Most Jewish grandmothers’ tastes run to brisket, gefilte fish and kugel. Not Sheila Vogel-Coupe: Her appetite is for sex. Vogel-Coupe, 85, is believed to be Britain’s oldest working prostitute, or “escort,” as she prefers to be called.
The twice-widowed Vogel-Coupe, who became a sex worker four years ago at the age of 81, is featured in the television documentary, “My Granny the Escort,” which premiered on May 29 on Britian’s Channel 4. She appears in the film along with two other “mature escorts” over the age of 60. However, because of Vogel-Coupe’s extremely advanced age and her unapologetic defense of her chosen profession, she, in particular, has emerged as an object of fascination in the global media.
“I’m not ashamed to say I like sex,” she tells The Times of Israel by phone.
“My Granny the Escort” filmmaker Charlie Russell, 33, discovered Vogel-Coupe through research he did for his film. He had been only vaguely familiar with a 2010 scandal involving her that had played out in the tabloids. Paparazzi had snapped photos of Vogel-Coupe arriving at a hotel to meet a client that were published to the horror and embarrassment of her granddaughter Katie Waissel, who was at the time an “X Factor” contestant.
Waissel cut off relations with her grandmother, accusing her of sabotaging her chance at stardom. In retaliation, Vogel-Coupe, who also goes by Grande Dame Cecilia Bird and has appeared in a porn film titled, “The Great British Granny Bang,” went on morning television to claim that, in fact, it was her granddaughter who was ruining her career.
The Sexual Offences Act of 1956 and 2003 criminalizes activities around prostitution, but the exchange of money for sex is legal in the UK, so long as the person offering sex is 18 years old or older — a requirement Vogel-Coupe met nearly seven decades ago — and the transaction does not take place in public.
Vogel-Coupe keeps it legal as she services an average of 10 clients a week and charges upwards of $420 an hour. When Russell filmed her, she was homebound recovering from a serious operation that put her out of commission for months. However, by the time she spoke with this reporter, she had recovered and was back to work, meeting clients at her home and fancy hotels and catering to their fetishes.
‘It’s not as though I am a murderer. I haven’t hurt anybody’
“People are very judgmental,” the octogenarian member of a Liberal synagogue remarks. “It’s not as though I am a murderer. I haven’t hurt anybody.”
She reports that for the most part, members of her northwest London Jewish community have not directly confronted her about her activities. She simply challenged the few who have with, “Have you never had sex?”
According to Vogel-Coupe, some of her Jewish male friends have been supportive of her, as have Jewish clients who are 30 to 40 years her junior. “They tell me, ‘Good on you,’” she says.
“I think she’s fantastic,” Russell says of Vogel-Coupe. “She has a wonderful sense of humor and comic timing. She is strangely inspiring despite what she does for a living.”
At the same time, the filmmaker, who has a history of taking on provocative subjects such as assisted death, feels sorry Vogel-Coupe is cut off from her relatives, save for one daughter and one grandson (she has three daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren).
“I would feel for anyone in her eighties who was without the full support of their family,” he says.
It was loneliness that Vogel-Coupe, the granddaughter of Polish Jewish immigrants, says led her to escorting. Her first husband, who was Jewish, died of illness after 46 years of marriage. After her second husband passed away, she decided to again seek companionship, albeit this time in a highly unconventional way.
It seems she hasn’t spent much time worrying about whether her husbands would have approved of her new career. “I have no idea what they would have thought of it,” she says.
The taboo associated with being a very senior practitioner of the world’s oldest profession does not concern her.
“It gives me satisfaction to make a man happy. Men come to me for what they are not getting at home,” she says. And there’s also the fact that her hooking helps her out financially.
Vogel-Coupe recalls visiting Israel once some 15 years ago. She liked the country well enough, but says she wasn’t fond of people she met there telling her that, as a Jew, she should consider Israel her country.
“I’m not the kind of person who likes to be told what I should or shouldn’t do,” she says.