We’re in a hot and sweaty basement bar in London, and a young woman from Las Vegas is dazzling a gaggle of protégées with tales from her life of luxury.
They’re here because they all want to have what she’s having: namely, a sugar daddy with a very, very big bank account. Some are new to this game; others have had a taste, but suspect they’re selling themselves short. Happily, Brook Urick, 24, is here to share some tips on how they can bag the sugar daddy of their dreams, gilding her wisdom in the language of “you-go-girl empowerment.”
“You’re not paid; you’re gifted,” she explains.
“Don’t say on your first date, ‘I want this much.’ Nobody wants to hear that. You’re not looking for money. You’re looking to be spoilt in ‘an elevated relationship’. You have to hint.” Most importantly, and she can’t stress this enough, “You’re not an escort. You’re a sugar baby.”
The aspiring sugar babies have one thing in common: they are all signed-up members of Seeking Arrangement, the matchmaking website “where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships”.
For anyone unfamiliar with the world’s most successful sugar-daddy dating site, it is effectively an online marketplace, where sugar daddies – and occasionally sugar mummies – declare their annual salaries, net worth and the kind of lifestyle budgets they’re willing to provide, in exchange for lively company and good times with “babies.”
No one is officially selling sex. “If people want to be escorts, there are plenty of other sites for that,” Urick insists. “They’re on Seeking Arrangement for something different. It’s a very fine line. My role is to teach these girls the difference.”
Urick’s website claims to have 591,200 members in the UK: the majority, 507,000, are sugar babies, with 79,000 sugar daddies and 5,200 sugar mummies.
Urick seems unusually coy for an expert in the manipulation of rich old men. I ask her how much she is “gifted” by her own sugar daddy.
“I’m not going to tell you, because that would be totally inappropriate,” she replies.
“Some women want to go Dutch. More power to you. But there are other girls who don’t. I always expect a guy to pay for me, because that’s how I want to be treated and that’s what I’ve come to expect.”
Money, she says, is just the life-enhancing culmination of all the qualities she finds attractive in a partner.
Would she like to marry a sugar daddy?
“Oh, I will,” she says, with determination. “Because that’s the type of relationship I seek out, and I’m not ashamed of that.
Elsewhere, the babies are working the room, checking out the people behind the profiles.
Donna is what Seeking Arrangement would probably call a success story. She is blonde and striking, with the artificially plumped lips of the expensively groomed and vivid violet contact lenses. A few months ago she was working in a “crappy job” at a smoothie stall in Manchester.
Now, she and her best friend “sugar together”, and are each receiving an allowance of £3,000 per month from a sugar daddy who puts them up, rent-free, in his Chelsea apartment, in exchange for threesomes, on tap, whenever he visits for one or two weeks every month. She is 18.
“It’s a sexual arrangement,” Donna explains, bluntly, in a strong Mancunian accent. “The rest of the time we have the apartment to ourselves.”
At first, Donna splashed out on gifts for her brothers and sisters, but her mother has forbidden contact. “She told me to stop. She said she doesn’t want them to become like me.”
What has she learnt?
“You have to be cold-hearted. You can’t cry.”
Poor Tina is having less luck. A sweet Welsh girl in her early twenties, she lacks the hardened glamour of the rest.
Last week, she had a date with a banker. Or rather, a man claiming to be a banker.
“It was a Friday, but he kept talking about having to be up for work the next day. I think he lived with his mum,” she says.
“He tried to take me down this dark street.” That’s when she ran. “He was really creepy. If I’d been drunk, I wouldn’t be speaking to you now.”
She intends to keep on searching for some sugar. “I don’t see why there’s such a stigma, if you’re getting what you want at the end of the day. You just have to keep looking.”
Meanwhile, the cocktails are flowing and some of the other sugar babies are whooping like brides-to-be on a hen night.
“So, come on, how old was your oldest?” challenges Sharmaine, in her mid- twenties.
“In his fifties,” says one. “Sixty,” says another. Sharmaine proudly trumps them all. “Sixty-four!” she beams. “And he was the first man to give me an orgasm! He was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The sugar babies find this hilarious, but Sharmaine, a very tall, slim girl, wants to make a serious point.
“I never had a father figure. I was always broke. I had to fend for myself. My sugar daddy was what was missing from my life. He taught me to sit up at the table. I used to dress like a hoodlum. Now I dress like a lady. He changed me into a butterfly.”
The idea of a sugar daddy providing much more than just financial relief is something that Seeking Arrangement is keen to promote.
“They teach. Your sugar daddy is a mentor, a protector,” suggests Brianna, an experienced sugar baby who claims to be 25, but could be in her late thirties.
“You’re not gold-digging,” she tells Sharmaine. “You’re goal-digging.”
This sparks a giggle from a woman from Estonia. “I am a gold-digger, actually,” she declares, to the alarm of the others.
She is unapologetic about treating Seeking Arrangement as a career choice. She has two sugar daddies, aged “45 and fiftysomething. One regular one for shopping and travelling. One for £500 pay per meet.”
“Why not?” she asks. “Right now I’m young. Life is tough. Women lose their looks. I might as well do it now while I can.”
Kati, 21, another Estonian, has a more thoughtful approach. She believes that both sugar daddies and sugar babies are motivated by deeper, personal needs.
The most common criticism hurled against Seeking Arrangement is that it allows men to buy their way out of emotional commitment, but Kati suggests that is precisely the appeal for sugar babies like her.
She joined the site after having her heart broken by her ex-boyfriend. Embarking on relationships without the usual objectives of marriage or romance or children means the stakes are much lower, she says.
She disagrees that it is tantamount to prostitution, “because that’s when you have a client, you have sex and go. These are different. I think of them more as family friends, who give me advice. I feel sorry for them. They tend to be really nice people, but they’re lonely. They want conversation.”
At the end of the night, some of the women go on to a nightclub, while the rest go home, leaving just Urick and me. I suggest that sugaring might not be all that she’s cracking it up to be. Her argument is that Seeking Arrangement doesn’t do romance; it deals in reality.
“There are psychos everywhere. There are psychos in this bar right now. There are people who are trying to screw you over and manipulate you at every corner of your life. Seeking Arrangement does a few things to keep the water clean, but it is not our job to police who’s an escort and who’s not.
“Most people are looking at what I’ve got and wanting it. If they’re not getting what I’ve got, then they’re not doing it right.”
Credit: Lucy Bannerman / The Times / The Interview People