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Can a male escort fool. . . By Catherine Townsend

He costs £65 an hour, but could this male escort convince Catherine Townsendís four nosy friends heís her new boyfriend?

My palms are sweating as I enter the restaurant to meet my blind date. Not only have I never met him before, but we are seeing one of my closest girlfriends for lunch - and im starting to panic.

Rob, 29, works for Cavendish Knights, a make escort agency which has over 1,400 men on its books, of all ages and physical types. Online, he looks gorgeous (naturally) - he has a sexy smile and claims to be over 6ft tall.

But will he disappoint in the flesh? Iíve had enough blind-date horror stories to last me a lifetime and I canít shift the image of a gold-chained gigolo from my mind. Rob has worked part-time at the agency for a year, and averages two Ďdatesí per week. I have no doubt he can handle work functions, but can a male escort Iíve known for ten minutes convince my closest friends weíre a loved-up couple?

No need to worry because when I spot him Iím swooning on sight. Heís a bit too gorgeous. Im not sure anyone will believe I could genuinely pull this man? "Hi Cat, its lovely to meet you, lets get you a drink," he says, putting me instantly at ease. Good manners score major points with me. Then again, thatís the least I would expect from someone who cost £65 an hour.

Iíve told everyone Iím writing an article about introducing a new boyfriend to all my colleagues and friends in the same day, to see how he copes. They think Rob and I met a few weeks ago. Given that my longest relationship in three years lasted 6 weeks, this is major news. My friends are desperate to meet - and question - him.

We have five minute to cobble together a story before my best friends Natasha, a divorce lawyer, arrives. "I usually just say we meet in a bar," he says. Iím worried heís drastically underestimating the nosy nature of my friends. Natasha will want to know he wooed me, when we first kissed and defiantly how serious he is about me. No light interrogation, I warn him.

Unfazed, he simply says, "itís going to be fun." His cavalier attitude cause a nasty, nervous rash to prickle its way up my neck.

Time for the first challenge.

The best friend
When Natasha arrives, I can see how impressed she is that Rob stands and pulls out a chair for her. He immediately orders her a drink and is really enthusiastic about the choice of restaurant (Iíve mentioned its her favorite). He is charm personified and sheís melting in front of me - whereís the barrage of questions?

When she eventually asks how we meet, I blurt out, "I sort of picked him up in a bar, playing pool," taking a mouthful of pasta to buy some time.

"Yeah, she is extraordinarily bad at pool," he adds smoothly, touching my arm. Very convincing. She teases him about the pressure of meeting so many of your new partners friends so soon, and he jokes about planning to introduce me to his entire family next weekend. "She does put me in some strange situations, but sheís definitely worth it." He says.

Natasha has clearly decided heís the man for me. Instead of the usual character assassination I expect new men to endure, she politely and gently asks about his career and ambitions. Since Rob works a day job as a consultant engineer, his comments are all plausible and he bats back answers like a true pro.

The wine flows and he slips his hand into mine - very slick and, dare I say it, also very welcome. An hour later, the meal is over and within minutes of us parting, I receive a text from Natasha saying, "Heís amazing!" I feel bad so I confess the truth to her, but sheís having none of it. "I donít care if you hired him, you cant fake chemistry like that. Heís totally into you." One-nil to us.

The ex
Next up is my ex who works in banking. Heís a typical Australian - very easy-going - and takes to Rob straight away when we meet for a drink in east London that afternoon. Sacha enjoys recounting a few embarrassing stories that demonstrate my drama-queen tendencies, but Rob is playing along nicely. He even looks interested when we start talking about old friends he, of course, has never heard of. Rob is also buying all the drinks - his expense account must be enormous.

Feeling Rob is on very safe ground, I go to the ladies to touch up my make-up. When I return, I can hear Sachaís belly laugh echoing around the room. But Rob is looking terrified. Whatís happened in the past two minutes?

"You havenít told him about your embarrassing little problem yet then?" Sacha bellows across the room at me. Oh my God! "No I havenít, Sacha," I squeal. And its true, I havenít told Rob - and im not telling you.

I wrap this one up as soon as possible and we head to the next meeting. After such an abrupt end to our drink, I call Sacha and come clean straight away. Like Natasha, he says heíd never have guessed Rob wasnít my boyfriend, before adding, "although if anyone was going to give the game away, it would have been you - you were do touchy. Oh, and I caught him looking at your chest." Sacha then asks me about 40 questions on how to become a male escort.

The family spy Rob and I jump in a cab and head back to my flat, where weíre going to meet Vincent, a family friend who has known my parents for years. My mum adores him and really values his opinion. But heís a journalist whose day job involves grilling politicians. Even in polite company, heís asks lots of probing questions.

True to form, Vincent manageís to cover Robís background, his job and where he studied, all before the kettle has boiled.

Vincent has also spent a lot of time in Robís southwest London neighborhood and keeps quizzing him about where he hangs out. This is the worse than some of my most torturous job interview. Even Rob looks keen to get it over with. Then we move on to Ďusí, and Rob is seriously running out of steam. What kind of things do we enjoy doing together? What does he think of my work? What do his family and friends think of me? What have we got planned for the next few weeks? And on and on it goes. Vincent is on a roll; he can see Rob is struggling and he looks like heís enjoying it. I start glaring at him but that only makes him worse. I need to put out of his misery and fast - I throw hot tea down my yelp as it burns me. This is desperate.

Finally, Vincent says he has to get going and I rush to get his coat. But as he leaves, he shots Rob an ĎI know your up to somethingí sideways glance. Sure enough, when I call the next day to see what he thinks, Vincent says, "he seems like a really nice guy, Cat, but I have to tell you I think heís hiding something personal." He points out that every time he asked Rob a question about himself or us, he seemed reluctant to give information. "Iíd ask him a question like, Ďwhat do you do for a living?í and he would respond with something like, Ďso working at Westminster must be interesting, tell me about your typical day.í"

When I tell him the truth, he laughs. "Heíd fit right in with the politicians; in the Commons, they use that technique all the time."

Like the rest of my friends, he was impressed with Robís manners. "Your mum would love him," he concludes, so itís not all bad.

The competition
The fourth and (thankfully) final stop is dinner with a close friend, Nicole, who works in PR. By this stage, our story is well rehearsed and with cocktails flowing, im confident weíll end on a high.

Nicole is one of my single friends and great at keeping the conversation going - she, too, has suffered many a disastrous first (and last) date.

As our main courses come and go, I can see Nicole has really taken a shine to Rob - in fact, Iíd say sheís flirting with him. Its subtle, but the signs are there - and suddenly im starting to feel a bit invisible. Yet, unlike every other man Iíve ever dated, Rob picks up on this and leans across to take my hand, flashing a reassuring smile my way. He is taking his professional duties very seriously indeed.

After dessert, Nicole and I head to the ladies. "Oh my God, he is so hot!" she sighs as soon as weíre out of earshot. "Im a total gooseberry so im going to say my goodbyes and leave you to it."

As she makes her exist, Rob and I turn to congratulate each other on a job well done and I feel confident enough to ask, "do you have a girlfriend?" he smiles at me. "No, im single. I joined the agency because I thought it would be an adventure," he says "but if I had a serious girlfriend that would be another type of adventure."

Is he flirting with me? I think so, and im flirting outrageously back. "I have to tell you, youíre stunning and very sexy girl." He tells me smiling. But dose he mean it? Or is he visualizing what heíll buy with his fee from tonight? In donít care. Im busy plotting how im going to afford our second date.

THE NEW FACE OF DATING?
Cavendish knights is one of the UK only no-sexual escort agencies. Founder Tony Perry says they currently have 6,000 clients - about 70% are career women. "We have a rigorous vetting procedure for all escorts, so clients can be sure of safety and discretion," he says. "Thereís no legislation in the Uk for agencies and the majority sell sex. We offer company; the escorts use their real names, give you their mobile numbers, always meet you in a public place and youíll have a secret code to identify them. A good agency will always provide you with proof of their security checks."

They say money can't buy you love - but thanks to the male escort agencies if you have the cash at least you can buy a man. Just donít expect him to come home with you at the end of the evening - these escorts arenít selling sex. Theyíre flogging their company rather than their bodies.

Typing male escort into a search engine on the Internet, Iím convinced Iíll be faced with all kinds of dodgy sites. But to my surprise Cavendish knights "non-sexual" male escort agency is one of the first to pop up on my screen. Once Iíve logged in, I have access to hundreds of men for hire in all shape and sizes and all around the UK. Rob, 29, has a friendly smile and his profile fits the bill, so I contact the agency and arrange to meet him for dinner in a few days. Iím amazed to find myself worrying about what to wear.

I might be paying for his time but I still donít want him to think I look like a dogís dinner. When we meet outside the restaurant Rob compliments me on my coat. I might be a mug but his comment breaks the ice.

Impress
He has been working as an escort for a year on top of his day job as a consultant engineer. He charges £65 an hour with a three-hour minimum and averages two assignments a week. More than 50% of his clients, who include teachers and even a policewoman, are regulars. During the last year he has escorted women to everything from work functions to evenings at the theatre and even the Chelsea flower show.

By the end of the evening Iím beginning to see the advantages. There have been no awkward pauses in conversation and none of that tension that goes with trying to impress a genuine date. When it comes to paying the bill, however the pitfalls of hiring a date hit me. But if you havenít found Mr right and have the Cash to splash, I cam recommend Mr right now as an emergency stop-cap.

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