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Britain's most famous call girl, Belle de Jour, was actually born and raised in the Tampa Bay area



brooke-magnanti-3.jpgTo these American ears, her voice sounded imported straight from a Jane Austen novel.

But when Dr. Brooke Magnanti finally called me -- speaking up to her hometown paper for the first time after revealing herself to be Belle de Jour, the anonymous prostitute whose life in London's escort scene spawned best-selling books and the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl -- the research scientist and former escort talked easily of life spent growing up in the Tampa Bay area.

So how did a self described science nerd from Clearwater become Britain's most famous call girl?

"I was so unbelievably straightlaced as a kid . . . but the one thing I would say (was) a direct result of growing up in Florida is, I've never been uncomfortable being naked around people," said Magnanti, 35, now married, living in Scotland and working on a book unrelated to her life as Belle.

brooke-magnantiandbillie-piper.jpg"People in Florida do their shopping in a bikini," added the author, who resisted grand theories about why she chose work as an escort in England eight years ago while completing her doctorate in forensic science. "I don't feel as self-conscious as I think a lot of women in England or elsewhere in Europe do."

For Magnanti, the road to her peculiar bit of fame has been tangled and sometimes a bit bumpy, including death threats (reportedly from an ex-boyfriend), salacious tabloid reports on her relatives and hate mail from those who can't understand or sympathize with the choices she has made. (at left, Magnanti with the actress who plays her character on TV, Billie Piper)

Showtime airs the British TV series inspired by her life, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, debuting the show's final season at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

As a preview, I tried tracing a bit of Magnanti's history in the Sunshine State for Sunday's Floridian section, including her time at Clearwater Central Catholic High School.

But Magnanti resisted any easy explanations, laughing off the notion that her background as a Catholic school girl or a Floridian had much influence over her decision to support herself briefly by sleeping with men (working through an escort service, as she did, is legal in England).

"Prostitution’s legal over here (in Great Britain)," she said. "Things like trespassing and solicitation (aren't), but the actual exchange of sex for money isn’t illegal here. In spite of it, I am still a rule follower, par excellence. If it had been illegal here, I wouldn’t have done it. I think a lot of it was to do with … it just has always seemed wrong to me to judge people based on their sexual histories. And also, you know, there’ve been people in my family who struggled with alcoholism, with addiction. It seems very harsh sometimes, the way people get judged for choices they make where what’s influencing them is something completely different."

Me: I read in one story where you had a relative who had worked in prostitution for a while...

"She was married to a blood relative. And it was only much later that I found out about her history because she started getting back into the drugs again and got involved with prostitution again. And she did a lot of things that made a lot of people very angry but, at the same time, I could still see, you know, the person that I had liked and it felt like, well, I’m not gonna just say, 'Oh, she’s a bad person, she’s an evil person because she’s done this,' because that person I liked is still there. She’s still there."

You were born in New Port Richey and grew up in Clearwater; how do you remember Florida?

"This is the problem with going back – in my head, Florida is still the Florida of late 80s. I remember when Boot Ranch was still a ranch. It’s not as beautiful as it used be. The Florida of my memory hasn’t existed in such a long time....I just don't want my hometown changed into some family friendly wonderland."

Look below for Magnanti's interview with Piper, where she describes her early days as an escort:


[Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2011 12:59pm]


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