She is a slender, blonde research scientist; the sort of woman with looks and brains that men dream about. No wonder so many of them paid £300 a session for unfettered access to her body.

Dr Brooke Magnanti has outed herself as the mystery blogger better known by her nom de plume, Belle de Jour. Magnanti, whose blog led to a book and then a television series, became a London call girl when she was a debt-ridden student.

For 14 months she serviced the sexual needs of “between dozens and hundreds” of men. The sessions lasted two hours and one-third of the money went as a fee to her escort agency. So she prostituted herself for £100 an hour, cash in hand. It was, she says, “easy money”.

Before she decided to open her legs for a living, she couldn’t get a bank loan. Within months of making regular large deposits, the same bank was offering her a mortgage. Add to that, she liked her work.

She says she found it as easy to have sex with an ugly stranger as with her handsome lover. And what sex. I pulled a few examples from her diary to illustrate the point but decided clamps and fists wouldn’t sit too well on your breakfast tables. Yet she claims to have suffered more angst over her writing than over the sex.

Now, at the age of 34, the world seems to be her feet. She has a lucrative writing career and a serious academic career researching the causes of cancer. There is even a loving boyfriend called T. What an icon she is. What a role model. What a success story.

What a dangerous young woman.

I wonder how many struggling, unemployed school-leavers, graduates and broke single mums are reading her story, examining their reflections and wondering -- if she made such a go of it, why shouldn’t I?

Keep reading. I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t.

I have been through the looking glass and into the world Dr Magnanti inhabited and, to crib another quote from her blog: “It is sad, like an old woman buying half a turkey breast on Christmas morning sad.” And that’s before you get to elements of it that are bad and downright dangerous.

There’s nothing clever about prostitution. It is not easy money. It’s quick money, which is a different thing.

I can still remember how Lindy St Clair laughed when I told her what I earned. I was in her torture chamber interviewing her between clients. She spent less than 10 minutes with each of them so her hourly rate put Magnanti’s in the shade. She earned more than 10 times my salary and thought I was daft to work so hard for so little. I thought she was selling her soul cheap.

Her work place was as glamorous as a rackety ghost ride at a provincial fair. It was a basement with unplastered walls and small grubby rooms. There was a cage and a saddle and whips. There was even the cliched nun’s habit. As she showed me around, she talked about the grandeur of her clients -- MPs and the like -- and about her children. She paid for them to attended top-notch boarding schools.

She was a rich, successful businesswoman -- and also a pariah. Her clientele would deny her acquaintance in daylight. As for her children, did they, I wonder, look forward to parents’ day?

She told me she’d been abused by a boyfriend of her mother when she was 11 years old. It’s more of a common denominator than class with a lot of the prostitutes I’ve interviewed. Many of them equate being a sex worker with being in control. And they get paid for what was once taken. It’s a flawed theory.

Certainly the women I met working in an Edinburgh sauna were from all walks of life. There was an interior designer, a nurse and an Australian art student working her way around the world. Like Magnanti, they spoke of themselves as professionals making a lifestyle choice.

The sauna was almost as top end as Magnanti’s escort agency, yet the women spent their working hours behind blacked-out windows. They sat around a small waiting room decorated in purplish pink -- like a two-star hotel. Some wore evening dress, all carried bags containing condoms and money. The men, “johns”, who had been required to wash, wore towelling dressing gowns. Each had a look at who was on offer then made his choice.

The room to which the couple then repaired was built to three-quarters the scale of a normal room. It had a shower and a small bed. There was strobe lighting so that eyes and teeth looked blue-white. It was tacky and tawdry and I itched to throw open the windows and let in some sunshine.

As for the women, one said the job was a small step from a social life where sleeping around was the norm. But what was noticeable was the disrespect with which the owner spoke to them. He referred to them as cows.

I came to know a marvellous woman who got herself out of prostitution and then helped others. She described how many women take up the work to clear debt or fund the family through Christmas. They might start as an escort or in a sauna but find the work hard to stomach. They’re introduced to little pills that take the edge off. Soon they need them. Then come other drugs.

But the people running top-end services don’t like druggies, so the woman slips a notch and before she knows it she’s on the street doing tricks to feed her habit.

It didn’t happen to Dr Magnanti, but look what she had to fall back on. She was a tourist in the sexual underworld, with a return ticket. When she joined the escort agency, she was a viva away from a doctorate with no dependants and then her writing hit the jackpot. Few are so fortunate.

I have a copy of the survival guide for street prostitutes. It makes depressing reading: “Don’t wear hoop earrings because they can be dragged through the ear. When in a car, always make sure you can get out of the door. Wear shoes you can run in.”

There are no silk dressing gowns in that world. There’s no retreat back to academia and the financial security of a two-book deal. There’s no devoted boyfriend such as the one of whom, Dr Magnanti says on her blog: “For the first time in years I feel safe. No longer do I look in the mirror and see someone who puts up with emotional abuse because no-one else would have me.”

That I do believe. It sounds like love, the antithesis of prostitution.

I hope Dr Magnanti’s gilded future is not derailed by her revelations. I also hope she has the wisdom to warn those who are tempted to follow her example that she’s newsworthy because she is the exception. She is the Pretty Woman, the black swan, the one in a million who made it back through the looking glass intact.