I work for a London agency, one of the many that now serves the city and its increasingly multi-millionaire clientele. I am contacted, offered a job, a rendezvous is arranged to suit the client and I turn up looking whichever part I have been hired to play. Strict disciplinarian? Children’s TV presenter? Absent-minded academic? Sometimes, with all the talk of agents, clients and jobs, one feels like a less leggy, more bookish, Belle de Jour.
Like high-end prostitution, the appointments all tend to take place in the salubrious streets that fan out from Hyde Park. Mostly I go to theirs, arriving outside houses as big as embassies, let in by a discreet member of staff, ushered up or down flights of stairs to where the client waits, expectant, bored or itchy with nerves. But I’ve been booked to show up at hotels before now, cafes of department stores, even once in the back of an oversized horsebox, circling the M25. With time and practice comes a degree of nonchalance. There are only so many six-storey town houses you can ascend before dumbstruck awe is replaced by a recurring sense that taste and money exist in inverse proportion.
I am shown where to go and once the niceties are dispensed with, I am expected to perform. Unlike a call girl, my sweaty palm is not patted with crisp fifties first. I am not so much hired as auditioned for the role: part school teacher; part performing monkey. I’m expected to educate and charm in perfect balance, so the lesson passes like the briefest mist, flavour of candyfloss, and the pupil is left pleasantly surprised and slightly high. This is one of the tricks to tutoring and each is delivered with the shining expertise of a true professional. You open your satchel full of the tools of your trade, set the bench low enough for someone to succeed, even if they’re mentally impotent, and fill the air with more bursts of encouragement and showering of reward than a pushy parent at an egg and spoon race.
The very rich who pay for tutors come from all over the world, part of the crook of tax avoiders who seem to strive harder to make sure no one takes their money than they do to earn it in the first place. There are of course the old guard: families who pride themselves on a long and titled heritage and who will, if you’re around them past lunch, lead you to the shelves in the library to show you the letter from Charles I that proves it. Others, easily the majority, having popped like fungi into the feted ranks of the rich overnight, by selling cars or running banks, wear their purchasing power less smoothly.
The aristocracy is the master at hiring prostitutes, delivered into it at birth and blasé at the reality that the world is peopled by those who do for you, or simply do you. New money behaves like the guilty husband, still wedded to some idea of nuptial fidelity. More often than not their immediate ancestors strove to get out of their particular servitude quicker than you could say ‘hand job’. They hover like nervous wasps as you perform your function, desperate for you to leave before they are found out, either by you or someone they know.
Sometimes the assignation is a disaster. They wanted prim and orderly and got something altogether too freaky. You were expecting sane and workable, but got swivel-eyed and psychotic. The rule is the same for all working girls: safety first. Most of the time the infatuation is more like bad sex: short-lived and increasingly disappointing. There is an occasional hour here or there, which, like any date, begins with promise, only to fade away when both sides remember they forgot to call. Again.
But sometimes one brief encounter turns into an affair. You ride the crests of a wave altogether more tantric, as weeks merge into years, and you become as much a part of the family as the Nespresso machine, over which you yourself take charge, once you’ve been introduced to the grandparents and given your own key. By this stage you could easily fall into the trap of imagining yourself indispensable; seduced by the suggestion that it would be so much easier if you could be housed somewhere more convenient, such as your own neighbouring pied-à-terre.
Always remember you are not. You are staff: a smile for hire. However nice they get, you are not the client’s best friend. An offer to teach abroad on their skiing trip is not the same thing as an invitation to ski with them. And even though they might promise you a million dollars over the phone, like all gentlemen escorts, don’t believe it till it’s in the bank.
But it’s at this stage that the distance between tutoring and prostitution can tend to dissolve. When your job is no longer to deal with anything even remotely school-shaped; when you are invited out to dine or to attend a party and your client is next to you. And you are dazzling, polite and interested; the perfect escort for town. And all the time, somewhere in the back of your mind, clocking up the evening, a meter is silently running.