What is the life of a high-priced call girl really like? What sort of man is a typical client? How much does she make? To get the answers to these and other questions, TODAY sat down with a woman who was once one of the highest-paid escorts in New York. Here's a transcript of the interview:
Natalie McLennan, a native of Montreal, was a 24-year-old aspiring actress in 2004 when she started working for NY Confidential, a top-end escort service in New York City. Billed as “New York’s No. 1 escort,” she was featured on the cover of New York magazine in 2005, and her revelations in the accompanying article led prosecutors to arrest her for prostitution and money laundering, for which she spent 26 days in Rikers Island jail (“Three more days than Paris Hilton!” she notes) before accepting a plea bargain.
She is writing a memoir with a working title of “The Price” about her experiences during the year that she worked for the agency. It is scheduled for fall release by Phoenix Books.
Q: Why did you become an escort?
A: I was struggling, a starving actress, living in Manhattan, trying to succeed. The option was presented to me. I weighed the pros and the cons. I decided to try it once to see if it was something I could handle. It was, so I continued until it wasn’t right for me anymore.
Q: Why did you get out?
A: I got out because of people I was surrounded with at the agency didn’t have my best interests at heart. Because I had so much anxiety and panic attacks because I felt something might happen. I couldn’t sleep at night. I was right because the month after I left, the agency was shut down by the police. And also, my lifestyle wasn’t as healthy as it could have been.
Q: How much did you make?
A: An escort makes as much money as she can possibly make for herself. The average escort in New York City, I would estimate makes between $600 and $1,200 an hour. It can be a great living for a certain amount of time. It’s like Wall Street; you have to go in, make your money and get out. The most money I personally ever made as an escort was either $2,000 an hour with a two-hour minimum, or $29,000 for one weekend.
Q: Was it a good weekend?
A: Oh, my gosh, it was amazing. We went to this little private island in the Florida Keys. It was amazing. It was unbelievable. It was a fairy tale.
Q: How much does the service make?
A: The booker — whoever organizes the appointments, which is either over the telephone or the Internet — makes 10 percent off the top, then it’s split 50-50 between the girl and the agency.
Q: What did you carry in your purse?
A: I used to have this recurring nightmare where I’d be walking into this gorgeous hotel like the St. Regis, and all of a sudden I would slip and fall in my four-inch Manolos, go tumbling across the carpet, and with me would go the contents of my purse, which were as follows: $100 bills, condoms, lube, and then makeup, cell phone and all the other girl things. It was that moment of mortification of my life being exposed for the world to see, because a girl’s life is in her purse.
Q: You didn’t carry Mace or a Taser?
A: Absolutely not. I always lived in Manhattan, and Manhattan is one of the safest places in the world to be. There are so many people around, you couldn’t feel safer. It’s when you get into quiet, little neighborhoods when everything gets spooky.
Q: Did you ever feel threatened on a “date”?
Q: How much did you spend on clothes?
A: I spent a lot of money on clothes, a lot. New York is a shopper’s dream, and I had unlimited funds for a long period of time. I bought tons of Manolos, Guccis. I bought everything I ever wanted to buy. It was great.
Q: Was there anything you wouldn’t do?
A: I’m not comfortable answering that, partly because my mom’s going to read this. But there were definitely boundaries.
Q: What would readers be surprised to learn about the business?
A: I don’t know if people are wanting to find sympathy in the client, but what was surprising to me was that most clients, most men, were really looking for companionship They were looking to connect with somebody and were looking for more than just a one-hour engagement.
Q: Who was your typical client?
A: The average client that I met in New York City was 25-45, well-dressed, well-groomed, very well-mannered, well-educated — a lot of times from New York; mostly Wall Street, lawyers, CEOs, businessmen, hedge fund managers. About half of them were single, about half of them were married.
The single guys were guys who were super-ambitious, tons of testosterone, very alpha-male types who work really, really hard and don’t necessarily have the free time to go out on dates.
A lot of the married guys, one of the things I used to believe at the time was that I was actually doing a service for these guys, because rather than having an affair with their secretary and potentially ruining their lives, they would come see me, satisfy their needs physically and some of the companionship they wanted — going on a date, having fun, relaxing — and being able to sustain their marriage. Apparently that’s what some people need.
Q: Did you think you were doing anything wrong?
A: I didn’t feel like I was doing anything evil. But you have to look at what are laws for? Are they to dictate what’s right and what’s wrong, or what is safe and what is not safe? Should laws be the moral compass for society? I do know that I didn’t feel like what I was doing was evil or malicious in any way.
Q: Did you ever have unprotected sex?
A: No. Some may do, but I never did.
Q: What does your mom think?
A: My mother loves me. I‘m her child. But we’ve had a lot of obstacles to overcome. It’s been a priority for us. We’re getting there, and she and I have a very close relationship and a very healthy relationship. She was there for me when nobody else was. She was there for me when I went to jail, and she was there for me after I got out of jail and helped me through a lot. I don’t know where I’d be without her. I feel so much compassion and empathy for girls who don’t have the support structures that I did.
Q: Is it hard for a call girl to have a social life?
A: I always had my circle of friends, and they pretty much stayed constant throughout. There were some of them with whom I could share the details of my life. There were some that I couldn’t because we didn’t have that element of friendship where we had unconditional love and nonjudgment. It was difficult because within the lifestyle, you’re pretty much always on call, so I couldn’t make commitments. I couldn’t make long-term plans because I might be called by the agency to meet with a client at any time. That’s something I don’t miss.
Q: That must be hard to explain to a date.
A: Yeah, it is.
Q: Did a client ever fall for you or vice versa?
A: Yeah, and it definitely went both ways. There was a certain element to my experience in the industry, where for some reason I chose not to separate myself emotionally or put up walls between myself and my experiences with my clients. I’m a hopeless romantic. I fall in love every day. Yeah, I definitely fell in love. I didn’t hold back from finding things about my clients that were really attractive and really endearing to me. As a result, I definitely developed feelings for them. But at the same time, you get over it, I guess.
Q: What do you think of the movie “Pretty Woman”?
A: I love that movie! “Pretty Woman” is almost a little bit scary, because I remember watching that movie when I was a child. It’s the world’s best fairy tale. Everybody wants to be swept off their feet by Richard Gere or someone like him and rescued from Wilshire Boulevard or wherever she was. It’s the Cinderella story revisited.
Q: Is the movie realistic?
A: It actually happens. There was a girl I knew who worked for the agency, who had a booking with a client, went on a date. They fell in love, and he whisked her off to London. They have a house in London, a house in Paris and a house in New York, and they’re getting married.
Isn’t that great?
Q: Are people judgmental about what you did for a living?
A: That’s something I’ve had to deal with and come to terms with in my life. It lasted for one year of my life, although it had more long-lasting repercussions. It is a challenge to find the people around me who are willing to know me and love me for who I am and not adhere to what society says is right and wrong.
It does let you know the people who are really true people. It’s such a blessing. It really is beautiful. It’s a bonus. Some people go through their lives and never know who loves me for what I am. I know right away. Either you get it or you don’t. It’s a deal-breaker.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about the business?
A: I don’t want to make it seem more glamorous than it is. I don’t want to candy-coat it, because there certainly is a dark side to the escort/call-girl industry that exists and destroys people’s lives. The common misconception is that that’s all it is – that’s it’s all glamorous or it’s all dirty, and it’s all of the above. It’s a well-rounded industry.
Video: Call girl: ‘I’m a ho-fessional’ Q: Are clients expected to tip?
A: I never, ever demanded tips. I never encouraged or asked for tips. When you get to that price, it’s kind of ridiculous to ask for more. When you’re dealing with the lower end of the price spectrum, at that point, I think it is the norm, and I think it is good manners to tip a girl. If she’s booking for $200 an hour, she’s taking home less than $100.
Q: Any regrets?
A: I wish I‘d have had the wisdom that I have now when I was making the choices I was making then. I definitely would have done some things differently than I did then, because I experienced the consequences. But I still stand by my choices. I understand why I made them, I understand how I made them, I learned from them, and it’s all good.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints