The L word: Lesbian. Loaded. Loving it

A new survey reveals a generation of rich, successful gay women who are smashing stereotypes with their glamour and spending power. By Liz Hoggard

The pink pound is no longer just a male thing. Gay men, long thought of as the free-spending masters of the consumer universe, are being supplanted by "Power Lesbians" - and advertisers are cottoning on fast.

According to a new survey, seen exclusively by The Independent on Sunday, more lesbians own their own homes, cars and computers than gay men. They visit the gym, go to restaurants more and spend more on mobile phones, DVD players and satellite TV. "The myth that lesbians don't invest a significant proportion of their monthly pay packet on travel, leisure, fashion and beauty products is about to be blown out of the water," said Jane Czyzselska, editor of the lesbian glossy magazine Diva, which co-commissioned the research with Gay Times.

The stereotypical image of an earnest soul with cropped hair, dungarees and a rainbow jumper has been eclipsed by the new Power Lesbian, as she has been dubbed, who owns her own property, travels widely and increasingly runs her own business. In the past advertisers assumed that lesbians had no money and ignored them. Now we have brands as high-profile as Patrick Cox, Harvey Nichols and Gucci flirting with lesbian imagery.

There are nearly three million lesbians and gays in the UK and around 70 per cent are in a committed relationship, according to Ian Johnson of Out Now, the Diva and Gay Times Readers Survey. Within five years of the Civil Partnership Bill becoming law on 5 December, he estimates that as many as 275,000 lesbian and gay couples will walk down the aisle, creating a booming industry in wedding services. Seventy per cent of the Diva sample intend to take a honeymoon, compared with 57 per cent of Gay Times readers, opening up a £600m potential market. No wonder "wedding venues" such as stately homes and National Trust properties are actively targeting wealthy lesbians, advertising in the pink press and taking space at gay festivals.

Gay professionals and businesspeople have enjoyed an unprecedented level of publicity and acceptance in recent years, but lesbian high earners are threatening to take over. Nearly one in 10 Diva readers earns £40,000-£75,000, according to the survey, which also found that 13 per cent earn £30,000-£39,000, compared with 11 per cent of Gay Times readers. The average wage for both lesbian and gay respondents was higher than the national average - £24,783 for lesbians and £28,841 for gay men; but when it comes to disposable income, lesbians spend more.

In addition, more high-earning lesbians are daring to come out. Role models include the playwright Bryony Lavery; Eileen Gallagher, who co-founded the independent TV production company behind Footballers' Wives, Shed; Margot James, who co-founded the Shire Health Group, Europe's largest healthcare PR company; and novelists Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters. Chic lesbian members' clubs such Lounge at Teatro and networking groups for City professionals such as Citypink are also on the increase.

"When I started out 10 years ago, very few gay women had a good income or were very driven," says Emma Basden, who runs Pink Management, a PR company. "It was all about the scene, getting a girl. Now gay women are becoming more independent, starting their own companies and having a voice themselves. And if you're in a relationship where you're both earning, where you're both ambitious and hungry to make a mark, then of course you can experience a nicer lifestyle. Only five years ago it was gay men who were driving the convertibles, opening the bars and restaurants, one was a banker, one was a doctor ... but now women are part of the pink pound."

Where once lesbians, like radical feminists, saw money and luxury as taboo, gay women have become enthusiastic consumers. The richest indulge in second homes and million-pound property portfolios, regularly treat themselves to luxury spa trips and mini-breaks, and rely on a network of staff - cleaners, secretaries, landscape gardeners. Winterson talks openly about owning a Georgian house in Spitalfields, a house in the Cotswolds and another in France, while Waters has bought her girlfriend a flat around the corner from her house. There is less guilt about doing well, says Jay Hunt, a broadcaster and fashion stylist, and partner of Margot James. "Years ago, if I said, 'I'm gay and I live in South Kensington', there would have been an outcry."

According to Zoë Strachan, who lives with fellow novelist Louise Welsh: "There's definitely less guilt about pleasure, because we now see treating ourselves as a right - which it is, of course. Although I would worry if spending and owning became our only raison d'être as gay women."

Thanks to donor insemination, these couples increasingly also have children, creating a whole new class of yummy mummies. But in defiance of the stereotype male earner and his stay-at-home-with-the-kids wife, still prevalent among the middle classes, both lesbian partners are often influential in their own right: couples such as the BBC sports presenter Clare Balding and her partner, the broadcaster Alice Arnold, or the novelists Joanna Briscoe and Charlotte Mendelson.

"I think it's a completely different dynamic if you're in a gay relationship," says Ms Hunt. "I think of my partner Margot's money as hers to spend rather than a joint pot, unlike many married women I know."

"You really want each other to succeed," says Helen Chalmers, 42, a management consultant, whose girlfriend runs a design agency. "There is no competition."

Ms Hunt says: "In my twenties lesbians used their clothes and haircut to make a political statement. Everyone was very dismissive of the lipstick lesbian movement. Now you can have pretty girls, girls who follow fashion, girls who don't follow fashion. It's much less judgemental, so women feel OK about saying they've bought a Prada jacket or that they went down to Portobello Road and found a fantastic vintage top."

Lesbian culture has never been as visible and confident as it is now. Things have come a long way in the seven years since the US comedian Ellen DeGeneres had her TV show cancelled after she came out as a lesbian. Programmes such as Fingersmithand Hex have opened up gay culture, and The L Word, a glossy American soap, is peopled by wealthy lesbians in designer clothes bathing in palm-fringed pools.

"The cultural climate is more accepting," says lesbian singer-songwriter Belinda O'Hooley, 33. "Ten years ago, the only visible gay musicians were people such as kd lang and Melissa Etheridge. Now we have more alternative role models, such as the Scissor Sisters and Antony and the Johnsons. There are many of us out there."

And a more tolerant society means greater sexual choice. "Women such as Rebecca Loos and Abi Titmuss have openly admitted they have lesbian tendencies, and most of this year's Big Brother contestants have labelled themselves bisexual," says Ms Czyzselska. We are seeing a more accepting and fluid approach to sexuality, highlighted by the rise of "bi-try" relationships - earlier this year the tabloids had a field day about the reported menage à trois between Kate Moss, Sadie Frost and Davina Taylor.

"My girlfriend had a boyfriend when I met her," says Ms Basden, "In fact, most of my partners have been straight or bisexual, whatever you want to call it. More and more women are becoming open-minded about female-to-female partnerships. Perhaps its introducing a new type of woman on to the scene."

All the women interviewed for the survey were quick to stress their privileged status. Kate, 37, is the co-founder of an independent financial advice company. "My girlfriend is an archaeologist, so we have two good salaries and a lot of freedom," she says. "It's very different from being a lesbian single parent living on benefits. Of course, there are still major issues we need to tackle such as homophobic bullying, but how fantastic for a 15-year-old gay teenager to see independent, successful lesbians in the media. It gives out a great message of hope."

Rena & Sophie

The actress and mother of two Sophie Ward left her husband, Paul Hobson, in 1996 for Rena Brannan - a year after playing Alice, a married woman who embarks on a lesbian fling, in the TV adaptation of Joanna Trollope's 'A Village Affair'. In 1999 she 'married' Ms Brannan, an American writer, during a ceremony at London's Groucho Club.

Alex & Jill

Alex Parks, 21, won the BBC talent show 'Fame Academy' in 2003, before releasing her debut single 'Maybe That's What it Takes'. She met Scottish rock singer Jill Jackson, 25, the lead singer of Speedway, on a daytime TV show shortly afterwards - they now have a flat together in London.

Joanna & Charlotte

Joanna Briscoe's first novel, 'Mothers and Other Lovers' - about a girl having an affair with her mother's best female friend - won a Betty Trask Award in 1994. She and Charlotte Mendelson, whose novel 'Daughters of Jerusalem' won the 2003 John Llewellyn Rhys prize, live near Hampstead Heath with their two young children.

Margot & Jay

Margot James, a self-made millionaire, co-founded the Shire Health Group, Europe's largest healthcare PR company. This year she became the first openly lesbian Conservative Party candidate when she stood for election in central London. Jay Hunt is best known for appearing on BBC2's dating show 'Would Like to Meet' and BBC3's 'Spendaholics'.

Emma & Jen

One of TV's real estate queens (BBC2's 'Safe as Houses' and Channel 4's 'Houses for Auction'), Emma Basdenwas named as Rebecca Loos's ex-lover in 2004. She recently set up a PR company, Pink Management, and signed Ms Loos as a client. Both Ms Basden and her partner, Jen Whiting, are directors of the property company Apple London.

Clare & Alice

Clare Balding, a popular racing commentator, has become one of BBC Sport's most familiar faces over recent years. She was 'outed' by a Sunday tabloid in 2003. Alice Arnold, an actress, Radio 4 presenter and formerly the voice of the shipping forecast, is the ex-girlfriend of comedienne Sandi Toksvig.

Fiona & Saffron

Actress Saffron Burrows, 32, is a rarity in entertainment - an openly bisexual feminist with a successful film career who doesn't shy away from lesbian relationships in her work or life. In 2002, her relationship with director Mike Figgis ended and she began an affair with actress Fiona Shaw, 47. Last month, however, rumours began circulating that the UK's most high-profile lesbian couple had agreed to a trial separation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home