Hamish James looks like a mid-market David Beckham crossed with a kids’ party entertainer. He has a similar sleeve tattoo and coiffured bouffant but with a cherubic face, goofy laugh and less-toned abs.
You’d expect a touch more swagger from a man who often sleeps with seven different women in as many days and charges $400 per hour for the pleasure of his company. Instead James is shy, honest, down to earth – dare we say, boy-next-door.
I’m chatting with him in the lobby of the Novotel Melbourne. With his grey T, relaxed jeans and distinct lack of glitz, gold, or even a simple watch, James is proof that women want approachable, not sensational.
He’s 1.72cm, 83-kilogram evidence that being likeable is more important than being desirable. Women want a guy to shower them in compliments, furnish them with drinks and, as James puts it, “treat them like a queen.” After all, that’s how he’s gone from part-time tradie to professional escort with a personal assistant and PR, quicker than you can say, “actually, I do take Visa”.
It started when James was in his early twenties. A sucker for older ladies, he was dating a mature businesswoman named Erin. Think luxury accessories, expensive purses and sports cars. James fell head over her killer heels. Then Erin crushed his world.
She played the beautiful assassin expertly, plunging a dagger through James’ heart following dinner overlooking the Yarra.
“This is a transaction, nothing more,” Erin confessed. Not your typical break up line.
It was a harsh blow, but looking back, James says, it all added up. The easy lending of money with no follow up, cash gifts in cards labeled “go spoil yourself”, Arthur Galan dinner suits and Louis Vuitton shades in bowed parcels. Nobody’s girlfriend is that generous.
James had been unwittingly groomed into the role of male escort. He took a brief moment to boil in anger before coming to the not quite inevitable conclusion: “Why stop now?”
With the help of friends he fully committed to the business in 2012, investing in a razor sharp website, professional photos and even a mushy tag line. “You have my undivided and deserving attention, I hope I have yours.”
It was a huge financial risk but it paid off - with tips. James got into the industry just as it was beginning to take off. The male escort market has tripled over the last five years in the UK, according to a study from Lancaster University. And with the rise of over 20 new online male escort services here in recent times, growth is expected to surge.
“Clients seem to either not want or have the time for a ‘conventional’ relationship,” says lead researcher Dr Sarah Kingston on the motivation behind women paying for male company.
“They also pay for more than just sexual intercourse, they might go for a drink or meal with their chosen escort.”
James calls this full-service product “the boyfriend experience”, and it’s his most popular. “You take a girl out for two hours with the option of another couple hours back at the hotel,” he says.
Of course, it’s not all wining, dining and sixty-nineing. James once played the lead role in a painfully awkward voyeurism show, in which his client paid to watch him sleep with another woman. The mustachioed man perched himself in the corner of the hotel room, put his feet up and sipped on a glass of shiraz as he enjoyed the arse-slapping view.
When it comes to fetishes like this, James prides himself on an open door policy. No experience is too weird and no sexual desire too crude. He believes all relationships should be bound this way, despite the damage it would cause to his business.
“A lot of fetishes aren’t openly talked about when they should be,” he says. “Conversations about nurse outfits and threesomes shouldn’t be limited to you and your mates, bring it up with your partner.”
That’s the thing about escorting. It’s not Fifty Shades of Grey - it’s actually pretty damn transparent, James reckons. Women want companionship, support and to “feel special”.
“Clients are coming to me because of a lack of stimulation, but that’s more often in conversation than sex,” he says.
The escort business is also a way for women to get back into dating, reignite their sex life and reboot confidence. Statistics from a recent survey that found seven in 10 women have an “I hate my body” moment every week; 82 per cent worry about their belly and waistline; 42 per cent dislike their legs; 38 per cent are concerned with their bum and a similar proportion are unhappy with their skin.
A date with James will see each woman’s biggest insecurity either ignored or lavishly praised. Her breasts - exquisite. Her smile - breathtaking. “I find a connection with each individual, whether it’s their personality or a single physical feature,” he says. “There is always something you have an attraction too, you just have to find it.”
Compared to the ruthless world of real-life hook-ups, where you’re instantly judged by lacerating swipes on Tinder or plonked into the dating hot seat, blithely unaware of true emotions or intentions, escorting is both transactional and transparent, possibly even transformative.
“I want my service to be a sort of stepping stone,” says James. “I want to help women understand what kind of mental, physical and sexual fulfillment they are truly seeking in life.”
Follow these tips from Hamish James to make women putty in your hands...
“Always aim for at least smart casual, no trainers,” advises James. “Wear something you feel good in. Clothes draw out confidence so don’t wear anything uncomfortable or out of character.”
“Eat the same type of foods as your date,” says James. “It ensures neither of you feel like a pig when ordering a big bowl of pasta, or awkward with a little side salad.”
“She’s probably just as nervous as you. If she admits it, be honest and say ‘hey, don’t worry so am I’. You don’t need to act macho, you can laugh about it to break the ice.”
“Try to gauge how drunk your date is and match it. You don’t want to end up all sloppy and slurring your words, but try to relax and have a good time. You don’t want to come across as uptight and boring, even if it is a school night.”
“Remember you’re on a date. Avoid talking about work and keep it light hearted. Try to bounce off her energy. If she’s loud and bubbly so are you.” Espresso Martini’s it is.
“Make sure there isn’t any pressure, especially in your tone of voice. Saying ‘do you want to come back to mine?’ sounds sleazy. Plan to leave on your own and leave the rest up to chemistry.”