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Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Nicola Mostyn says from this angle the sex trade looks pretty damn glam

Published on September 22nd 2008.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Having pondered various careers in my time –Olympic gymnast, vet, tester at the Chocolate Misshapes factory – it had never occurred to me that high class prostitution would be a lucrative and sophisticated lifestyle choice. It certainly didn’t come up in careers class (unless that’s what Mrs Gaye meant by joining the service industry) so it’s a tad worrying that, after watching a few back-to-back episodes of Secret Diary of a Call Girl, you start thinking that Belle’s job as an escort looks like a rather good one; she keeps her own hours, has a gorgeous flat, gets to wear some fabulous outfits and somehow there seems to be a preponderance of hot men in her life.

Actually, that’s where this series starts to test my credulity – I can believe that Belle is a gorgeous, funny, independent young woman who loves - and chooses to make a living from - sex, but I can’t believe that her life is not predominantly filled with knobbly-headed, detestable wankers. Though perhaps this is just my preconception of men who use prostitutes. I’m sure, before long, ITV will leap in with a programme to show me that, just as prostitution is not all desperate poverty and addiction, so using women for sex is the pastime of the rich, handsome and charismatic. With Dermot O’Leary in the lead role.

So Belle is back. It’s the second series of Secret Diary of a Call Girl and it’s as seductive as ever. Though clearly, like any job, being an escort is not without its niggles. In the first episode, Belle met the wrong Alex in a hotel bar and was back in his room before she realised that this one was not a paying customer, but just a very surprised and excited anaesthetist. “I am fucking moving to London,” he said, unable to believe his luck, before Belle got the call that the real Alex – a much older, less attractive, portly fellow – was waiting in his hotel room and had to skedaddle.

The portly fellow turned out to be a politician which led to another problem - maintaining anonymity. A good girl from the Home Counties, Belle tells everyone she is a legal secretary, which explains her late hours and disposable income, though not, perhaps, the saddle she keeps in the wardrobe. So when a journalist turned up and threatened to expose her, the ruse was nearly up. Belle was faced with a choice – sell her story for money, or stay silent and be exposed.

Of course, Belle did the right thing. She is, after all, an escort with a heart, which is what provides this programme’s appeal. Belle is a warm, flawed character who, for all her unusual job title, is seen struggling with the same issues afflicting every modern woman: the difficulty of balancing career and relationship; the disapproval of her staid, married older sister; where to keep the vibrating but plugs. Well, okay, perhaps not that last one.

It also helps enormously that Belle is played by the brilliant Billie Piper who manages that delicate balance of being both sexy and likeable, with her not-size-zero figure and that oddly attractive habit of talking as though she has a mouthful of mashed potato.

And the series uses its unique vantage point to deal with various contemporary issues. So far this series Belle has considered and rejected plastic surgery, rescued a novice call girl from a violent punter, and last episode got into a sticky situation when a jealous wife followed her husband and accused her of having an affair. Belle spilled the beans. “You must see it all here” says the wife. “What do men want?” Seemingly, her husband wanted to pretend he was a single city boy called Matt. Pervert.

Enjoyable though Secret Diary is, there’s something a bit disturbing about getting the same glamour fix provided by Sex and the City from a programme about prostitution. But then, while the majority of prostitutes have a very different, far more harrowing life story, it would be wrong to suggest that Belle’s emancipated kind of call girl doesn’t exist, especially since the programme is based on the true life accounts of London blogger Belle De Jour (http://belledejour-uk.blogspot.com/). It’s like Bond, showing the romantic, minority aspect of what is actually a rather gruesome business. Unfortunately, prostitution is a lot easier for young girls to get into that espionage is for boys.

Speaking of disturbing, there is something strange going on with Belle’s new love interest. Is it just me or does Alex bear an uncanny resemblance to David Tennant from Piper’s previous hit show Doctor Who? Interesting tactics these, by ITV, and, given the differing subject matter and audience of the two shows, rather unsettling but an effective move nonetheless. Though if, next episode, Alex asks her to wear a denim jacket, clamber into a police box and examine his sonic screwdriver, I shall have to write in. You can take post-modernism too far.

Secret Diary of A Call Girl, Thursdays, 10pm, ITV2

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