Josh picking up his trophy for Male Sex Worker of the Year at the 2011 Erotic Awards (All photos courtesy of Josh Brandon)
London is home to many of the priciest things in the world. There’s a parking space that sold for $670,000, a bottle of champagne for $200,000, the $235 million apartment and, if you really feel like it, you can drop $50 for a sofa seat at a movie theater. There's also Josh Brandon, one of the most expensive escorts around. Reports peg his annual earnings at $500,000. Just a single night with him can cost almost $7,000, or almost twice the average monthly salary of a person in the UK.
Josh has been causing a stir in the sex work industry lately for his push to legitimise the oldest profession in the world. It’s time to stop stigmatising sex workers, he argues, and treat them as the productive members of society they are. I spoke with him to find out more, and in the process discovered he’s busy building himself an empire.
VICE: Okay, so let’s get this out of the way. It’s been reported you clear $500,000 a year being an escort. Is that true?
Josh Brandon: You went there already! Well, my end of year return is due soon and I don't fancy filing it early. Let's say I'm not going to pop up on the Forbes rich list any time soon, but I’m not going broke any time soon either.
How do you earn so much? Are you doing something other escorts aren’t?
It's easier to make a lot of money if you love what you do. I think anyone who enjoys their job is going to make more than those who think, "Damn, I gotta work again." Plus, it’s about being creative. I have VIP cards—kind of like Starbucks. So it’s just being creative and using regular good business practices, and the money follows from that.
Where do you draw the line with extreme requests from clients? Or is it just a case of, “That’ll cost you another grand”?
Things like bodily fluids and bondage on the receiving end are a no-no. Being in control is very important. Anything unsafe is off the menu, regardless of price.
You prefer the term “escort” to “sex worker.” You also think the term “prostitution” is outdated. Why?
“Prostitution” is so last century. The business has changed since the advent of the internet. The term “escort” covers more areas. For example, sex happens, but sex doesn't always happen. I have disabled clients who can only cuddle or chat; I have clients who want companionship in non-sexual ways. And a lot of escorts now are true entrepreneurs. If someone disagrees with that, I would say, “Why? This is a capitalist country after all. Everything is OK to sell except for sex and companionship? That’s just bizarre.”
Where I’m from in America there are a lot of Christian fundamentalists who would label you “bizarre” for being an escort. What would you say to the people who make those kinds of moral judgements about you?
I am very spiritual, believe it or not. But I don't buy the dogma. I keep it simple. The universe has laws. It’s always expanding, growing; everything is in a constant state of change. It must love all things equally if it created everything and creation is done out of love. I don't think you can create from hate.
Josh in Miami
Do you feel society stigmatises you, as a male escort, less than it does your female counterparts?
Oh, trust me, I still take flak—and occasional death threats. But it's much easier for males in my line of work. But among the bisexual guys I've dated, many have said they would never date a woman who did what I do, yet they’ll date me. When they explain, it comes to down to general sexism.
You’ve compared being a sex worker to a psychologist. What have you learned about the human psyche from your clients?
As a gay escort, learning how many people believe that “fitting in” is more important than personal happiness is the biggest eye opener. Many of my clients have a lot of repressed feelings and desires—and not only older clients. I'm still amazed how many young 18–25-year-old clients still feel they “have to” get married, and yet don't want to. It’s also quite evident how nationality and race affects those beliefs. Then there’s a lot of clients who bring up early sexual experiences they need to relieve and express feelings they've never talked about with anyone.
Josh in New York
Do you feel you’ve helped any of these people in some deeper way?
A client in New York I met weekly over a few months, the effect the experience had on him—he was questioning everything and he told me on our last meeting how his life had changed because of our time. He was happier. Family life, business, everything got better. He said he felt like he dealt with things that were beneath the surface. I’ve had lots of experiences like that, and those are the best in my opinion.
You're campaigning to promote the legitimacy of sex work in the hopes it will lessen its stigma. What change do you want to see?
It's about creating a safer environment. If no one talks about sex work publicly it could continue to go deeper underground, which will only make it more dangerous for people forced into sex work against their will. It's about recognizing that some of us are business people, yet others aren’t in it by choice—and they shouldn’t be ignored.
Josh in an advert for the NUM
Which brings us to the charity you work with: The National Ugly Mugs Scheme. What to they do?
The NUM is very important and unique. It lets escorts make reports direct to the project to be logged in their database so other escorts can be alerted to any dodgy dudes. Escorts can check the database and get alerts via emails, text or the app. NUM helps escorts report crimes to the police anonymously. That's vital because most escorts won't report crimes, expecting the police to not be interested or do anything—or maybe even arrest them. That’s because not everyone knows where they legally stand. The charity works closely with all police forces around the country on behalf of street sex workers and escorts. Everyone in the business would be smart to sign up.
You’re a guy. Do you think female escorts have to fear for their safety more than males do?
Reports that come in from NUM show males and females are more or less equally likely to suffer violence from clients. I weigh, like, 110 pounds with a 25-inch waist, so I guess I’m in the same boat.
Any advice for escorts on how they can better protect themselves?
It's about having a strong mind and the confidence to deal with situations. Being smart every time—taking measures as if you expect someone to be violent, even if there's no reason to think so. Only meeting in hotels or your home with safety measures in place—like friends expecting a call at a certain time and keeping all information about your whereabouts logged in different places other people have access to.
If a friend came to you and said they wanted to get into the escort industry, what would you tell them?
I used to advise newbies a lot—I get asked more than I can respond to. One guy ignored everything and got himself in trouble with drugs and other things, so I'm less eager to advise since then. But visit uknswp.org/um and read everything, know the risks. Go into it as a business, respectful of customers. Know yourself first, your limits, and have a hard head. If it's about desperation for money, don’t get into it. If drugs are an issue, deal with that first, because drug problems could easily be amplified in this business. And realise that only about 5 percent of people in this business actually make big money.
You have a book, several internet businesses, and a tapas lounge all in the works. If those do really well, are you getting out of the escort game?
[...] Sometimes it gets to the point where I can't meet clients, and it's annoying because I still see “Josh Brandon” as my first business and want him to keep going. So then I have to increase my rates and work less when other business gets busy. My time is worth more these days, but when it goes beyond what clients can afford, that’s when I'll have to hang up my overnight bag.
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