Text in bold refers to Cavendish Knights.

Are those earnings looking precarious right now? Perhaps you escaped the latest office cull, but there’s no guarantee that job will be around this time next year. As for a bonus? Unless you’re one of those golden men at Goldman Sachs, you can forget about that.

That won’t stop those cretins who granted you a 90 percent mortgage on a buy-to-let property in Stratford from demanding monthly repayment. How times have changed since 2007. Back then, you were a financial wizard, although 20 years of rising property prices may have flattered your investment strategy. Now it’s not clear how you’ll make ends meet. A weekend job stacking shelves in Argos isn’t likely to impress your mates down the pub, even if it does provide the means to shout the odd round.

Chin up, lads. There might just be another option, one that could turn you into a hero in that circle of drinking buddies. Imagine being wined and dined and some of the country’s most exclusive restaurants. Flying to the Rivera at a moment’s notice. And being paid for the privilege. It’s all in a day’s work for a male escort.

Demand for chaperones never been higher, according to agencies that specialise in providing male companionship. Even in these straightened times, it seems that there are plenty of women with sufficient disposable income to pay for a bit of company. Which raises some uncomfortable questions about the much-trumpeted disparity in income between the sexes and the whole concept of the glass ceiling.

It’s an attractive calling. But what if your waistline has begun expanding and your hair has migrated from your head to your back? Escorts do not have to have model looks and the perfect body. A forgettable appearance could even be an advantage. Most women are looking for “guy-next door looks,” to avoid awkward questions, according to Tony Perry, founder of Cavendish Knights. “A lot of women book one of our knights to detract attention,” he said.

It makes sense. Stout Stella from accounts may arrive at the office Christmas party on the arm of George Clooney’s twin, but good luck to her in convincing colleagues that she met her new beau down the pub. Ditto for lesbian businesswomen, who make frequent use of escort services, particularly when traveling abroad, according to Cavendish Knights. A nondescript date raises no eyebrows, and may deflect any speculation about a woman’s sexuality.

Of course, there is the odd woman who chooses a James Bond-type way out of her league, usually to wow an ex at a social function. But these clients are by far in the minority, said Cavendish Knights. Most are looking for unremarkable men between the ages of 22 and 47, although his portfolio of over 2000 “Knights” range in age from 19 to 61.

If looks, age, or income are no barrier to success as an escort business, why haven’t men deserted the City in droves for a glittering second career? Not all of them have what it takes, according to seasoned escorts. “Contrary to misguided belief, not everybody is fit to do this job,” said Brian Fox, an independent chaperone. “In a way it’s like the X-Factor. You either have what it takes or you don’t.”

Most important is to discern what a client is looking for in her escort. “This could be a conversation, entertainment, romance, massage. In any instance, a good escort will know how to satisfy a woman’s needs,” said Fox

Perhaps even more problematic is the social stigma attached to the business. Bankers may be reviled in the aftermath of the credit crunch, but try telling Granny that you left the morally-bankrupt world of hedge funds to become a male escort. Few of the escorts who spoke to GQ had come clean to family and friends. “Absolutely not,” said 28-year-old Richard, who also works as a designer in London. “People still have the wrong idea.” However, Brian Fox maintains that he is open about his occupation. “I am not doing anything illegal, distasteful or disgraceful. I am simply providing a service to clients I choose to provide the service to.”

Neither Mr Fox, nor any of the other escorts interviewed, is currently in a relationship. None plan to stay in the business for the long haul. With nearly six years experience under his belt, Mr Fox is somewhat of an industry veteran. How long does he plan to keep working as an escort? “I guess until I decide to settle down and start a family.” His entrée into the business came from a colleague who after marrying a long-term client. That speaks volumes about the difficulties in combining a career in escorting with normal family life.

Some agencies advertise themselves specifically as non-sexual, although these are definitely in the minority. Cavendish Knights makes a great play of its honorable aims. Owner Tony Perry claims the business was the brainchild of his former mother-in-law, a single women looking for the odd companion for events like Ascot rather than a steamy encounter with a Brad Pitt-look-alike in the penthouse of the Savoy.

In fact, Perry claims that he’s been forced to reject a growing number of applicants who are clearly looking for a more intimate experience than escorting a woman to The Actuarial Profession’s annual knees up.

Surely, some of these encounters end in sex? It’s possible, he concedes. But he believes that women are wired differently than men. “If a man were to hire a woman to escort him somewhere, he’d definitely want something [sexual],” he said. But women clients, some of whom are earning £250,000 a year, “tend to do things by the book.”

His Knights back that up. “It’s very rare” to fend off a sexual advance, said Adrian, a 25-year-old sometimes actor based in London. “People don’t use Cavendish Knights in that way as it’s always a professional booking.” Some 80 percent of his clients retain him for public events, rather than one-on-one encounters.

If the independent escorts are more willing to satisfy a woman’s every wish, that may be because they’re paid handsomely to do so. Contrary to the recruiting material spouted by escort agencies ” particularly those that specialise in non-sexual encounters ” there’s not a whole lot of money to be made. Elegance 4 Her claims that “if you are sociable and fun loving, then this is a great way to earn a lot of money.” Cavendish Knights beg to differ. The busiest see between three an four clients a week, for earnings of a few hundred pounds a time. Money for old rope it may be, but probably not enough to give up the day job.

Cavendish Knights alone has 2000 men on its books, about half of whom are active at any one time. Their occupations run the gamut, from retail to high-tech. Most work in creative fields ” actors, writers, a smattering of models ” the types of jobs that don’t fit into a nine-to-five box.

“It’s a part-time job. If you get three or four bookings a week, you’re doing well,” said Cavendish Knights. “You cannot make a living at this.” Most agencies charge in the region of £100 an hour with a minimum booking of three hours, although Cavendish Knights charges just £65 an hour. Once a booking is set, the escort and the client correspond directly, to set up a meeting place (and a cover story). The client pays fees ” in cash ” up front, and also picks up the bill for drinks, dinner or events.

Independent escorts charge much more. The retired free-lance escort ” the one who has never experienced a non-sexual booking — would charge between £200 and £400 an hour. “I was once booked for £1,000 plus expenses, and I ended up nicking around £2,000 for that one and the woman was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life,” he said.

Agency escorts usually have to shell out before even meeting a client. Joining fees can range from £10 to £25 a month, and some agencies insist on a minimum sign-up period of as long as 12 months. But there’s no guarantee that clients will materialise. In May of 2008, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints against Men At Work from a wanna-be escort who’d ponied up £225 to join its stable. The ASA concluded that the agency had “not substantiated that they could provide work for escorts,” and insisted that the ad be withdrawn. It also believed the ad was “likely to mislead” as it made no mention of a joining fee.

Then how to separate the legitimate agencies from the scams? The NFIB suggests a thorough internet search, to see if they traded under another name. However, some escorts who have fallen prey to illegitimate agencies claim that internet forums that recommend agencies may well be set up by scamming agencies to boost their own credibility (and to discredit agencies that operate on the level). Tony Perry at Cavendish Knights advises against signing on with any agency that imposes a hefty – say more than two-digit – registration fee.


Footnote – Cavendish Knights were the only agency willing to talk to GQ for this article.

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