In depth: Vice girl reveals all about her career

Every morning, Laura Lee wakes up, takes a shower and makes her ten-year-old daughter breakfast. She puts on a smart suit, grabs her briefcase and enjoys a brisk walk to work. Her first meeting with an important client is scheduled for 9am.

Laura's day is no normal office run, though. Instead of business papers, her briefcase is filled with whips, chains, handcuffs and sex toys, and hiding underneath the smart-cut three-piece and conservative jacket is a basque, lacy underwear and suspenders, plus anything else that been specifically requested by her clients.

For the past 16 years, Laura has been a sex worker, selling her services - from an innocent date to full intercourse, bondage and kinks - to men and occasionally women across Edinburgh and Glasgow.

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Contrary to common assumptions, Laura is not a drug addict. She doesn't even drink alcohol.

• News investigation reveals sex for sale at Balmoral Hotel

She has not been forced into the trade, there's no pimp lurking in the alleyway shadows and she "doesn't take any c**p" from customers who refuse to play by her rules. Laura pays national insurance, is registered with the tax man as a "corporate therapist", has a pension plan and pays taxes on her earnings. She even employs an accountant.

Sitting in a city centre restaurant, sipping a glass of tonic and lime, the 34-year-old law graduate is a confident, headstrong and sassy young woman, who talks openly about her trade.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about her; just brown curls, pale Irish skin and a sprinkling of make-up. Only the figure-hugging leather trousers draw glances from passers-by.

Laura explains that she is a well-known prostitute in the Capital - in her own words, "a bit of a mother hen" - who mentors other women who want to get into the game. She is also an activist for the International Union of Sex Workers, which operates much like any other trade union.

Confidently, she says: "I'm happy with my life and I love my job.

"Generally, the people who criticise the trade don't understand it, or they're talking about a darker side of the industry, which most of us don't even agree with or get mixed up in.

"I'll be the first to admit things haven't always been this good.

"I was outed in the last town I lived in, which wasn't exactly open-minded. Some of the locals found my website. Excrement was pushed through my letter box, people screamed at me in the street, eggs were thrown at my windows. They essentially forced me out.

"I lost my job, too. It was with a high street firm and when it came out they said I'd broken my contract."

She snorts: "They all knew what I did, even top management. My nickname in the office was Belle de Jour, for God's sake.

"One of the senior execs actually contacted me right before it all came out. He was interested in using my services. That was awkward."I never replied."

Since moving to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Laura has seen few problems, "apart from the odd worrying client" and the time she was busted by a next-door neighbour after receiving too many "gentleman callers".

Laura says that she is one of thousands of escorts working professionally and discreetly throughout the Capital, whether in a private residence, brothel or a hotel.

The legislation concerning prostitution, although slightly grey, dictates that it is not illegal in Scotland to sell sex services. It is, however, against the law to solicit on the streets, operate a brothel or act as a pimp. Kerb crawling is also illegal.

The concept of two escorts working in a flat together is, by law, defined as a brothel, and this is something Laura takes serious issue with.

"It's crazy," she says. "It's the kind of shoddy legislation that can see escorts get into trouble or act irresponsibly. It's pretty important to have another girl nearby. Whenever we do a job, we'll always call a 'buddy' when we meet the client, then I'll say a code word so she knows everything is OK, and we'll buzz her again after the session is done. If there's one other person in the property at the same time, that makes the job far safer.

"We don't want to work in secrecy. What we do isn't shameful. I pay my taxes and my national insurance, and I pay money into a pension pot. Why can't escorts who play by the rules be treated like anybody else?"

She adds: "The police aren't as much of a problem here. You tend to find there's a lot more tolerance in Edinburgh than there is in Glasgow. Brothels and saunas are more readily accepted and the police will regularly check up on girls working them, or on the streets. Sure, people have had bad experiences, but Edinburgh is an easier city to work in. It's policy that is the problem.

"I'm very concerned about a bit of legislation that Trish Godman is trying to get through, which would prohibit the purchase of sex in Scotland. The criminalisation of the male client is nonsensical. Surely it would be a criminal waste of taxpayers' money and police resources to persecute consenting adults who pay for sex? It is high time we concentrated our efforts and resources on helping the vulnerable, such as children in the care system who are being groomed for 'sale' at an early age."

For the past couple of years Laura has been acting as a prostitute mentor, making sure those who become an escort know all the ropes.

She says: "A lot of them don't know what they're getting into, so I'll show them where to go, what to do, like a tour guide."

For an hour-long job Laura charges 150, but if a client wants her to himself for a week it'll set him back 5000.

She readily admits being up for "almost anything", but she views it as an office job, without the 9am to 5pm working hours.

"If you want to be good, you have to deal with everybody in the same manner, no matter the age, size or personality," she says. "They're paying for a service and I provide said service. While there can be that element of Belle du Jour glamour, you're just as likely to get an 80-something-year-old with bad breath and false teeth as you are some hunk with a six-pack.

"I do all sorts, I'm really quite open. If a guy, or a girl, has a preferred costume, or act, I'll try to please him. Some people know exactly what they want, others haven't got a clue.

"I tend to share most of my time between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but I'll tour other cities and wealthier clients - businessmen, footballers, celebrities - have taken me abroad for a week or more. I would never reveal who they are, though. Discretion is key.

"There is the odd occupational hazard. You risk a client getting the wrong idea, especially when they ask you to act out a relationship-like scenario.

"A lot of the people who visit me are quite lonely and they have a fantasy in their head that we have some sort of relationship going on. To make that seem real, they want somebody who looks like girlfriend material."

Despite her occupation, Laura says she's never had a problem with maintaining relationships. Although currently single, she has experienced a number of healthy, long-term relationships with men who were aware of her occupation. Her last boyfriend, who she was with for two years, visited escorts himself, although he never paid Laura for services.

But one relationship she is worried about is the one with her young daughter, who has no idea what Laura does for a living.

Fiddling nervously with a napkin, she says: "She's started asking questions now. I'm honest with my daughter, we have a very open relationship, but I worry about her classmates finding out, about her being bullied at school. When I go away on tour I tell her I'm a tour rep that takes people around the Highlands in a bus."

Although it might not sit comfortably with many, Laura explains that she has never been happier and that she realised at an early age that escorting was all she wanted to do.

She says: "It might sound odd, but I knew it was the job for me. Growing up, I watched every documentary and film going on the subject; Cynthia Payne is my hero. When I was 17 I got a job as a secretary at a brothel in Ireland and soon after that I got into escorting.

"I first had sex with a client when I was 19. I found it liberating and enjoyable rather than shameful or awkward. The money I made was useful, especially as I was studying for my first degree at the time."I remember being eight or nine, driving through Dublin with my parents, and seeing two ladies on a street corner. My mum said to dad: 'You know, they're ladies of the night, don't you?' but instead of taking anything from her disapproving tone, I saw women who were incredibly glamorous, strong, independent and streetwise.

"Perhaps my perception wasn't rooted in reality, but I've wanted to be a prostitute ever since. I'm happy in my line of work. Perhaps that makes some people feel uneasy, but we want the right to choose what we do."

Clocking on

2pm Check into my room. I'll always dress smartly on a job, wearing a nice suit, or dress and coat, but never a trench coat. I don't attract attention to myself in the lobby. Acting like a businesswoman is fundamental to being discreet, for my sake, the client and the hotel.

When I'm settled I'll always take an hour to get ready for my first client. In between customers I'll always take an hour to freshen up and change into the right costume. I carry a conservative-looking bag with me that contains all my goodies, including whips, handcuffs, scented candles and massage oil. Today, I've got appointments with three clients, but I'll often spend the day with one person only.

3pm My first client arrives, so I call my "buddy" - I always have a friend on call who knows what I'm doing and who I'm with - to let her know everything is OK. My first customer is a regular, so it's an easy start to the day. He likes the traditional sexy secretary look, so I dress up in suspenders, a power suit, glasses and tie my hair back. Afterwards I let my buddy know everything is fine, something I repeat throughout the day.

5pm I have a new client pencilled in - a businessman in his thirties who works in the area. I can tell he is nervous so I start the session with a sensual massage and some calming music. It's always difficult to know what a new client wants, so I try different things.

7pm My last client is an elderly gentleman that I've seen a few times. He likes more of a "girlfriend experience". This means I act like his partner for the duration of the session, which is two hours long. For this sort of job I'll dress up very feminine, in silk lingerie and suspenders. My make-up is very natural - no heavy eyeliner or vampish lipstick. I'll greet the client with a long, lingering kiss at the door then take their hand and we'll have a chat and a bit of a laugh. Despite lasting a couple of hours, we don't have sex. Around ten per cent of my clients aren't actually interested. Some of them are a bit lonely and want the company for a while.

10pm I check out of the hotel. Instead of heading down to the desk to hand my keys in, I leave them on the bed. Leaving the hotel eight hours later could create suspicion, especially as I like to use hotels regularly. After I arrive home I'll settle down in my Winnie the Pooh pyjamas and check any bookings that have been made for the following day. Then it's back to normality.