Daily Mail 22 November 2007
Paying for company: Joanna Whiteley
Hands trembling, Joanna Whiteley nervously took a sip of wine from her glass. She hoped it would calm her nerves as she waited in a bar for her first date with Steve, a thirty something IT consultant.
What if he was anti-social, self-obsessed or – perish the thought – unattractive in the flesh, she thought. Worse still, what if there was a mutual dislike between them?
Fortunately for her, Joanna needn’t have worried. Within minutes of Steve arriving for their date, she found him to be charming, articulate and handsome. But then he should be, given that Joanna was paying £350 for his company.
The 36-year-old interior designer from Winchester, had chosen to “hire” Steve, a male escort, to accompany her to an important business ball that evening.
“I wanted to go the ball, but certainly not alone,” recalls Joanna, whose marriage to a chartered accountant – with whom she has two children – ended six years ago.
“As a successful single woman, I’ve found social occasions difficult.”
It was a conversation with a group of girlfriends that prompted Joanna to choose this controversial solution to her social quandary.
“One of my friends had read something about high-flying women hiring male escorts to chaperone them to parties and business events. We were all giggling about the idea of paying a beautiful man to grace your arm, but quietly I started to think it actually wasn’t a bad idea.”
Of course, the image most women will have of male escorts is probably inspired by Richard Gere as the highest-paid lover in Beverly Hills in American Gigolo. And sure enough, when Joanna tentatively began to look online, she found scores of websites featuring men who were clearly using the term “male escort” as a smokescreen for prostitution.
Adamant she would never pay for sex, Joanna was about to give up when she happened on a website which advertised one of the few strictly non-sexual agencies – and which claimed its 1,000 or so female clients are predominantly successful career women aged 30 to 55.
Joanna’s criteria for a male escort were simple enough: a man of similar age who would engage in intelligent conversation and social repartee while being convincing in his role as her “old friend”.
Sex was not on the agenda. This was, Joanna insists, a business transaction between two professionals. All well and good, but surely many observers would conclude it’s a rather sorry state of affairs when an attractive, successful woman cannot find a decent man.
Joanna, naturally, doesn’t see it that way. “Steve didn’t disappoint in any respect,” she says.
“He was an intelligent, articulate professional who worked evenings as an escort as a means of meeting people. We spent half an hour chatting in the bar so that we could get to know one another other and concoct a story about how we had met.
“At the ball, I introduced him to people as “my really good friend, Steve” and said we’d met years ago through work. No one suspected a thing. Steve chatted effortlessly with other guests while being very attentive to me, fetching drinks and asking if I was OK.
“When he led me to the dance floor, I could almost feel the envy emanate from other women as this handsome and sporty man twirled me around.
“At no time were Steve’s intentions towards me anything other than honourable, and at the end of the night we simply shook hands, said how lovely the evening had been, and that was it.”
In the three years since her first foray into male escorts, Joanna has hired them frequently, citing her children and career as the reasons she has little interest in conventional dating practices.
She says: “I can’t be bothered with dating, as it’s fraught with complications, and lots of men don’t like an Alpha female who concentrates as much on her business as I do.
“For the same reason, I can’t be bothered with sex – I’m not into one-night stands, but I don’t want lots of complicated strings attached to a relationship, so it’s easier to go without and hire men solely as companions.”
To this day, only her best friend knows quite how she manages to arrive at every social engagement with a perfect man on her arm. Joanna is aware, however, that much as she is happy to pay for a man’s company, it’s not something she wants others to know about.
“Part of me wants to keep my male escorts a secret because of the seedy social stigma they’ve got, and part of me thinks: ‘To hell with it, let’s just tell everyone and get it out in the open.’
“But I’m not sure I’d ever walk into a business dinner or ball and say: ‘Hello, this is so-and-so, I hired him!”
Yet Joanna is far from unique in her penchant for disposable men – and in her lack of embarrassment that she cannot attract a man.
Cultural anthropologist Jean Smith isn’t surprised by the trend for successful, well-paid women hiring male escorts.
“Men have done it for hundreds of years, and women are finally getting in on the act,” she suggests.
“The trend stems from women’s growing independence. They’re increasingly successful in professional life, and they’re now taking control of their relationships, too.
“More of them are hiring chaperones who ensure they get all the benefits of male company without having to complicate it with sex and love, or rowing over who puts the rubbish out.”
Jennifer Hallam, 36, is a management consultant with a transatlantic remit, which means numerous business trips. Six weeks ago, inspired by a girlfriend who hires escorts, she paid £400 for the company of a man named James.
“I was in Newcastle on business for a few days,” she says. “I’ve never been to the city, didn’t know anyone, and the prospect of watching TV in my hotel was depressing.”
Jennifer wasted little time in calling a local escort firm she found in Newcastle. Its website states that sex with the escorts is forbidden.
“James sounded perfect – 30 years old, over 6ft tall, fit and educated,” Jennifer adds. “I hired him to show me the sights of the city.
“I was nervous about hiring him, of course, but only because escorting has such a seedy stigma and I would never pay for sex. That would be far too humiliating.
“But at the moment I really don’t have time in my life for complicated relationships with men. Did I get a kick out of being with a gorgeous man? Of course I did. It was a lovely way to spend what would have been an otherwise dull few hours.”