I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” the stranger tells me over the phone. “Just tell me what to wear, how to behave and what to say,” he continues. If only dating could always be so simple.
It’s a clammy, crowded Friday evening and, as is often the case, I have a work function ahead of me – a restaurant opening – and I feel I ought to show my face. Though not, ideally, alone. Which is the state of affairs that finds me standing outside Bond Street Tube waiting for my mystery stranger – a man whose charming, pliable company is about to cost me £65 an hour. Yes, tonight my date is a professional escort. And I’m feeling alarmed.
The concept sounds suspect; surely “escort” is a euphemism to sidestep the term “male prostitute”? Besides, what woman would be desperate enough to pay someone to date her? Surely an escort isn’t a viable option for London’s average woman-in-need-of-a-date?
Tony the owner of Cavendish Knights, the website where I found my man. To my surprise, he tells me they have more than 700 female clients. “The 35-to-55 age group accounts for 80 per cent,” he says. Unsurprisingly, nearly 80 per cent of their business is in London, although the service is nationwide. Tony says his clients’ requirements fall into two basic categories. “Thirty per cent are divorced,” he reveals, “often with several postsplit, bad-date experiences. They want a man who’ll take them to dinner, open doors and listen – a chivalrous, James Bond figure to reassure them that not all men are idiots.”
And the other 70 per cent? “Busy, professional women who want an escort to play boyfriend for a work-related function.” Once you log on, you click on to your potential escort’s picture and his details – height, age and interests – flash up. Some of the men look as if they ought to pay for a woman to spend the evening with them. “Being drop-dead gorgeous isn’t necessary,” Tony points out. “In my experience, women feel more comfortable with the guy-next-door type.”
I go for 32-year-old Chris, who is 30, 5ft 11in and has a nice face. But our date starts badly: he’s late. The threat of being stood up by someone I’ve paid for is deeply distressing. Thankfully, he arrives and we find a bar in which to get acquainted. Chris looks nothing like his photograph and is sweating abundantly. “You’re my first job and I’m a bit nervous,” he explains. This is unexpected. I’m not sure how I feel about an escort virgin – for the expense, surely I want someone who knows what he is doing? I need a drink, but I’m unsure of the etiquette. “Er, do you buy the drinks for your, um, ‘ladies’, and then claim them back?” I ask, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.”Or should I buy you a drink?” Aware that the men on the next table have fallen silent and are exchanging intrigued looks, I’m embarrassed that they think I’m engaging in a seedy sexual transaction. This is horrible. I want to go home. Thankfully, Chris leaps up to buy us drinks.
Feelings of sleaze subside and we begin to chat. To my surprise, Chris is void of the professional, aloof veneer I was expecting. His nervousness is relaxing. He asks questions and is endearingly self-effacing and interesting. He’s worked as everything from a trained Samaritan to a builder. Since he is my pretend boyfriend for the night, I brief him on how long we have been going out, where we met, my favourite drink and the name of my cat. Once in situ, Chris is charm personified – he chats to my friends, fetches me drinks and occasionally flirts – but I can’t shake the feeling that I might be rumbled. I don’t actually fancy him but we still manage to have a pleasant and non-artificial feeling evening. For a dateless women, an escort isn’t a bad solution.
You get a good pair of ears, a man’s perspective, guaranteed chivalry and all with no strings. If you have the money – why not.
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