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July 23, 2012
[blogs] This is a reblog of Brooke Magnanti’s terrific how-to guide on blogging anonymously. I gather that someone is trying to get this post removed from Blogspot. I have no doubt that Brooke has every right to publish it and that she wrote this based on her unique blogging experiences as Belle de Jour. I read recently about a British publisher that has started a legal action against Twitter to discover the individual behind an spoof account that parodied their CEO. In situations like this Brooke’s guide is useful, timely and deserves a wide audience. – Darren/LMG.

How To Blog Anonymously (and how not to)

by Brooke Magnanti

Further to yesterday’s post, this is a list of thoughts prompted by a request from Linkmachinego on the topic of being an anonymous writer and blogger. Maybe not exactly a how- to (since the outcome is not guaranteed) as a post on things I did, things I should have done, and things I learned.

It’s not up to me to decide if you “deserve” to be anonymous. My feeling is, if you’re starting out as a writer and do not yet feel comfortable writing under your own name, that is your business and not mine. I also think sex workers should consider starting from a position of anonymity and decide later if they want to be out, please don’t be naive. Statistics I made up right now show 99 out of 100 people who claim ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ are talking out of their arses.

The items in the list fall into three general categories: internet- based, legal and real-world tips, and interpersonal. Many straddle more than one of these categories. All three are important.

This is written for a general audience because most people who blog now do not have extensive technical knowledge, they just want to write and be read. That’s a good thing by the way. If you already know all of this, then great, but many people won’t. Don’t be sneery about their lack of prior knowledge. Bringing everyone up to speed on the technology is not the goal: clear steps you can use to help protect your identity from being discovered are.

Disclaimer: I’m no longer anonymous so these steps are clearly not airtight. Also there are other sources of information on the Web, some of which are more comprehensive and more current than my advice. I accept no responsibility for any outcome of following this advice. Please don’t use it to do illegal or highly sensitive things. Also please don’t use pseudonyms to be a dick.

This is also a work in progress. As I remember things or particular details, I’ll amend this post. If you have suggestions of things that should be added, let me know.

1. Don’t use Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail et al. for your mail.

You will need an email address to do things like register for blog accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and more. This email will have to be something entirely separate from your “real” email addresses. There are a lot of free options out there, but be aware that sending an email from many of them also sends information in the headers that could help identify you.

When I started blogging, I set up an email address for the blog with Hotmail. Don’t do this. Someone quickly pointed out the headers revealed where I worked (a very large place with lots of people and even more computers, but still more information than I was comfortable with). They suggested I use Hushmail instead, which I still use. Hushmail has a free option (though the inbox allocation is modest), strips out headers, and worked for me.

A caveat with this: if you are, say, a sex worker working in a place where that is not legal and using Hushmail, you could be vulnerable to them handing over your details to a third party investigating crimes. If you’re handling information some governments might consider embarrassing or sensitive, same. Google some alternatives: you’re looking for something secu re and encrypted.

There are a few common-sense tips you can follow to make it even safer. If you have to bring people you know in real life in on the secret, don’t use this email address for communicating with them even if only about matters related to your secret (and don’t use your existing addresses for that either). Example: I have one address for press and general interactions, one for things related to my accountant and money, and one for communicating with my agent, publisher, and solicitor. I’ve also closed and opened new accounts over the years when it seems “too many” people are getting hold of a particular address. Use different passwords for each, don’t make these passwords related to your personal information, and so on.

I unwisely left the Hotmail address going, and while I did not use it to send mail, I continued to read things that arrived there. That led to this failed attempt by the Sunday Times to out me. It was an easily dodged attempt but something I would have preferred to avoid.

Over the years I have had about two email account changes every year and have changed my mobile number five times (eventually, I just stopped having one). If you change email addresses it’s a good idea to send people you need to stay in contact with a mail from the old and the new address so they know it’s not someone else trying to impersonate you. And to have a password so you know the response is from the right person – a password you did not exchange via an email conversation, of course. Example: you might send an email to your editor from old_address@somedomain.com and from new_address@somedomain.com at the same time, and the one from new_address contains Codeword1. They respond with Codeword2, indicating they acknowledge the change.

It sounds silly, but people can and do scam personal info all the time. Often they do so by pretending to be in on a secret so someone reveals something they did not mean to say. Play it safe. It can feel a stupidly cloak-and-dagger at first, but you soon get over it.

You can register internet domains while staying anonymous but I never did. Some people registered domains for me (people I didn’t know in person). This led to a couple of instances of them receiving harassment when the press suspected they were me. In particular Ian Shircore got a bit of unwanted attention this way.

Because all I was ever doing was a straight-up blog, not having a registered domain that I had control over was fine. Your needs may be different. I am not a good source for advice on how to do that. But just in case you might be thinking “who would bother looking there?” read about how faux escort Alexa DiCarlo was unmasked. This is what happens when you don’t cover your tracks.

2. Don’t use a home internet connection, work internet connection, etc.

Email won’t be the only way you might want to communicate with people. You may also want to leave comments on other blogs and so forth. Doing this and other ways of using the Web potentially exposes your IP address, which could be unique and be used to locate you.

Even if you don’t leave comments just visiting a site can leave traces behind. Tim Ireland recently used a simple method to confirm his suspicion of who the “Tabloid Troll” twitter account belonged to. By comparing the IP address of someone who clicked on to a link going to the Bloggerheads site with the IP address of an email Dennis Rice sent, a link was made. If you go to the trouble of not using your own connection, also make sure you’re not using the same connection for different identities just minutes apart. Don’t mix the streams.

The timing of everything as it happened was key to why the papers did not immediately find out who I was. The old blog started in 2003, when most press still had to explain to their audience what a blog actually was. It took a while for people to notice the writing, so the mistakes I made early on (blogging from home and work, using Hotmail) had long been corrected by the time the press became interested.

Today, no writer who aims to stay anonymous should ever assume a grace period like that. It also helped that once the press did become interested, they were so convinced not only that Belle was not really a hooker but also that she was one of their own – a previously published author or even journalist – that they never looked in the right place. If they’d just gone to a London blogmeet and asked a few questions about who had pissed off a lot of people and was fairly promiscuous, they’d have had a plausible shortlist in minutes.

After I moved from Kilburn to Putney, I was no longer using a home internet connection – something I should have done right from the beginning. I started to use internet cafes for posting and other activities as Belle. This offers some security… but be wary of using these places too often if there is a reason to think someone is actively looking for you. It’s not perfect.

Also be wary if you are using a laptop or other machine provided by your workplace, or use your own laptop to log in to work servers (“work remotely”). I’ve not been in that situation and am not in any way an expert on VPNs , but you may want to start reading about it here and do some googling for starters. As a general principle, it’s probably wise not to do anything on a work laptop that could get you fired, and don’t do anything that could get you fired while also connected to work remotely on your own machine.

3. There is software available that can mask your IP address. There are helpful add-ons that can block tracking software.

I didn’t use this when I was anonymous, but if I was starting as an anonymous blogger now, I would download Tor and browse the Web and check email through their tools.

If you do use Tor or other software to mask your IP address, don’t then go on tweeting about where your IP address is coming from today! I’ve seen people do this. Discretion fail.

I also use Ghostery now to block certain tracking scripts from web pages. You will want to look into something similar. Also useful are Adblocker, pop-up blockers, things like that. They are simple to download and use and you might like to use them anyway even if you’re not an anonymous blogger. A lot of sites track your movements and you clearly don’t want that.

4. Take the usual at-home precautions.

Is your computer password-protected with a password only you know? Do you clear your browser history regularly? Use different passwords for different accounts? Threats to anonymity can come from people close to you. Log out of your blog and email accounts when you’re finished using them, every time. Have a secure and remote backup of your writing. Buy a shredder and use it. Standard stuff.

Sometimes the files you send can reveal things about yourself, your computer, and so on. When sending manuscripts to my agent and editor, they were usually sent chapter by chapter as flat text files – not Word documents – with identifying data stripped. The usual method I used to get things to them was to upload to a free service that didn’t require a login, such as Sendspace. When writing articles for magaznes and papers, the text was typically appended straight into the body of the email, again avoiding attachments with potentially identifying information. This can be a little irritating… having to archive your writing separately, not altogether convenient to work on. But for the way I worked, usually not sharing content with editors until it was close to the final draft, it was fine.

When exchanging emails with my agent and editor, we never talked about actual meeting times and locations and threw a few decoy statements in, just in case. Since it has been recently revealed that Times journalists were trying to hack bloggers’ email addresses after all, in retrospect, this seems to have been a good thing.

Another thing I would do is install a keystroke logger on your own machine. By doing this I found out in 2004 that someone close to me was spying on me when they were left alone with my computer. In retrospect what I did about it was not the right approach. See also item 7.

5. Be careful what you post.

Are you posting photos? Exif data can tell people, among other things, where and when a picture was taken, what it was taken with, and more. I never had call to use it because I never posted photos or sound, but am told there are loads of tools that can wipe this Exif data from your pictures (here’s one).

The content of what you post can be a giveaway as well. Are you linking to people you know in real life? Are you making in-jokes or references to things only a small group of people will know about? Don’t do that.

If possible, cover your tracks. Do you have a previous blog under a known name? Are you a contributor to forums where your preferred content and writing style are well-known? Can you edit or delete these things? Good, do that.

Personally, I did not delete everything. Partly this was because the world of British weblogging was so small at the time – a few hundred popular users, maybe a couple thousand people blogging tops? – that I thought the sudden disappearance of my old blog coinciding with the appearance of an unrelated new one might be too much of a coincidence. But I did let the old site go quiet for a bit before deleting it, and edited archived entries.

Keep in mind however that The Wayback Machine means everything you have written on the web that has been indexed still exists. And it’s searchable. Someone who already has half an idea where to start looking for you won’t have too much trouble finding your writing history. (UPDATE: someone alerted me that it’s possible to get your own sites off Wayback by altering the robots.txt file – and even prevent them appearing there in the first place – and to make a formal request for removal using reasons listed here. This does not seem to apply to sites you personally have no control over unless copyright issues are involved.) If you can put one more step between them and you… do it.

6. Resist temptation to let too many people in.

If your writing goes well, people may want to meet you. They could want to buy you drinks, give you free tickets to an opening. Don’t say yes. While most people are honest in their intentions, some are not. And even the ones who are may not have taken the security you have to keep your details safe. Remember, no one is as interested in protecting your anonymity as you will be.

Friends and family were almost all unaware of my secret – both the sex work and the writing. Even my best friend (A4 from the books) didn’t know. ;

I met very few people “as” Belle. There were some who had to meet me: agent, accountant, editor. I never went to the Orion offices until after my identity became known. I met Billie Piper, Lucy Prebble, and a couple of writers during the pre-production of Secret Diary at someone’s house, but met almost no one else involved with the show. Paul Duane and Avril MacRory met me and were absolutely discreet. I went to the agent’s office a few times but never made an appointment as Belle or in my real name. Most of the staff there had no idea who I was. Of these people who did meet me almost none knew my real name, where I lived, where I was from, my occupation. Only one (the accountant) knew all of that – explained below under point 9. And if I could have gotten away with him never seeing a copy of my passport, I damn well would have done.

The idea was that if people don’t know anything they can’t inadvertently give it away. I know that all of the people listed above were absolutely trustworthy. I still didn’t tell them anything a journalist would have considered useful.

When I started blogging someone once commented that my blog was a “missed opportunity” because it didn’t link to an agency website or any way of booking my services. Well, duh. I didn’t want clients to meet me through the blog! If you are a sex worker who wants to preserve a level of pseudonymity and link your public profile to your work, Amanda Brooks has the advice you need. Not me.

Other sources like JJ Luna write about how to do things like get and use credit cards not tied to your name and address. I’ve heard Entropay offer ‘virtual’ credit cards that are not tied to your credit history, although they can’t be used with any system that requires address verification. This could be useful even for people who are not involved in sex work.

Resisting temptation sometimes means turning down something you’d really like to do. The short-term gain of giving up details for a writing prize or some immediate work may not be worth the long-term loss of privacy. I heard about one formerly anonymous blogger who was outed after giving their full name and address to a journalist who asked for it when they entered a competition. File under: how not to stay anonymous.

7. Trust your intuition.

I have to be careful what I say here. In short, my identity became known to a tabloid paper and someone whom I had good reason not to trust (see item 4) gave them a lot of information about me.

When your intuition tells you not to trust someone, LISTEN TO IT. The best security in the world fails if someone props open a door, leaves a letter on the table, or mentally overrides the concern that someone who betrayed you before could do so again. People you don’t trust should be ejected from your life firmly and without compromise. A “let them down easy” approach only prolongs any revenge they might carry out and probably makes it worse. The irony is that as a call girl I relied on intuition and having strong personal boundaries all the time… but failed to carry that ability over into my private life. If there is one thing in my life I regret, the failure to act on my intuition is it.

As an aside if you have not read The Gift of Fear already, get it and read it.

See also point 9: if and when you need people to help you keep the secret don’t make it people already involved in your private life. Relationships can cloud good judgement in business decisions.

There is a very droll saying “Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.” It’s not wrong. I know, I know. Paranoid. Hard not to be when journos a few years later are digging through the rubbish of folks who met you exactly once when you were sixteen. Them’s the breaks.

8. Consider the consequences of success.

If you find yourself being offered book deals or similar, think it through. Simply by publishing anonymously you will become a target. Some people assume all anonymous writers “want” to be found, and the media in particular will jump through some very interesting hurdles to “prove” anything they write about you is in the public interest.

In particular, if you are a sex worker, and especially if you are a sex worker who is visible/bookable through your site, please give careful consideration to moving out of that sphere. Even where sex for money is legal it is still a very stigmatised activity. There are a number of people who do not seem to have realised this, and the loss of a career when they left the “sex-pos” bubble was probably something of a shock. I’m not saying don’t do it – but please think long and hard about the potential this has to change your life and whether you are fully prepared to be identified this way forever. For every Diablo Cody there are probably dozens of Melissa Petros. For every Melissa Petro there are probably hundreds more people with a sex industry past who get quietly fired and we don’t ever hear from them.

If I knew going in to the first book deal what would happen, I probably would have said no. I’m glad I didn’t by the way – but realistically, my life was stressful enough at that point and I did not fully understand what publishing would add to that. Not many bloggers had mainstream books at that point (arguably none in the UK) so I didn’t have anyone else’s experience to rely on. I really had no idea about what was going to happen. The things people wrote about me then were mainly untrue and usually horrendous. Not a lot has changed even now. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have an emotional effect.

Writing anonymously and being outed has happened often enough that people going into it should consider the consequences. I’m not saying don’t do it if you risk something, but be honest with yourself about the worst possible outcome and whether you would be okay with that.

9. ; Enlist professional help to get paid and sign contracts.

Having decided to write a book, I needed an agent. The irony of being anonymous was that while I let as few people in on it as possible, at some point I was going to have to take a leap of faith and let in more. Mil Millington emailed me to recommend Patrick Walsh, saying he was one of the few people in London who can be trusted. Mil was right.

Patrick put me on to my accountant (who had experience of clients with, shall we say, unusual sources of income). From there we cooked up a plan so that contracts could be signed without my name ever gracing a piece of paper. Asking someone to keep a secret when there’s a paper trail sounds like it should be possible but rarely is. Don’t kid yourself, there is no such thing as a unbreakable confidentiality agreement. Asking journalists and reviewers to sign one about your book is like waving a red rag to a bull. What we needed was a few buffers between me and the press.

With Patrick and Michael acting as directors, a company was set up - Bizrealm. I was not on the paperwork as a director so my name never went on file with Companies House. Rather, with the others acting as directors, signing necessary paperwork, etc., Patrick held a share in trust for me off of which dividends were drawn and this is how I got paid. I may have got some of these details wrong, by the way – keep in mind, I don’t deal with Bizrealm’s day-to-day at all.

There are drawbacks to doing things this way: you pay for someone’s time, in this case the accountant, to create and administer the company. You can not avoid tax and lots of it. (Granted, drawing dividends is more tax-efficient, but still.) You have to trust a couple of people ABSOLUTELY. I’d underline this a thousand times if I could. Michael for instance is the one person who always knew, and continues to know, everything about my financial and personal affairs. Even Patrick doesn’t know everything.

There are benefits though, as well. Because the money stays mainly in the company and is not paid to me, it gets eked out over time, making tax bills manageable, investment more constant, and keeping me from the temptation to go mad and spend it.

I can’t stress enough that you might trust your friends and family to the ends of the earth, but they should not be the people who do this for you. Firstly, because they can be traced to you (they know you in a non-professional way). Secondly, because this is a very stressful setup and you need the people handling it to be on the ball. As great as friends and family are that is probably not the kind of stress you want to add to your relationship. I have heard far too many stories of sex workers and others being betrayed by ex- partners who knew the details of their business dealings to ever think that’s a good idea.

So how do you know you can trust these people? We’ve all heard stories of musicians and other artists getting ripped off by management, right? All I can say is instinct. It would not have been in Patrick’s interest to grass me, since as my agent he took a portion of my earnings anyway, and therefore had financial as well as personal interest in protecting that. If he betrayed me he would also have suffered a loss of reputation that potentially outweighed any gain. Also, as most people who know him will agree, he’s a really nice and sane human being. Same with Michael.

If this setup sounds weirdly paranoid, let me assure you that journalists absolutely did go to Michael’s office and ask to see the Bizrealm paperwork, and Patrick absolutely did have people going through his bins, trying to infiltrate his office as interns, and so on. Without the protection of being a silent partner in the company those attempts to uncover me might have worked.

I communicate with some writers and would-be writers who do not seem to have agents. If you are serious about writing, and if you are serious about staying anonymous, get an agent. Shop around, follow your instinct, and make sure it’s someone you can trust. Don’t be afraid to dump an agent, lawyer, or anyone else if you don’t trust them utterly. They’re professionals and shouldn’t take it personally.

10. Don’t break the (tax) law.

Journalists being interested in your identity is one thing. What you really don’t want is the police or worse, the tax man, after you. Pay your taxes and try not to break the law if it can be helped. If you’re a sex worker blogging about it, get an accountant who has worked with sex workers before – this is applicable even if you live somewhere sex work is not strictly legal. Remember, Al Capone went down for tax evasion. Don’t be like Al. If you are a non-sex-work blogger who is earning money from clickthroughs and affiliates on your site, declare this income.

In summer 2010 the HMRC started a serious fraud investigation of me. It has been almost two years and is only just wrapping up, with the Revenue finally satisfied that not only did I declare (and possibly overdeclare) my income as a call girl, but that there were no other sources of income hidden from them. They have turned my life and financial history upside down to discover next to nothing new about me. This has been an expensive and tedious process. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like had I not filed the relevant forms, paid the appropriate taxes, and most of all had an accountant to deal with them!

Bottom line, you may be smart – I’m pretty good with numbers myself - – but people whose job it is to know about tax law, negotiating contracts, and so on will be better at that than you are. Let them do it. They are worth every penny.

11. Do interviews with care.

Early interviews were all conducted one of two ways: over email (encrypted) or over an IRC chatroom from an anonymising server (I used xs4all). This was not ideal from their point of view, and I had to coach a lot of people in IRC which most of them had never heard of. But again, it’s worth it, since no one in the press will be as interested in protecting your identity as you are. I hope it goes without saying, don’t give out your phone number.

12. Know when les jeux sont faits.

In November 2009 – 6 years after I first started blogging anonymously – my identity was revealed.

As has been documented elsewhere, I had a few heads-ups that something was coming, that it was not going to be nice, and that it was not going to go away. We did what we could to put off the inevitable but it became clear I only had one of two choices: let the Mail on Sunday have first crack at running their sordid little tales, or pre-empt them.

While going to the Sunday Times – the same paper that had forcibly outed Zoe Margolis a few years earlier, tried to get my details through that old Hotmail address, and incorrectly fingered Sarah Champion as me – was perhaps not the most sensitive choice, it was for me the right move. Patrick recommended that we contact an interviewer who had not been a Belle-believer: if things were going to be hard, best get that out of the way up front.



So that is that. It’s a bit odd how quickly things have changed. When I started blogging I little imagined I would be writing books, much less something like this. Being a kind of elder statesman of blogging (or cantankerous old grump if you prefer) is not an entirely comfortable position and one that is still new to me. But it is also interesting to note how little has changed: things that worked in the early 2000s have value today. The field expanded rapidly but the technology has not yet changed all that much.

As before, these ideas do not constitute a foolproof way to protect your identity. All writers – whether writing under their own names or not – should be aware of the risks they may incur by hitting ‘publish’. I hope this post at least goes some way to making people think about how they might be identified, and starts them on a path of taking necessary (and in many cases straightforward) precautions, should they choose to be anonymous.

May 14, 2012
[bdj] How To Blog Anonymously (and how not to) … Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) gives a master class in how to avoid detection from the press and nosy bloggers like me

The timing of everything as it happened was key to why the papers did not immediately find out who I was. The old blog started in 2003, when most press still had to explain to their audience what a blog actually was. It took a while for people to notice the writing, so the mistakes I made early on (blogging from home and work, using Hotmail) had long been corrected by the time the press became interested.

Today, no writer who aims to stay anonymous should ever assume a grace period like that. It also helped that once the press did become interested, they were so convinced not only that Belle was not really a hooker but also that she was one of their own – a previously published author or even journalist – that they never looked in the right place. If they’d just gone to a London blogmeet and asked a few questions about who had pissed off a lot of people and was fairly promiscuous, they’d have had a plausible shortlist in minutes.


April 5, 2011
[bdj] Sexonomics … Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) has a new blog … ‘This is where I write about social & political stuff, mostly relating to sex. Yes, there’s going to be a book. As an ex-sex worker, you can imagine what my bias is. Nevertheless, I am also a scientist, so will do my best to present the evidence base for each post.’

December 1, 2009
[bdj] Meanwhile… Belle de Jour on Celebrity Big Brother? ZOMG!!

belle de jour on celebrity big brother


[bdj] Yes, the bozos who claimed I was Belle de Jour were completely deluded! … Stewart Home’s reaction to Belle de Jour revealing her identity … ‘One thing I am absolutely certain of is that I didn’t write the Belle de Jour blog and books despite the claims to the contrary made by various conspiracy nuts.’

November 21, 2009
[bdj] Circumstantial Evidence – Belle de Jour “Signed” Her First Post … as also noted by Troubled Diva

Circumstantial Evidence - Belle Signed Her First Post As Brooke


November 20, 2009
[bdj] For Whom The Belle Tells … another old-time UK blogger breaks cover and admits he guessed who Belle de Jour was … ‘The first blog to link to BDJ was in fact this humble blog, Parallax View. And the lead? An email from a fellow blogger casually asking whether I’d noticed on the UK Blogs aggregator a blog by a prostitute. The blogger? Oh, you’re ahead of me… Dr Brooke Magnanti.’

November 19, 2009
[bdj] How Belle de Jour’s Secret Ally Googlewhacked The Press … First personal post I ever do makes the front page of the Guardian. Never again … ‘The sympathetic online diarist, who gives his name only as Darren…’

November 18, 2009
[bdj] The Belle de Jour Googlewack … this screengrab was taken in 2005.

[bdj] Reg hack beats ‘Belle de Jour’ sex rap‘The stigma of suspected blogging followed [Andrew] Orlowski until yesterday, when Dr Brooke Magnanti, a Bristol research scientist, outed herself in The Sunday Times. Today our man, who is rarely mistaken for Billie Piper, declined to comment from his North London brothel.’

November 17, 2009
[bdj] Add a blog to the updated list? … The original email Belle de Jour sent asking to be added to the Updated UK Blogs List.

November 16, 2009

Me and Belle de Jour – “Could it be Brooke?”

Let’s break out of this self-imposed link blogging format for just one post… it’s not every day the biggest secret you’ve ever kept gets revealed on the front pages of the national press.

I have an admission to make about Belle de Jour.

It’s time for me to admit that I solved the puzzle of her identity almost at the very start after she (as Belle) sent me the link to her new blog to add to the list of Updated UK Blogs. Sending the link to me implied somebody who knew quite a lot about how UK blogging worked at the time and I found it hard to believe that an escort that had starting blogging would use me to announce the blog to the world. Then, after BdJ proceeded to knock the ball out of the park in the blog writing department, I started to seriously consider if it was somebody I knew.

In late 2003 I was well placed to guess Belle’s identity. I’d been blogging myself for three years at that point, I had met many London bloggers and briefly read most of the UK-written blogs during 2000 and 2001. UK blogging was (and still is) full of young, smart people and anyone of them might have written Belle’s blog. I never believed that a professional writer could be BdJ – apparently effortless blog writing takes practice, and required an understanding of a new medium which not many people had at the time. So I asked myself: which blogger is it?

A couple of months went past, and after Belle de Jour won the award for Best Written Blog from the Guardian and the whole BdJ phenomenon kicked off, I had my eureka moment – I was sitting on the tube one morning and suddenly thought: ’Could it be Brooke?’

Brooke at the time ran a couple of blogs – A link blog called Methylsalicylate and another science blog called Cosmas. She also had done a few short, smart pieces of writing online – The Autopsy, What The Dead Remember and one called Malted. Malted was about whiskey and was the bit of writing that gave it all away. I remembered reading Malted a few months previously and realised the style and content was reminiscent of Belle’s and was suddenly convinced I had the answer.

I then spent the first three months of 2004 “internet stalking” Brooke Magnanti, collecting together a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that Brooke was indeed Belle. I also slowly became aware of the heightened stakes, as Belle became increasingly famous and obviously wanted to maintain her pseudonymity.

For a while I believed that Brooke would get outed immediately – but it turns out the British press could not investigate anything not handed to them on a plate, and were never looking in the right place – the small clique of people who starting blogging in the UK in 2000/2001. Belle de Jour remained pseudonymous and the mystery remained intact even after two TV series based on her books.

During this time I published a googlewack hidden in my blog – the words “Belle de Jour”, “Brooke Magnanti” and “Methylsalicylate” were published and available in Google’s index on a single page on the internet – my weblog. This “coincidental” collection of links could in no way reveal Belle’s identity. But I wondered if anybody else knew the secret and felt that analysing my web traffic might confirm my strongly-held belief. If someone googled “Belle de Jour” “Brooke Magnanti”, I would see it in the search referrers for LinkMachineGo.

I waited five years for somebody to hit that page (I’m patient). Two weeks ago I started getting a couple of search requests a day from an IP address at Associated Newspapers (who publish the Daily Mail) searching for “brooke magnanti” and realised that Belle’s pseudonymity might be coming to an end. I contacted Belle via Twitter and let her know what was happening. I didn’t expect to hear anything back.

And then early last weekend I received an email signed by Brooke that confirmed that she was outing herself in the Sunday Times because the Daily Mail had discovered her identity.

It was finally over, the secret was out. I no longer have to worry about inadvertently revealing her identity. If I’m honest, solving the puzzle of the biggest literary and blogging mystery of the last six years has been fun and exciting. I’m just really disappointed I don’t get to dig up a gold hare as a prize!

One last thing: Good Luck Brooke, I’m very glad you’ve managed to maintain some control over how and when your real identity was revealed to the public. I think I probably owe you a bottle of your favourite whiskey. Let me know what you like and I’ll see what I can do. – Darren/LMG.

Update #1: Belle has confirmed the story in the comments to this post.

Update #2: Googlewack Screengrab Published

Update #3: How Belle de Jour’s Secret Ally Googlewacked The Press – the Guardian cover the story.

Update #4: The End


[bdj] Now that I’m Not Anonymous — Belle de Jour outed herself yesterday in the Sunday Times. Old time UK bloggers may remember her other blog Methylsalicylate from 2000/2001. The Times described it as a “science blog” but as I remember it was a link blog in the style inspired by Jorn Barger. That’s right… I’ll say it again: Belle de Jour was a LINK BLOGGER.

October 11, 2009
[bdj] Archbishop of York attacks Belle de Jour for glamourising prostitution‘Dr John Sentamu attacked the books and television programme based on the character Belle de Jour, a high-end London call girl, for misleading the public over the reality of prostitution. He said that the lifestyle portrayed in the works was in stark contrast to the suffering endured by the majority of women involved in the sex trade.’

July 27, 2009
[tv] My Shags As A Whore – Mitchell and Webb on Belle de Jour … ‘Being a prostitute is brilliant.’ (more…)

June 11, 2009
[bdj] Belle de Jour is on Twitter‘Off to discover whether the local Somerfield is as crap as it looks from the outside. And maybe source a takeaway instead.’ [link]

August 6, 2008
[bdj] Ask a call girl … Salon asks three American High-Class Call Girls: How Realistic is the Belle de Jour TV Series? (compare and contrast with the time the Guardian asked Cynthia Payne the same question) … ‘I guess as an ex-call girl, it’s fun watching the show and seeing what is real and what’s completely off. I think it glamorizes the business a bit. Being a high-class call girl is a cool life if you know what you’re doing, but a very hard life too, which I don’t think they depict well on the show — just how stressful it really is.’ [via Fimoculous]

October 11, 2007
[tv] Charlie Brooker reviews Billie Piper’s Secret Diary Of A Call Girl — extremely funny, NSFW and surprisingly, goes easy on Billie and Belle … ‘We love a morality tale us Brits. Especially if it’s disguised as a fuckfest.’ (more…)

September 20, 2007
[blogs] Wrong Call — the Guardian ask if the new TV Series starring Billie Piper glamorises prostitution? … ‘The main problem is that whereas Belle de Jour the writer has a patently dark sexuality, which allows you to imagine why she embraces her trade, Piper is about as noir as a chipmunk. She’s like a naughty nurse dispensing therapy, rather than a humanities graduate with a genuine sadomasochistic streak. The writer Belle clearly has a rare ability to separate sex from emotion in her working life, but Piper doesn’t have the range to convey this.’ [Related: More links about Belle de Jour]

March 15, 2007
[blogs] Belle de Jour on Billie Piper and ITV2: ‘Finally – it’s official – Billie’s on board, and you can expect to see Belle the series on ITV2 this autumn.’

February 12, 2007
[blogs] Billie Piper to play Belle de Jour?‘Friends say she is “desperate” to play the part of Belle de Jour, with Channel 4 expected to green-light the project in the coming weeks.’

January 30, 2007
[comics] Belle de Jour and Judge Dredd: ‘…he only gives her six months imprisonment? You call that sympathy?’

August 7, 2006
[blogs] Belle de Jour on staying Anonymous — some good, common sense advice for anonymous best-selling bloggers … ‘Trust no one.’

April 4, 2006
[ukblogs] While I’m thinking about anonymous bloggers: Belle de Jour is updating again and Girl With a One Track Mind got a book deal.

January 4, 2006
[books] Spotted on Amazon.co.uk: The Further Adventures of Belle De Jour‘What Belle de Jour did next… From becoming an agony aunt, to hanging up her stilettos and finding love with a man who knows all about her past…’ [Delicious: Posts with belledejour Tag]

December 6, 2005
[bdj] Sex: An interview with Belle de Jour – Part 1 | Part 2‘Q: How close is your own life to that of Belle de Jour as we know her as a percentage? A: The aspect of my life that was reported in the book is probably within 95% correct – obviously some dates and locations had to be changed to protect my and others’ anonymity. However, there is a very large part of my life that was not involved with the book at all.’

October 13, 2005
[bdj] Weidenfeld & Nicolson Acquire New Book by Belle de Jour‘Provisionally entitled THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF BELLE DE JOUR, the deal was closed after a great deal of arm-twisting and financial persuasion…’ [thanks Phil]

October 5, 2005
[bdj] The shape I’m in: Belle de Jour — Health and Fitness Q&A with Belle de Jour‘Q: Which alternative remedies do you swear by? A: I don’t go in for the ooey-wooey…’

September 12, 2005
[ukblogs] Belle de Jour’s 100 Days Without Sex — can the soon-to-be published in paperback sex-blogger survive? … ‘I send him a photo of me that he took on our holiday. My top was a little tighter than I remember and I look very busty indeed. “WHORE!” “Excuse me?”, I type. “I spelled that wrong, didn’t I?” he writes. “The noise you do when someone looks great.” “Did you mean PHWOAR?,” I type.’

June 12, 2005
[bdj] The Iain Sinclair Inteview — from Londonist with a mention of Alan Moore and discussion on the identity of Belle de Jour. Londonist: ‘…it seems too restrained to be Stewart Home.’ Sinclair: I’m sure it isn’t. Once the thing was up and running I could see him stepping in and doing something, but I think you’d be able to tell from the language if it was Stewart Home.’ [More: Yet Another Belle de Jour Suspect... | Will the real Belle de Jour please stand up?]

April 15, 2005
[bdj] Intimate advice from a London Call Girl — Belle de Jour is an Agony Aunt! … ‘When I was approached to be The London Line’s new agony aunt, I thought, why not? I know about agony. Reading reviews of my book was agony in itself. And my career so far has been nothing if not surrounded by questions.’

April 12, 2005
[bdj] Will the real Belle de Jour please stand up? — Jane Perrone emails Stewart Home to find out if he is Belle de Jour … Home on BdJ: ‘I’m no more interested in who Belle ‘really is’ than I am interested in who Jack The Ripper ‘really’ was. The endless speculation about the identity of such figures serves only to obscure any understanding of them.’

April 6, 2005
[bdj] The web’s Belle de Jour? — the Evening Standard proposes another suspect for BdJ — an author called Stewart Home. I’ve been sent two files of information mentioned in the Standard by verysunnymeadow (a prolific commenter on The Book Club Blog’s investigations into BdJ). Both articles are linked below:

  • ‘Belle De Jour’ Identified As Male London Novelist‘With the Belle diary, while the forensics suggest even to the most sceptical observer that he has, at the very least, an extremely strong case to answer, the nearest I’ve heard of his making an admission is a touch on the side of the nose, given furtively to a mutual friend who was about to raise suspicions a little too high at a party.’
  • Clues that Stewart Home is Belle de Jour‘As readers of “Belle de Jour’s” book will know, Belle mentions several male friends and lovers. However, there is one male friend who gets mentioned in the weblog but not in the book. This is “SH”, a reference to Stewart Home, the real author.’


March 27, 2005
[bdj] Named: the Belle de Jour of the net — The Sunday Times writes up Belle de Hypothesis and outs Lisa Hilton as Belle de Jour… She kinda, sorta denies it: ‘I am afraid I can neither confirm nor deny (involvement). I really do not want to say it is not me, because I do not want to engage to that extent. I really do not want anything to do with it. I have never read any of this woman’s writing. I know nothing about her. As far as I can see it is just tittle-tattle and coincidence.’ [Related: Belle Updated Last Night]

March 18, 2005
[bdj] Belle de Jour Interview — from a student magazine from Edinburgh … ‘Q: Has anyone you know put two and two together and worked out Belle de Jour was written by you? A: So far not to my knowledge. I have a friend whom I think suspects, but he’s far too polite to say so. A few of the candidates who have been put forward are reasonable guesses based on what is known about me, but unfortunately incorrect.’

March 16, 2005
[bdj] Belle de Hypothesis (Fictional Account of a London Publishing Scam) — a neatly-detailed conspiracy theory about Belle de Jour being the work of a bunch of writers from the Erotic Review‘The second stage of the project is the delivery. The ER’s circulation is XK and declining. Why not, says RP, harness the power of the internet to show how thoroughly modern our heroine is, and as an adjunct reach out to an entirely new readership in the evolving blogosphere, reach out to the future tweed wearers while they still have beards and sandals or even better, Ipods. The blog must be simple (Blogger, basic template) not be based on exact events (too easy to check, identify, and must be anonymous, to show that necessary element of guilt, naughtiness and suspense to complete the formula.’ [via The Book Club Blog]

February 28, 2005
[bdj] Belle de Jour: The Case So Far — Nick over at the Book Club Blog provides a massive summary of links covering much of the available reviews, commentary and gossip on Belle de Jour. … ‘We could continue to allow those who know who Belle de Jour really is to play their games within games and wonder whether RP should be a little more suggestive than last week? [..] Is HGW still satisfied with sales? Have CH4 commissioned a scriptwriter or a director, or cast a leading lady? Is VSM either RP, TY, LH, PW, HGW, CB, MA, CH, AC, or merely VSM? Who are N and As 1 to 4, and where are they now? Did PR ever really know whether she was PR, DA or AD? What do AF and LAF make of all this? However, this merely leaves us with so many questions, yet so few answers. Alternatively, we could simply follow the trail of circumstantial evidence that has been strewn across the public domain and draw our own conclusions…’

January 21, 2005
[bdj] Tracking BDJ — the Book Club Blog is doing a much better job than me at following news about Belle de Jour. Amusing comment from Mil Millington: ‘…Belle De Jour happens to share an editor and a former agent with me, but that is purely because she got in touch with me, and I put her in touch with the two people in London I trusted. We have had email contact, but I have never met Belle in person. Honest! That was a fun moment, having to tell Margret, “Dear, you are going to read something in the newspapers tomorrow about me and a prostitute. Now, put that hammer down…”‘

January 17, 2005
[books] Digested Read: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour ‘The first thing you should know is that I am a whore. Prostitution is steady work. I open my legs. And then I close them. It beats working in an office.’

January 15, 2005
[bdj] Review of Belle de Jour — from the New Statesman … ‘What Belle does best is reveal the scant, prosaic motivations of men who pay for sex; and it is this lack of embellishment that finally convinces you of the authenticity of her strangely banal document. As she asks one client, a bestselling author: “Wasn’t it Dashiell Hammett who said you don’t pay a call girl to do what she does, you pay her to leave afterwards?” Her customers are not losers, and rarely are they kinky. Mostly, they just want the same things all men want, only quickly, effortlessly, without all that risotto and Sauvignon, without any clever talk or gooey eye contact. I suppose what I am saying is that the sex in The Intimate Adventures is – well, of course it is – transactional.’ [thanks Tom]

January 14, 2005
[bdj] Belle de Jour Answers your Questions — from the Guardian’s Newsblog

‘Guardian: Which do you miss more, blogging or your work as a call girl?

Belle: A very close call – on the one hand, blogging didn’t pay well; on the other, I couldn’t turn a trick unbathed and in my dressing gown. I’d have to decide in favour of working, because the feedback was more positive.’


January 7, 2005
[bdj] Belle de Jour Spotted in Oxford Street …on the shelf at Waterstones.

January 3, 2005
[bdj] Peep Show — Belle de Jour interviewed over IRC by the Guardian. Belle proves she’s a real blogger:

Belle: so, which browser do you use on your mac?
Guardian: internet explorer.
Belle: Have you tried Safari?
[..]
Belle: As an aside, you do know you'll have to cut-and-paste this conversation into something else in order to save it?
Guardian: ta, will do.


January 2, 2005
[blogs] Belle de Jour Updates‘When I stopped blogging, someone wrote to say that if I was a real blogger I would be back. And here I am.’

September 20, 2004
[bdj] Web’s most Famous Hooker Kills Blog — the Register on Belle de Jour’s retirement … ‘Belle did what most of the waste can never accomplish simply because she actually had something to write about or at least something to pretend about. The real-world musings of a call-girl, participating with the hopefully washed masses, are fair more gripping than an Emergent Insomniac intoxicated by sloth, riddled with Diet Coke driven anxiety and climaxing over his latest “scoop” on the intricacies of Microsoft Word.’

September 17, 2004
[bdj] BBC News: London ‘Call Girl’ Gives Up Blog‘Belle de Jour captured the wave of blogging and earned notoriety for the sometimes explicit online accounts.’

September 16, 2004
[bdj] Call Girl “Belle de Jour” Ends Web Diary — Reuters covers BDJ’s retirement … ‘LONDON (Reuters) – “Belle de Jour,” the writer of an online journal describing her life as a London call girl, is quitting the website that launched fevered speculation about her true identity and landed her a book deal.’

September 15, 2004
[bdj] Belle de Jour signs off: ‘All things pass. For instance: Harts the Grocer, I am saddened to note, are now Tesco Metro. But that is the way of things.’

July 13, 2004
[blog] The Guardian’s New Media Top 10 includes Belle De Jour … ‘And sneaking in at number 10, anonymous call girl blogger Belle de Jour, who sparked a ludicrous media guessing game over her identity that led to a book deal for the author, makes the list as a representative of the millions of online bloggers and the year that blogging went overground.’

July 12, 2004
[blog] Belle De Jour: Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl — BDJ’s novel has aquired a synopsis over at Amazon: ‘Belle de Jour is the diary of a London call-girl. The author will remain anonymous, but she’s from a nice middle-class family, in her late twenties, writing a phD who writes about her rather unusual job with humour, affection and honesty. This isn’t a salacious catalogue of sexual encounters, rather it’s the unfolding story of her life: the difficulties in juggling her very understanding boyfriend with her profession; the question of what to wear to work; the problems associated with managing pubic topiary and the often hilarious hypocrisies she bears witness to every day. And of course, there’s the odd sexual encounter thrown in for good measure… It’s witty, compelling, educative and oddly moving. Belle is a twenty-first century Moll Flanders who will appeal to women because of her honesty and guts, and to men because she lifts the lid on what call girls are really thinking…’


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