I’m sitting in a ‘sharing circle’ at a Kundalini yoga class. Women and men around me take it in turns to speak up: some reveal stories of love and loss; others just want to talk about their feelings; one is recovering from an eating disorder. When it gets to my turn, I open my mouth but no words come out. This might be a ‘safe space’ but I don’t think any of the yogis would be prepared for what I want to say: I’m an escort.
I guess you could say this is a cautionary tale. No little girl grows up wanting to be a prostitute. I wanted to be a high-flying exec but instead, at the age of 22, I found myself in bed with a stranger, having sex for money.
That life was never the plan. I was just 21 when I moved to London to work in recruitment, fresh from a comfortable middle-class home in the countryside. City life was exhilarating and I threw myself into my job, my social life and dating, before a series of events turned my world upside down. After a boozy lunch I made the shameful decision to drive. I crashed into a wall, and while no one else was hurt, the stress of dealing with my actions, coupled with being investigated by the police saw me spiral into a pretty dark place: I developed shingles, I lost my job, and, broke, I turned to a footballer ex-boyfriend at the time for support.
It was him who suggested I look into escorting. Him and his mates had used them before and the way he talked about it made it seem like fun, easy money – just dressing up for dinner dates at fancy restaurants. Call me naive, but at that time I didn’t even know that sex was involved.
At my first meeting with an agency, the lady in charge didn’t mention that, either – it was only during the photoshoot that the true nature of the job was explained to me. Obviously, I was shocked, but money talks. A combination of the promised £250 hourly rate and a massive dose of bravado was enough for me to take the plunge. Just try it once, I thought, and take things from there.
If my friends were suspicious of my newfound job then they never mentioned anything. I didn’t tell a soul. Besides, by that time I’d been recruited by a more established London agency and put up in an all-expenses paid shared townhouse in Paddington, with 10 or so other girls – I didn’t really see anyone outside of that bubble.
My first client there was old, bald and smelled of hot plastic. Pudgy hands pawed at my dress with nails bitten down to the quick. He heaved on top of me, sweaty and grunting until he came. I think he was an agency regular, sent on a jolly to test out the new girl. I passed the test.
The agency owners would send crates of champagne over to the house and we’d gulp it down to blur reality. Drinking and working soon went hand in hand. But clients started to complain that girls were turning up drunk and alcohol was banned. That’s when one of the Russian girls introduced us to cocaine.
Frankly, we needed it. I was never addicted but I used it a lot at the beginning stages to cope with the crazy hours. The agency made us work 24/7, it never stopped. I’d be fast asleep and clients would be ringing the doorbell wanting to see me – coke helped me get through.
After about a year I’d started meeting girls at different agencies through the job and I started to realise how controlled and messed up my set-up was. Plus, instead of taking a 50% cut of each transaction – on average about £400 a night – these girls got 70% or even 80%.
I decided to leave and try my luck elsewhere. And when I did, things turned ugly. The agency put me on a dummy website and sent the link to my family: my mum and dad, my school friends… even my grandparents. It was horrific. Looking back, I don’t know how I dealt with the pain of being outed so brutally – I wanted to disappear. My family were in shock and I did my best to mitigate their fears by playing down the truth. We never discussed it after that. By that time, I had my own regulars – some of whom just wanted companionship – so when I told them sex wasn’t always involved, I wasn’t lying.
At this stage I was on the books of the best agencies and my rate had soared to £500 per hour and up to as much as £2,500 for overnights. I was travelling constantly, from weekends away and private parties to group trips in places like Cannes, for the Film Festival.
Some guys just want company at their hotel, others want to show off and look popular in the clubs. I met some really nice, interesting people and some very successful people. A lot of the time there’s something missing in clients' lives, and they come to you for a space where they can just talk.
But while I was involved in a million different relationships, my relationship with myself – and my real friends – was being massacred. I lost a lot of confidence. When you're acting as someone else, that character sort of becomes who you are.
Although I’d had boyfriends while I was working, the relationships never lasted. In a bid to reclaim some power, I shifted work from ‘hourlies’ to ‘arrangements’: a no-strings-attached kind of relationship where men would pay me a monthly amount and I’d see them accordingly – once a week or once a month, say. It was one step closer to freedom, but I was still desperately missing having a normal life.
Then, I was attacked in my apartment. I’d returned from a job in Brussels and taken a booking from a well-spoken guy who was calling incessantly. When he turned up, sh*t hit the fan. I was beaten and strangled by him – and an accomplice, who forced me to empty my safe and fled with all my money. I’m pretty sure it was via an agency or an organised gang because they knew exactly how much cash I had in the house. Paranoid and alone, it was the wake-up call I needed. I no longer felt safe in London and moved to Qatar to start a new career in fashion.
How I got back to London is another story. But I’ve left my former life behind me; I have a partner and a young daughter and am fully qualified as a Kundalini yoga teacher now. My experiences still haunt me and the idea of my daughter ever finding out my past turns my stomach.
I often feel like a hypocrite. So much of what I do is about being open and vulnerable, but I don’t talk about my past and I’ve don’t think I could ever share my story with my students or fellow yogis. Yes, I own crystals, I wear loose white linens and drink matcha tea. But next time you roll your eyes at a yoga cliché, remember, we have a history, too.
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