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