The calm after the storm

New York’s former top escort reflects on the business, the media circus, and her life back home in Montreal

Ex-escort Natalie McLennan has been bathing in the media spotlight ever since she appeared on the cover of New York Magazine wearing nothing more than a black satin bed sheet in July 2005. The revealing article, which detailed her one year reign as a top call-girl for New York Confidential, a high-class escort service, landed McLennan with a three-month jail sentence for money laundering and prostitution. She spent 26 days of the sentence at Rikers prison outside New York. McLennan rode out the media storm following fellow escort Ashlee Dupree’s scandal with Eliot Spitzer, doing interviews with various media outlets, from Larry King, to The Mirror and The Montreal Gazette, to Tyra Banks Online.

McLennan, who grew up with a middle-class family in the West End of Montreal and graduated from Royal West Academy, moved to New York to try to make it as an aspiring actress in her mid-twenties. While stuggling to make ends meet between off-Broadway plays, McLennan saw escorting as her best option. It was not long until McClennan was garnering a slew of 10-10 reviews on, and making $2,000 an hour. Her autobiography, released in November 2008, delivers all the juicy details about a job that dizzyingly blends sex, money, and drugs.

When I caught up with McClennan for an interview last week, I found it hard to imagine her having the cocaine-fuelled threesomes and private live sex shows she wrote about so candidly in The Price: My Rise and Fall as Natalia, New York’s #1 Escort. Trading her 5,000-squarefeet TriBeCa loft – complete with 26 Swarovski crystal chandeliers – for a spa job in Montreal and an apartment in the Plateau with burst pipes has given McClennan time to reflect on her year in the escort business. But she wouldn’t trade her New York story for any other, she says. It’s no fairy tale, but with a book deal and three cover stories under her belt, McClennan looks back at escorting with meditative nonchalance. It didn’t kill her. But it did make her famous.

The McGill Daily: When you came out to New York Magazine and declared that you had been working as an escort, what did you expect would happen?

Natalie McLennan: At that point, I was brainwashed by New York and the American media. Paris Hilton’s sex tape just came out and it made her a bigger celebrity and upped her band. I thought this was the way to get noticed and build my acting career. Jason [Itzler, owner of New York Confidential, who booked her escorting appointments] is also – I don’t want to use the w-word, but he’s a media whore. He only feels life is great when he’s in the press. People rub off on you a bit from osmosis. New York Magazine wanted me on the cover. And that’s where my ego got involved: who doesn’t want to be on the cover of New York Magazine? And I didn’t focus on the content; I focused on the achievement of landing the cover.

MD: How did the conversation you had with your family go before New York Magazine came out?

NM: It was not a great conversation. I’d like to say it was a relief to tell my family, but really it wasn’t because I could feel the pain it was inflicting as I told them.

MD: What made you decide to write the book?

NM: [Before the book], it wasn’t my voice [in the media], it was how everyone else wanted to perceive and portray me. It was a chance to tell my story my way, in my words.

MD: How does your experience of being thrown into the spotlight differ from Ashely Dupree’s, since she didn’t solicit it the way you did ?

NM: She was forced into the spotlight without choosing to go there. When Diane Sawyer interviewed Ashley Dupree, she just said the word prostitute over and over again to try to get Ashley to admit she’d been a prostitute rather than using the word escort. Once she admitted it, it was like: OK you’re guilty – that’s your story.

MD: How do you see how escorts are different from prostitutes?

NM: A prostitute is just about a sex act. In escorting, there is more expectation of going out on a date with someone. If you strip everything away, it’s really still sex-based. When I was doing it, it didn’t feel wrong. [Street sex work] is so high risk. Girls get beat up and abused all the time. For the most part they are treated really badly by the pimps they’re working for.

MD: Did you hope that the press coverage would be a true representation of you?

NM: I always hope. When I did New York Magazine, I sort of knew the story I was telling and I felt really comfortable with the reporter. But then I got thrown into the media, and they were developing my character. They were spinning me to tell their story, the story they wanted to tell. So I think the more I become comfortable with my story and who I am, the more I’m going to be able to project that in interviews.

MD: Do you think it’s difficult for conservative people to understand that you do decide to sell sex and that you don’t always get forced into it?

NM: Even though my personal circumstances were kind of desperate, [escorting] was still a choice that I made. I knew the potential for emotional and physical damage. But once I found out about the agency and the clients, the risk seemed really minimal – and they were. It gave me such a sense of confidence.

MD: Can you isolate what made working in the escort industry seem worth it? What kept you there for a whole year?

NM: I’ve always been a people person so getting to meet and intensely connect with lots of different people was really gratifying. Financially, it was gratifying and really addictive, too. I stayed in it because I had a goal: I wanted to have an amount of money I could save so I could walk away, and go back to bartending and going to auditions.

MD: What made you decide to come back home?

NM: After I got out of jail, I was begging the district attorney to let me come back home. I was convinced I was going to die. I was having seizures all the time from my drug use. I’d been hospitalized for overdoses. I didn’t have any resources there to help [me]. One, I wasn’t American. Two, there are very few social services there. They’d taken all my identification. I felt like I wasn’t a human being anymore. I wasn’t allowed to work or earn money legally. I wasn’t escorting…. God, it sounds so fucking dark, but the only thing I could do to calm down was to get really fucked up.

MD: How has it been to run into old friends now that you’re back in Montreal and the book is out?

NM: I have had such a warm reception, such a supportive homecoming. It’s shaped how I am now. That was actually what I was worried about when I decided to come back to Montreal. I didn’t know who I was at that point, so how was everyone else going to perceive me? I was concerned: is everyone going to reject me? Am I going to feel a wall between me and everyone else? It ended up being the complete opposite.

MD: Where do you think the peace you have with the whole thing comes from?

NM: I think I’m just kind of built that way. I lost it for a while, but that’s how I knew to search for it, to regain it, and get back to this place.

– compiled by Shannon Kiely