looking, as we might imagine her to be. Though the show is sexy -- with plenty of unblinking bedroom romps -- it is also funny and perhaps even, dare we say it, informative, with juicy tidbits about a taboo and complicated life. Who doesn't wonder what the life of a call girl is like?

And yet, how accurate is it, really? Some of Belle's clients are unbelievably handsome. At one point, she enlists her (darn hot) ex-lover/best friend, played by Iddo Goldberg, into a client-requested foursome. By the time Belle had one of her regular clients (also her accountant) wearing a leather thong and licking her toilet after a request for some S&M action, I had to wonder -- how much dramatic license was being taken? There was only one way to find out: I needed to talk to some experienced call girls.

Call girl No. 1: Cindy

Cindy is one of my closest friends, but in her past life -- before we met and before she became a wife and mother -- she was an upscale call girl in Los Angeles. A beautiful blonde, she fell into the life after a modeling career failed to take off. She was approached by an agent/pimp, decided to take a jump and found herself in subsidized luxury dating actors and record producers and race car drivers. "I'm not going to lie, I got off on the rush my lifestyle gave me," she says. "I'm sure it was a control thing, getting these major tycoons to take care of me so well."

What do you think of "Secret Diary of a Call Girl?"

At first I didn't like it. I found Belle really annoying -- too hard, too cocky, especially with the clients. When you are that level of call girl, making $500-$1,000 an hour, your job is to be super-sweet, super-feminine, the perfect dream girl, not an edgy cool chick. But she's growing on me.

What about Belle can you relate to?

Her loneliness. It is very stressful to lead two lives, to have to lie all the time -- how is it that you can afford those great shoes, that $2,000 bag, the apartment? Of course you put up with it because you love the money and the control, like Belle says, but you do get lonely.

What seemed ridiculously unrealistic?

Lots of things. How much time she spends with her clients. She lingers and hangs out. In real life you are looking at that clock all the time, and when time is up, it's over. Also the meeting with the agent, her pimp, in public with the other girls -- that would never happen. Agents are much more hardcore than the lady on the show. She is way too nice. And Belle working out of her apartment like that -- it's not safe. Usually in real life you have a separate apartment for the clients. You don't want clients knowing where you live. They can get obsessive and start showing up, so for security's sake you keep your workplace and your home separate.

Anything else seem realistic?

Her attachment to Ashok, her first client, her devastation when he chooses another girl. Sometimes you get attached to clients like that.

Are they really that hot?

Sometimes, but that's not the norm. But the fact that he treated her like a real girlfriend, that's what she loved about him.

What were your customers like?

Well, this is going to sound weird, but they were all guys who I would have dated if I had met them under different circumstances. Even when I was young I never went for the bad boy, the starving artist, the boy toy. I only liked older, smart, successful men.

Did you have code words like "no problemo" to let your agent or pimp or someone know there was a problem?

Yeah, you always have someone to check in with, to make sure you are OK and the client is not creepy.

In one episode, Belle attends a fancy sex party with a creepy Russian client. Would you have bailed on him like Belle did?

Sometimes you get icky guys like that, but mostly I got really nice guys. And no, I would never flake on a client like that. You have to be professional, not ruin your reputation, your agent's reputation, piss everyone off -- unless of course you feel like you are in jeopardy.

What do you like best in the show?

I guess as an ex-call girl, it's fun watching the show and seeing what is real and what's completely off. I think it glamorizes the business a bit. Being a high-class call girl is a cool life if you know what you're doing, but a very hard life too, which I don't think they depict well on the show -- just how stressful it really is.

Call girl No. 2: Stephanie

I found Stephanie by Googling "Escorts NYC." It was my short experience of what it must be like to be a client. So many women! And I had to pick one: There were piles of blondes, busty brunettes, exotic Asians; I started to panic. I sorted by price -- $750 an hour, $1,000 an hour -- and there was Stephanie. I don't know what it was, but I got a rush. I had to have her. She looked beautiful and intelligent, nothing cheesy about her photo. After sending a nervous, sweaty-palmed e-mail, I checked my in box like a schoolboy after asking the cheerleader to the prom. Then she wrote back! She offered a long, elegant explanation for her absence -- she had been out of the country with a client (perfect!). She was happy to discuss "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." But first she needed some references; it was all very professional.

What do you think of the show?

I think it's fantastic -- in many ways realistic. They must have inside info from a high-class call girl.

What do you think of Belle?

Lovely but a bit hardened. I found her to be very cold in many ways to her clients. It's very much about the sex with her. High-class clients are more interested in the overall experience. In fact, the sexual aspect is the least important. I would not class Belle as a "high-class" escort -- more middle of the range.

At one point, she's asked to perform an all-nighter. A guy pays to have a girlfriend for the night, right? Was that realistic?

Leaving during the booking to pick up another client downstairs and then going back -- extremely unlikely. Also leaving for cigarettes. There is room service for that, and 90 percent of clients do not want you to smoke anyway.

Do you tip the concierge?

That happens. Also limo drivers and cab drivers that recommend [my] services to potential clients. It happens more often than you'd think.

Are your clients as attractive as some of Belle's?

Yes. A great deal of my clients are attractive and highly intelligent, impeccably groomed, well traveled. You would never guess they use the service, but they do. They see professional ladies not because they can't get a date but because of variety and convenience, not to mention discretion. It's on their terms, and they like you to leave when they want you to leave. Basically you get paid to leave.

Do you relate to Belle?

On some level I relate to her, but we are very different people. I am very driven and hardworking with long-term plans that I have put into action already. I could not relate to her passing up the opportunity she got from the client who set her up in her own penthouse. But she felt comfortable in the "middle range" of escorting and couldn't understand the opportunity that presented itself to her. She could have made a fortune in that environment, and it would have led to countless other opportunities. You don't pass that up -- better clients, 10 times more money. Belle lives very much for today. That is very common with working ladies.

Call girl No. 3: Magical Lizzy

Magical Lizzy is a prominent sex worker in the D.C. area. Unlike the call girls who speak of having split lives, she does not differentiate between Magical Lizzy and Elizabeth Harrison (her real name); they are the same person, she says -- a sexually empowered woman who evolved and blossomed in the sex worker industry in which she has been involved for seven years, doing everything from Web design to professional dominatrix work and, of course, working as an agency call girl. She was arrested last February for counts related to prostitution and is currently serving two years' probation. Her last court appearance is coming up, and though she no longer offers individual private time, she will be resuming her couple's sex classes in the fall.

If a client like Belle's accountant wanted to change it up and requested a little S&M activity, would you oblige?

Considering that I was a dom for years, he'd have hit the jackpot with me.

Is it true, like on "Secret Diary," that there would be no actual sex involved in dominatrix work?

Yes, that's true. The dungeon environment is all about giving up control. It really is a way for these men to relieve stress. They want to relinquish all control. They aren't worthy of you. They don't get to have sex with you.

What kind of men are into the dungeon BDSM scene?

Men with positions of authority -- CEOs, cops, politicians, doctors. Guys with high-stress jobs.

Not a bunch of weirdos?

Definitely not.

There is a lot of kissing on the show. I always thought kissing was a no-no in the business.

GFEs kiss. Some guys want the "girl friend experience," and they pay for that. That would be like the all-nighter Belle does twice a month with that guy Ash, who basically wants to have a girlfriend for a night. They screw, they exchange books, they hang out -- that's gonna cost him. There she would be expected to kiss. But a regular one-hour client, no kissing is required.

What about anal sex? I noticed the agent on the show asked Belle during her first interview if she did anal.

Very rare. I think in seven years' experience I had less than 10 requests for anal.

What do you think about tipping the concierge?

That's pretty old school, pre-Internet. Before the Internet, as an old madam I know used to say, it was gentlemen's sports, very discreet. Now it's pretty easy to find a girl. Just go online. So no, you don't need a concierge to find you clients anymore, at least not here in the D.C. area. We have the most sex workers per capita than any other city in the country.

What's the hourly rate?

It depends. If you are a street walker you get paid by the action, you know -- hand job, blow job, whatever. If you are an escort you get paid by the hour. Around here [it's] $250-$350 an hour. In New York maybe $400. That $1,000 an hour is a bit of a myth and rare. Guys aren't going to pay $1,000 for pussy. Maybe in exclusive L.A. circles.

Are reviews taken seriously, like when Belle's review described her as frigid and her business went way down?

Oh, definitely. Again, with the Internet, everything gets reviewed to death. There's very little discretion in either direction anymore. There are two main review sites, and I like They don't go into the gory details. They'll just say stuff like, "'Tiffany' gives a full menu," whereas will tell you whether she waxes or shaves, how she smells.

Did you have customers as cute as some of Belle's?

No. I had normal guys. Some less attractive than others, but I always liked my boys. If I didn't have a connection, which I could tell in the first 10 minutes, I would return his money and recommend someone else for him.

Did you use an agent?

I never worked for anyone, and I would never work for a man. Men screw up the system. They really don't have a place in it. They don't know what women need -- child care, medical care, whatever. I've been an agent, and I am very business-oriented. There are a lot of those poor, dumb gals who get caught up in the drama and gossip. They think they are stars when they get a good review or fall into deep depressions if they get a bad review. They don't get it. It's a business. Do a good job. Don't take all the nonsense personally.

So a lot of women can't handle the business?

Put it this way: If you're an alcoholic, being an escort will make it worse; if you are a druggie, being an escort will make it worse; if you are depressive, a shopoholic, bipolar, any kind of fucked up, being a whore will make it worse. If you are pretty grounded, and like your work like I did, it's a great job.

It sounds like you and Belle got into the business in almost exactly the same way.

Yeah, I had a one-night stand, a really good time, great guy, gave me cab fare home. Turned out to be way more than cab fare.

It never occurred to you to be a prostitute before?

No way! I was even insulted at the suggestion that I had become an escort. I was sort of in denial. But then I got real and got very businesslike about it. I studied the AOL escort chat rooms. I learned everything online.

Did you find it a struggle to keep your work and your personal life separate?

I personally didn't, but I realize I am the oddball when it comes to this. Many girls I worked with had a continual battle between their private and public lives. For me, I loved my work and made no bones about it.

By Ondine Galsworth

Ondine Galsworth is a New York native now living in Hoboken with her five-year-old son, her dog, her cat and her common-law partner. She is a regular contributor to Babble and Nerve.

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