Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Hot Scientist (female): Dr Brooke Magnanti
Dr Brian Cox; this time round I want to go giddy over Dr Brooke Magnanti. She's a research biologist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology at Bristol University. And she's been in the papers rather a lot over the years because she is Belle de Jour, the sex blogger. When she was working on her doctorate in 2003-4 and desperate for cash, as students tend to be, Magnanti decided to support herself - for 14 months - by working in secret as a call girl (at £300/hour). Her blog about the experience became notorious and led to several book versions and a TV adaptation that has run to three series.
In 2009 Dr Magnanti outed herself as Belle, thus sticking two fingers up to all those media pundits who had sworn that no real woman could work as a prostitute and write about it in such a way, and that it was all just a male-written fantasy. Her academic colleagues seem to have taken it in their stride, though she did get flak from assorted media sad-acts and anonymous lunatics (e.g. death threats - what is wrong with people?). Her newspaper article on the fallout from going public can be found here.
I never watched the TV adaptation, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I'm just not that keen on Billie Piper, who played Belle (Despite being a big Dr Who fan, I find her leopard-seal grin just a bit too scary). But there was a rather wonderful documentary where Piper and Magnanti sit down and chat about the reality behind the fictionalised version. Dr Magnanti is elegant, grounded and confident. Asked if she has any regrets, she says "I regret I didn't tell my friends sooner."
Nowadays Dr Magnanti still blogs as Belle de Jour, but it's now a blog about sex in general rather than a diary of her encounters. She's intelligent and provocative, grounded and independent. Just what you'd expect.