Scarlett O’Kelly is not her real name. She’s about 40 years of age. She grew up on a farm, went to a convent boarding school and to university, and describes herself as “well-groomed and attractive”. Her three children are of school-going age.
Now she has written a famous tell-all called ‘Between the Sheets’, to be published by Penguin, that will shock millions of Irish about the life of a middle class hooker and escort.
She separated from her husband about a decade ago. She lives in a small town in Ireland. As a prostitute, she has slept with over a hundred men, unknown to her family and all but two of her friends. She published a book this week about her double life, entitled 'Between the Sheets'. It makes for riveting reading.
When the recession started to bite a few years ago, her ex-husband’s maintenance payments dried up, as did her freelance work. She doesn’t specify what kind of white collar work she used to do beforehand and is careful to change details about her background and those of her clients, who are given false names to protect identities.
The stress of her financial predicament made her go into the escort business, which, she stresses, is different to working as a prostitute on the street or in a brothel. To get business, she advertised online as a “masseuse”. Usually she met clients in hotel rooms.
“It was out of needs – of needing money,” she says during a telephone interview. “I don’t think I had a huge amount of foresight when I started except that I had bills to pay. I had children to feed.”
Her rates are high – €400 for the first time; and €300 for repeat visits. She would talk on the telephone initially to prospective clients, often for 20 minutes to an hour, as part of a screening process.
Discretion, as well as rigorous health safety measures, is one of the cornerstones of her selection criteria. She tries to choose attached men – married or in relationships – so that they have as much to lose as her in getting caught out. Prostitution is illegal in Ireland, unlike, for example, New Zealand. She discovered that a lot of her clients were looking for what is known in the business as “GFE” – the girlfriend experience. It justified her high rates. She tries to build rapport and doesn’t hassle clients if they run over time, who, she found out, dislike “clock watching” prostitutes andv meeting men in the corridor waiting for their turn.
The men she has serviced come in all shapes and sizes – from 25 years of age to grandfathers.
Occupations range from labourers and farmers to university professors. One was wearing a miraculous medal, which she asked him to remove before having sex. It came as a surprise to her that they tended not to be predatory men casually cheating on their wives. One of her earliest clients, frazzled by stress, fell asleep during his massage.
“The media portrayal of men who use the sex industry services are all supposed to be horrible and seedy and manky and dirty and abusive. My experience was the opposite,” she says. “I have to be careful saying that because I appreciate that there’s a very dark side to this industry – that there are an awful lot of vulnerable people who are trafficked into it, but I can only talk about my experiences and that there is another side to it.
“The guys were so normal. You’d have your fat, bald guy in his forties and there’s nothing happening at home because she’s too busy with the kids. On the other side of it you’d have a guy in his thirties and his partner was out of the country or they were very horny and hadn’t had sex in ages. Nothing to do with not being in love with their partner or being satisfied with their sex life; they just needed some relief I suppose.
“An awful lot of the guys had a really, really high libido so much so that it interfered with their normal activities. They might have sex with their partner in the morning but by lunchtime, they’re distracted again and can’t focus. One of my clients like this was 65. They would describe it as a nuisance. It was not a good thing.
“I would say I took something good away from 85 to 90 percent of the experiences. Sometimes I’d be buoyed up by having really good sex or by something remarkable they had said about their home lives or private lives.”
After a year in the trade, the edges around her private life started to fray. Leading a double life was exhausting. She felt, she says, “like Batman”. She had six email addresses. She had trouble sleeping – her head was spinning so much in trying to double guess scenarios and in covering her tracks. Her mother complained to her that her phone was always going through to voicemail. She always had to think twice about which name to use when signing a form at the bank. Her code for taking business calls in front of the family became conspicuous.
“You’re meeting your bank manager a lot these days,” her son asked her innocently one day.
Things came to a head one day when the young boy had an accident. His father, who was looking after him, called his mother from the Accident & Emergency ward. She was in bed with a client at the time, but fortunately had left on her personal mobile phone.
Around this time, too, she picked up some part-time office work, which she could do from home, and noticed she was being priced out of “jobs” by a flooded market as the recession in the country worsened. Today, she has a few regular clients and knows how to drum up a nixer quickly if necessary.
“It’s the easiest cash I’ve ever got,” she says. “I know that sounds dreadful, but it is. You need a few hundred quid because you’ve an extra expense. How are you going to manage that? Oh, yeah – an hour’s work.”
She admits that the thought of her family finding out terrifies her. “They’d be horrified, absolutely devastated. This is Ireland, everybody knows everybody. In some respects I don’t delve into it too much. Otherwise you get too emotive about it and that doesn’t help for making rational decisions. I pretty much think I’d have to leave the country.”
After all the ins and the outs, as it were, she has no regrets about her experiences. She has never been hurt. The worst thing that happened to her – bar a client who freaked her out because his behavior was so shifty – was that a guy tried to shortchange her once. After pausing for a few seconds, she says, if anything, her self-worth is higher now than before she became a prostitute.
“I would say it’s higher,” she says. “Your self-esteem can be pretty rock bottom when you have to say ‘no’ to absolutely everything your kids ask for – when you can’t afford to pay for the milk they get at school or for a new pair of runners or new uniforms or their books for the year. That can affect your self esteem as well. People say selling your body is the lowest of the low. How could you? An awful lot of other things to do with your mental health are related to how you provide for your children.”
Between the Sheets by Scarlett O’Kelly is published by Penguin. It costs €12.99.