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Cancer scientist reveals secret life as prostitute

By Barry Neild, CNN
The erotic blogger wrote that she preferred being a prostitute to working as a computer programmer.
The erotic blogger wrote that she preferred being a prostitute to working as a computer programmer.
  • Cancer specialist unmasks herself as woman behind online diary of prostitute
  • Brooke Magnanti says she became call girl to help fund her studies
  • 34-year-old says she went public to answer her critics

London, England (CNN) -- An erotic blogger whose double life as a prostitute became a hit TV series has ended years of fevered speculation by revealing her most intimate secret -- her true identity.

Brooke Magnanti, a cancer specialist at a university in western England, unmasked herself in a British newspaper as the woman behind "Belle de Jour," the salacious online diary of a high class call girl.

"It feels so much better on this side. Not to have to tell lies, hide things from the people I care about," the 34-year-old wrote on her blog after the Sunday Times published its interview with her.

Magnanti's frank and sometimes funny accounts of working as a call girl earned her a huge following, a lucrative book deal and legions of critics who variously accused her of glamorizing the sex industry, making it up -- and of being a man.

The 34-year-old said she became a call girl in 2003 to support herself in London while completing her doctoral thesis after realizing she had no qualms about being paid for sex.

She contacted an agency, working as a prostitute until late 2004, describing it as "so much more enjoyable" than an earlier job as a computer programmer.

I don't want this massive secret over me any more.
--Brooke Magnanti

Her online chronicle of her experiences attracted a huge following, prompting the publication of a bestselling book which was serialized on UK prime time television in 2007's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," starring actress of Billie Piper.

The success led to wild speculation among Britain's literary community over her true identity -- with several well-known authors wrongly accused.

Meanwhile Magnanti had put her call girl career behind her and was quietly working as a cancer and developmental neurotoxicologist at the University of Bristol.

She said she finally broke her silence to answer her critics, including senior Church of England clergy, and because she feared an ex-boyfriend was poised to go public.

"I don't want this massive secret over me any more," she told the Sunday Times.

Last month John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, said on his Web site that "fiction" like "Belle de Jour" created a "myth" that sex workers were "independent women, empowered by the hold they have over men."

Magnanti said she was most upset by the accusation she wrote fiction.

"You can't say I'm not real, and that my experience isn't real, because here I am," she said, adding that while some sex workers have "terrible experiences" she was "unbelievably fortunate."

Magnanti, who has declined to give further interviews, also told the Sunday Times that her colleagues, all female, had been "amazingly kind and supportive" when she revealed her past.

Barry Taylor, director of communication and marketing at the University of Bristol said the revelations would not affect her employment.

"This aspect of Dr Magnanti's past is not relevant to her current role at the university," he said.

While Magnanti's admission, and indeed her years of blogging, contained many eyebrow-raising insights, according to her final blog entry most people were more interested in distinctly unsexy details.

"Also, so much curiosity about my tax situation! Yes, I did pay taxes on sex work earnings," she wrote.