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Media speculation about the call-girl blogger

Sarah Champion

For weeks the literary world has been kept guessing as to the identity of a prostitute whose web diary, written under the name Belle de Jour, has attracted a worldwide cult readership.

The writer's sexual frankness — which appeared to lay bare a world of loveless sexual encounters and cash exchanges — has garnered both shock and praise.

But now a literary detective claims he has identified the person behind the Belle de Jour diary through a close analysis of her writing style.

The weblog writer's rise to literary stardom, which had appeared to guarantee a major book deal, could be blocked by revelations she is not in fact a London call girl but a 33-year-old previously published author from Manchester.

Don Foster — the man who unmasked Joe Klein as the author of the Bill Clinton satire Primary Colors — claims Belle is in fact Sarah Champion, a little-known writer, sometime publicist and occasional compiler of drum 'n' bass CDs. Foster, an English professor at Vassar College, New York, claims it took him only 20 minutes to identify Ms. Champion as Belle.

After an initial reading he narrowed her down to an Internet-literate English writer who lived outside London — she employs British spellings, refers to several websites and refers to “South London speech”.

Foster studied Belle's use of collective nouns, hyphens, brackets, italics and compound verbs, ran these through Google and managed to pinpoint similar examples of the style under Champion's name.

Ms. Champion has been many things. She grew up in Manchester, but quit school before doing her A-levels to start freelance writing for the New Musical Express and the Manchester Evening News.

In the mid-90s she published anthologies about the alternative music scene, such as And God Created Manchester (read an excerpt here) and Disco Biscuits. She left Britain in 2000 for Bangkok, returning in 2002. She has been variously described as a “global party correspondent, private detective and former publicist.”

However, she does share some characteristics with Belle. They both have a passion for obscure bands, have spent time in Manchester, are widely read in contemporary literature and show a detailed knowledge of south London. In 2002 Champion was living in West Norwood, less than a mile from the A23, which Belle describes as separating her from her boyfriend.

On her website Belle — whether or not she is Ms. Champion — is determined to retain the air of mystery that has attracted so many to her chronicle of a prostitute's lot.

Belle's agent Patrick Walsh, who has negotiated a five-figure book deal for the diary's writer based on claims that what she says is true, was keen to deny Ms. Champion's authorship.

“I have never heard of her,” he told the London Evening Standard last week.

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at March 27, 2004 11:05 PM in Diversions


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