Real lives: `I was paid to talk dirty on the phone' When 32-year-old Renee Walker found herself out of work, she discovered she could make money by fulfilling men's sexual fantasies - without even meeting them.
`Last year, over a period of six months, I made more than 300 men climax without ever touching them or even taking my clothes off. I was a phone-sex operator.
`At the time I was an out-of-work actress signing on and struggling to get by on my weekly giro. One day I saw an advert in The Stage newspaper that read, "Open-minded girls required for chat line, call..." I'd never dreamed of doing anything like that before but it just seemed like a bit of fun. One friend was appalled and said it was the slippery slope, but I looked on it as just another form of acting. And I liked the idea of glimpsing into men's minds.
`I never met my boss Julie in person - we spoke on the phone - but I imagined her to be a cross between Cindy Beale and Tiffany Mitchell, a hard-nosed working woman with her heart in the right place. Never meeting made it all seem more exciting and undercover.
`Julie helped me come up with a harem of characters that would get men going: Susie, a naughty schoolgirl; Vanessa, mid-20s and middle class; Margaret, wealthy and menopausal... the list was endless. Susie was by far the top of the poll, which troubled me a bit because she was so young - but that's men's fantasies for you.
`Most evenings after I'd watched Coronation Street or EastEnders I'd go up to my bedroom and ring Julie to say I was available. Within 30 minutes she'd call me back with the name and number of a customer, together with some background on his likes and dislikes and the character I was to play.
Ads were placed in the back of certain newspapers and the men would ring up at all times of night.
`My first-ever call was surprisingly easy - he was already highly aroused before I'd even got started and I didn't have to do much to finish the job. The call went something like: Me: (breathy, young cockney voice) "Hello...my name's Susie, you've been expecting my call." Him: "Hello Susie, how old are you?" Me: "17..." Him: "Oooh... how long have you been doing this job?" Me: (giggles) "This is my first-ever call... You might have to guide me a bit..." Him: "Oh, you'll be fine... You sound gorgeous. What do you look like?" Me: "I'm 5ft 4in, 34C bust, shoulder-length blonde hair with brown eyes..." Him: "What are you wearing and where are you?" Me: (giggles) "I'm lying on my bed and I'm wearing a little white crop top and matching shorts... Where are you?" Him: "On my sofa." Me: "Are you touching yourself?" Him: (groans) "Yeah..." Me: "Why don't you imagine I'm there with you..." Him: "Yeah." Me: "Go on, stroke it... Shall I take my shorts off?" Him: "Ooh please... (groan)" Me: (sighs and giggles) "Ooh yes. I bet you'd love to put your c*** in me now wouldn't you?" Him: "Oh god..." Then the phone went dead.
`The thought of a guy climaxing like that, purely on the sound of my voice, shocked me at first. On the one hand I felt a bit cheap and degraded but it also gave me a real thrill and a rush of power. I earned 20 to 30p a minute, depending on the length of call a client booked. If he'd paid pounds 60 for an hour's call I saw only pounds 12 of it, and I got pounds 1.50 for five minutes' work.
`What surprised me most was how the clients could suspend their disbelief to sky-high levels. So many seemed to genuinely believe I was a 16-year- old (even worse, 14 or 15, at their request). "You're a lovely girl - don't let the boys in your class take advantage," they'd say or "Good luck with your exams."
`The most repelling clients tried to justify their fantasies: "Well you like talking dirty, don't you - you wouldn't do it otherwise." Oh yes, and women become prostitutes because sex with strangers is their favourite pastime. The hilarious ones thought they were actually pleasuring me, urging, "Go on, let me hear how turned on you are."
`I admit, sometimes I did get turned on. The first job of the night would tend to have an effect, then the novelty wore off. Bizarrely, pretending to climax loudly several times a night without the physical sensation to match often gave me headaches. It's a shame my brain's sensual messaging went only so far. I would have liked a "free" orgasm every now and then!
`One regular client (Freddie) who I grew to loathe seemed to organise his life around a routine of phone sex and prostitutes. He saw himself as the godfather of altruism by specially requesting me. He confided that he refused to use the prostitutes in his own area (Warrington) and headed for Leeds where they were much cheaper and "let him do more".
`Most of the calls I could walk away from with a clear conscience, but misogynistic, patronising customers like Freddie would leave a bad taste in my mouth, because I could imagine him treating women like that for real, and the thought of it turned my stomach.
`I never had a steady boyfriend during the job, thankfully. Any man would get jealous. But in a way the phone sex has improved my sex life because it's given me an insight into the male psyche. `Now sometimes I use my phone skills on a lover for a surprise late at night when we can't be together. They love it and it gives me a thrill because I know who they are. It makes all the difference.
`I surprised myself at the aspects of my character I needed to give good phone sex. I'd be a counsellor, friend and lover all in the space of five or ten minutes.
`One client, Martin, had an obsession with, of all things, the Tiller Girls. I had to become a Tiller Girl trainer and put him through his paces as he wore fishnet tights, leotard and feathers. He'd adopt a Julian Clary voice and sing, "I'm Margery Agnew - Tiller Girl." I made him kick his legs higher and higher and talked him through grooming routines.
`I really worked hard for my money. A lot of the men were into S&M, which I knew nothing about, so I watched Channel 4 documentaries and learned what to "make" them do, like cleaning the toilet with their tongue. Yuck. The range of what turned these men on was limitless. I've always seen myself as fairly liberated sexually, but some of their ideas made me feel like a square. A new client with run-of-the-mill fantasies was a relief, I could give a practically scripted performance.
`One very friendly client in Northern Ireland would regularly book a 40-minute call and spend 25 talking shit (by which I don't mean rubbish) and the other 15 chatting about how he hated his job, lived in a remote area with his mother at the age of 40, had no friends, let alone a girlfriend, and spent his week looking forward to his Friday night call with his favourite girl. I liked him. After a while I told him to book 30 minutes and gave the rest free.
`But not all the guys were single, some simply wanted to talk over fantasies they couldn't indulge with their wives or girlfriends in case they upset them or got laughed at, like pretending I was Britney Spears. Most of the callers were harmless, but there were a scary few.
`One man wanted to tie piano wire round my neck. One tried to act out a rape fantasy. Another said he'd touched a friend's young child when she was asleep - these were the calls I cut dead. When I warned them I wouldn't go down that road, they'd back- peddle with "Hey relax, it's only a fantasy." I only hoped that talking about their sick fetishes might stop them actually doing anything. I don't know if that's naive.
`My friends knew about my job but I didn't tell anyone else without some prompting - usually at a party when a drunken mate would nudge me if I was talking to an attractive man and whisper loudly, "Tell him about the job..." They were normally more intrigued than shocked.
`Six months later, after I'd left acting and got an office job, I gave up the phone-sex business. I never made that much money - about pounds 900 in all - and after a while it became depressing. None of my new colleagues know what I did before and they don't need to.
`It certainly hasn't put me off men. The most tangible lesson I learned was sex, like death and loneliness, is a great leveller. It's easy to make judgements on the kind of people I dealt with, but show me a person who's never made a contribution to the UK's pounds 6 billion sex industry - maybe with a sneaky peek on a website or buying a vibrator from Ann Summers - and I'll show you someone who needs to get out more.'