Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Belle de Jour outed 

Well I must say, it happened awfully fast, but then, that's what happens when you've got handy folks like The Times sniffing around. But yes, evidently Belle's identity has been unearthed. According to the paper, she is really Sarah Champion, a book editor (including a fiction anthology called DISCO BISCUITS published in 1997) with the following credentials:

[Champion has been a] freelance music journalist at NME at 16, pop columnist for the Manchester Evening News, author of And God Created Manchester, former publicist and private detective and today a global party correspondent and the compiler of techno and drum'n'bass CDs Trance Europe Express and Breakbeat Science.

Although Champion did not deny the story, Belle has refused to divulge her identity in the most recent post on her blog, and in fact, gets rather cheeky, pointing folks to this brand-new site where you, too, can confess to being Belle de Jour.

When the Times story is available to me, I'll make it available to you all. The story is, as some say, developing.

UPDATE, March 18, 7:45 AM: Having now read the Times article, I am less than impressed with their research methods:

A detailed analysis of her writing by the man who famously unmasked Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors has convinced him that she is Sarah Champion, a 33-year-old author from Manchester.

Don Foster, America's foremost literary sleuth, identified quirks in Belle's text, such as the way she uses brackets, dashes, compound verbs and italics. He entered this information into Google, the internet search engine, and within 20 minutes found that Miss Champion was the only person who matched the linguistic fingerprint.

"While no piece of evidence is conclusive by itself, I'm sure we have found our woman," he said.

Hello...you're going with a story that involves umasking a pseudonymous author....and all you have to support your claim is a freakin' GOOGLE search??? Wow, whatever happened to real investigation? Pounding the pavement and hours of painstaking research?

But interestingly, the whole google thing seems to have worked:

Last night Ms Champion, who is currently living with her boyfriend in California, did not deny that she was the woman behind Belle. "I'm in San Francisco at the moment...to hide," she said, laughing.

She said that she was aware of the impact Belle de Jour had had and asked: "How did you find my name? Give me a clue?" Later she sent an e-mail with the statement: "I want to make clear that I have never been a call girl."

Of course, even her non-denial denial isn't totally conclusive, but it might explain, at least a little, why Belle seems to have an "American" voice, according to those who have frequented the site much more than I have.

The Times has even more information on Ms. Champion that basically parrots what I had discovered myself last night:

Ms Champion bears an uncanny resemblance to Belle, although the website call girl is meant to be nearly ten years her junior [sic]. They both display an extraordinary love of obscure bands, have relatives in Yorkshire, have spent time in Manchester and are widely read in modern literature. Belle shows a detailed knowledge of South London and describes how she was "divided in love (from her boyfriend) by the A23".

In 2002 Ms Champion was living in West Norwood, South London, less than a mile from the trunk road. She grew up in Manchester but left school before doing her A levels to become a freelance journalist, writing for the New Musical Express and the Manchester Evening News.

She briefly found recognition as a writer in the mid-1990s, editing anthologies about alternative culture, including And God Created Manchester and Disco Biscuits. She has been described as "a former publicist and private detective and today a global party correspondent and the compiler of techno and drum 'n' bass CDs". She left Britain in 2000 for Bangkok, returning in 2002.

So suffice it to say that I am still less than impressed with the whole thing. OTOH, it makes a lot of sense that Belle would be a writer/editor with some experience as opposed to some neophyte--or a 50something man doing this just for kicks. But it's all so weird.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Will Batchelor's wire story covers some of the same ground but also features comments from Champion's mother:

Ms Champion’s mother, Elaine Champion, denied her daughter has any connection to the diary.

From her home in Chorlton, Manchester, she said: “It is totally untrue. Sarah didn’t write it, she has got nothing to do with it.

“I spoke to her yesterday and I think she is seeing the funny side. She wants it to blow over.

“Personally, I am quite embarrassed by it because I don’t know if our friends or family might see it and think it is true.

“Me and her father are very proud of her. She has done a lot for herself.

“She is certainly not a call girl. No way at all.”

So there you go. Is Belle really Sarah? Even if it is, does it make the diary "real" or totally fake? And will I stop finding stuff about this story to post? Stay tuned....

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