Zoe Margolis: I'm a good-time girl who became an agony aunt

How to use notoriety to advise young people

Sunday 07 March 2010 01:00

Three and a half years ago, after writing anonymously about my sex life on my blog – and then in a book – I was thrust into sudden notoriety when The Sunday Times ran an exposé on me. I had assumed, perhaps naively, that my identity would remain secret.

After all, Belle de Jour, the blogging London call girl, had maintained her anonymity up until that time, so why, I figured, would anyone be interested in who I was?

The result? The rest of the gutter press arrived on the scene like vultures to a fresh kill. I wrote an article for this paper about how my life had changed, how I was too scared to go outside for fear of being accosted by yet another ruthless hack in search of salacious titbits to feed on, or worse, walking into the field of view of one of the photographers' long lenses focused on my house. Thankfully, I'm not in hiding anymore, and any pictures of me that have appeared in the papers have been with my consent.

But what an experience! My house was staked out; my neighbours doorstepped. Journalists harassed my parents, turned up at my film-set workplace, dug around at my old university – and offered money to chance acquaintances to dish the dirt. I still haven't figured out how they obtained my ex-directory phone number, which they bombarded with calls.

Outwardly, I tried to keep a brave face, but privately I felt on the verge of a breakdown, unable to know whom I could trust. It was as if my life had shattered into a million pieces. My confidence took a battering, and I found myself filled with self-doubt. I had no idea where to turn next.

But with a supportive readership and the blogging community boosting my confidence, I decided to resume writing. I wanted to continue talking about the issues I was passionate about – sexuality and feminism – because I knew if I kept myself hidden away, it would have undermined all that I had written about before: how maintaining an open dialogue about sex is an important tool in dispelling stigma and stereotypes.

I didn't foresee, though, that my writing would ever be something young women would contact me about, saying that it had helped them feel more secure in their sexuality and increased their confidence in asserting themselves in their sexual relationships. When I realised the positive effect my writing could have, and because I believe passionately in providing young people with advice, information and support about sex and sexual health, I decided to make further use of the public platform on to which I had been thrust and bring these issues to the fore. I'm honoured to be an ambassador for Brook, the young people's sexual health charity that does fine work in this field.

It's odd doing book readings and talks now, debating my most intimate sexual details with total strangers; and I do cringe sometimes. But the positive response, and the trust and openness people show when they don't fear being judged, makes it all worthwhile. It also balances out the hate mail, which increased exponentially when I lost my anonymity.

It has taken me a few years to gain some emotional distance and be able to look back at that difficult time, occasionally even with a half-smile. Back in 2006, I said: "If one good thing could come out of my losing my anonymity, it would be the hope that my writing might help to challenge old-fashioned, sexist views on female sexuality – an ongoing battle and one I would be happy to be part of." I'm still here, still challenging it – and I'm happy to say that I'm not going anywhere.

Zoe Margolis, aka Abby Lee, is the author of 'Girl with a One-Track Mind: Exposed', out now (Pan Macmillan)

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