Inside the sugar bowl: An interview with one of London’s elite sugar daddies
“There’s no difference between a sugar baby and a prostitute”
The online Urban Dictionary gives the definition of a sugar daddy as being ‘like a genie – he may be a little old, but if a girl rubs his lamp, he’ll grant her wishes’. Amusing as this is, it contravenes everything we’ve been told about the ‘sugar bowl’ (this lifestyle/dating scene) by both society and the people within it: that a sugar daddy is someone who provides a young woman with financial assistance in return for companionship, and not sex. Sure there are some sugar babies that offer sex as well as company, but for those put off by the idea of sleeping with people for money being a sugar baby is packaged and marketed to us (by countless news articles and sites like Seeking Arrangement) as sex-free dates with wealthy old men. Seeking Arrangement is one of the most commonly used sites for sugar daddies to chat with potential sugar babies.
The appeal of the sugar bowl for young people, particularly students at universities, is obvious. So when I was put in contact with a former RHUL student and current sugar daddy, the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss his lifestyle was too intriguing to refuse. After emailing back and forth, he suggests we meet at the Dorchester Hotel, as it has ‘a lot of contemporary history related to the sugar life’ that would be interesting for me to know. He wished to conceal his identity for this article.
When I ask him why he chose to be a sugar daddy, rather than pursuing normal relationships, his answer is the clichéd ‘I have no time for a girlfriend’. He first entered the sugar bowl five years ago after a colleague introduced him to the concept, and now for him work and pleasure is often combined. He owns and operates a cyber security company, saying, ‘It’s not just high net clients I help, it’s also girls in this [lifestyle]. One girl I helped was charging £100 per meet. But if sex is included, you should be charging minimum 500 quid a meeting. That’s why she was being treated like shit. Ultimately guys will pay a lot of money, anything between £300-£500.’
He says he did his undergraduate degree at Bournemouth and his Masters at Royal Holloway between 2012-2013. He tells me a number of girls at Royal Holloway are in the sugar bowl, but advises, ‘don’t put that you’re in Egham [on a Seeking Arrangement profile], and don’t post photos on campus.’ Because you can get traced easily, and ‘because guys will get off on that’.
He has buckets of sage advice for girls who want to get into the sugar bowl, and he tells me he often acts as a mentor to the girls he comes across. ‘Treat it like a business: set your fees, set your goals, and if you’re clever in this – say you’re a writer, for example – you might meet journalists and people who work in the industry. You could use this as a networking opportunity and meet the right people.’
As well as receiving mentoring, the main attraction for student sugar babies is the money. A big concern for him is that the girls he has arrangements with are smart with their money. ‘I ask them if they’ve put it in investments, and a lot of time they say no because they’re paying off student debts. But it’s great that these girls understand that it’s easy money for them.’ But he warns against flaunting any newly acquired designer duds on the Internet: ‘If you’re living the lifestyle, don’t start posting photos of yourself in Louboutins at the Dorchester.’ The possibility that people will begin to ask questions is implicit in his caution. Something akin to puzzle pieces in the back of my mind clicks at this. His warning reminds me of the countless times I’ve scrolled through Instagram and seen girls I know with scores of expensive bags and shoes, photographed in upmarket restaurants or in sunnier climes. Their lifestyles begin to make sense to me now as I realise that it’s highly likely that many of them are in a similar line of work to me.
Since he started, he’s had a small number of sugar babies. He freely admits that, ‘I will never be seen with a really old girl. I’m not gonna be seen in public with a girl who doesn’t fit my profile.’ He’s never had a sugar baby younger than 20, on the basis that girls of that age are more mature, they’ve often studied for a few years and have more to talk about. ‘Early on I’d be seeing a new girl every few months, but I wasn’t enjoying it. Then I met someone who I really clicked with and I pursued that for a long time.’ He said the arrangement lasted for two years. I ask what happened. ‘She met a guy, her husband. She invited me to her wedding. We’re on-off friends.’ I tease him that he seems sad about it. She sounds like the one that got away. He laughs it off.
What does he think makes a successful sugar baby? ‘You have to be broad-minded. You have to have a brain cell. I’m attracted to beautiful women, but if you can’t hold a conversation with me… I’m not gonna ask you to talk about nuclear physics, but just talk about everyday life. If you’ve just been talking about I’m a Celebrity, it’s unlikely we’re gonna get far. To get turned on I need to be mentally there.’ And what about sex? Is it a prerequisite? Does it come written into the contract, Christian Grey style? I ask him to clarify if he thinks being a sugar baby and prostituting yourself is the same thing. His answer shocks me. ‘Definitely. The only people in denial about this are those running the websites (like Seeking Arrangement). But there’s no difference between a sugar baby and prostitute – you’re being paid for your time.’
He makes another surprising revelation. ‘I don’t know any girl with money who has gone into this,’ he says. It makes sense, for cash-strapped students it’s an ideal situation. An older man takes you out to exclusive restaurants, gives you money for it, offers mentoring and advice, and all you have to do is put out. For transparency, we agree to use the term ‘working girl’, perhaps euphemistically depending on how you view sex work, as it covers a wide range of jobs in the sex industry, from sugar baby, to escort, to prostitute.
We discuss the phenomena of the working girl in London’s luxury spaces. He offers me a short tour of the hotel when I tell him I want to spot one. ‘Oh you can spot them, you can always spot them. Posture is sexy, and these girls know how to get a man’s attention. If a girl is sitting at a bar, straight back – look out for the features, Rolex watch, Louboutins, anything expensive, especially if she’s on her own.’
We know that the lure of easy money is the main reason young women sign up for sites like Seeking Arrangement, but what leads men into the lifestyle? ‘Sex, money and death – those are all the reasons people have affairs. A lot of these married men have a very boring, stale love life at home, so they want to go out and experiment. They wanna treat their girl, and their wife is quite happy wearing her normal Debenhams gear. If a guy wants to take you shopping, you’re not gonna say no.’
How does he think his parents would react if they knew their son was a sugar daddy? ‘They know people pay for it and do this sort of stuff. They would be disappointed. Of course they would be!’ What is interesting about this comment is that for him any sort of social stigma to be had from being in the sugar bowl is, in his parent’s eyes at least, equally weighted against both men and women.
He tells me would love to settle down in a few years time. How different are the qualities he would look for in a potential girlfriend rather than a potential sugar baby? ‘I want my partner to be independent and I think everyone should have his or her own life. As long as she’s not gonna stay at home and be a bum, because it’s really important for your mental health.’ He wouldn’t rule out potentially marrying one of his sugar babies.
A month after our first interview we meet up once more, and again he takes me to the heart of London’s sugar culture: Claridge’s for drinks, Novikov, and the Mayfair Hotel, elaborating more on the history of the sugar bowl. Historically, Claridge’s was where politicians and rich businessmen would meet their mistresses, enjoying a drink or two before taking it upstairs to a room.
At Novikov we spot two working girls. He tells me the girls usually go out in pairs, and will order the cheapest drink on the menu – the men they meet will buy them champagne.
As part of my research he suggests I make an account with the popular site Seeking Arrangement, and I’m intrigued enough to give it a go. His advice is to be firm and straightforward with what you want. Part quest to dispel his idea that all sugar babies are just glorified prostitutes, part personal interest (wouldn’t it be fun to go on dates with men for money?), I set up my account under the tongue-in-cheek username ‘givemeyamoney’. I am inundated with messages almost instantly, and by the time I check my profile the next morning I have over forty registered interests and messages.
The men range from normal guys with modest incomes, to blatantly fake profiles (net worth £30 million, annual income £100,000), to perverts. I’m reminded of something he said early on in the interview. The men on Seeking Arrangement could be anyone: ‘it could be your teacher, it could be your vicar, it could be the milkman, it could be your dad’, I shudder at this last thought. One man states on his profile that he is ‘looking for my Melanie Trump’, another that he is on the hunt for an ‘amezin girl’.
As I thought, I get a few creepy messages, and among the men who approach me are a magic circle lawyer and a bestselling author. Most men quickly stopped talking to me once I let them know I was only looking for a platonic arrangement, but some seemed to get offended, and then angry, that I didn’t want to sleep with them for money.
The results of my research are disappointing, but not surprising, depending on how you view the phenomenon of the sugar bowl. Of the 87 men who messaged me, only one entertains my offer of a platonic sugar relationship, the one we are led to believe is the norm. The man who is interested is only so because he’s a submissive, and would get off on me spending his money and humiliating him. I’m down with that for the right price, but the conversation soon comes to an end. I am resigning myself to the possibility that a platonic sugar arrangement is impossible.
Back at Novikov, my final question to our sugar daddy before we part is simple. He’s young, smart, kind, and generous; finding a girlfriend shouldn’t be a problem for him. Why is he a sugar daddy? The answer is simple: ‘No drama.’