By Mark Dagostino
December 01, 2008 12:00 PM

She’s the infamous call girl who brought down a governor. But in person Ashley Alexandra Dupré seems more like the ordinary upper-middle-class 23-year-old she insists she is. Five-foot-three and softspoken, she arrives for an interview at a Manhattan office building in a buttoned-up blouse, carrying a Balenciaga bag. She’s polite, offering to share the Halloween candy she’s brought, and greets with hugs rather than handshakes. “Everyone knows me as ‘that girl,’ but I’m not just ‘that girl,'” she says. “I have a lot of depth, a lot of layers. I am a normal girl.”

Making that clear to the world is why, eight months after the scandal that forced New York governor Eliot Spitzer from office, she has emerged to share her story. (She also spoke to Diane Sawyer in an interview airing Nov. 21 at 10 p.m. on ABC.) Enduring a media spotlight that included seeing her MySpace pictures splashed on front pages “has been really hard,” says Dupré, who moved in with her mother and stepfather in New Jersey after the scandal broke. “But I’m a survivor.” Speaking out, she hopes, will help her “get on with my life.”

Her descent into tabloid mayhem began Feb. 13, 2008. An aspiring singer, Dupré had used high-end escort work to pay the bills on and off since ’04 but was beginning to question life as a prostitute. “It started to be scary,” she says. “What if I got AIDS? Got killed?” Still, her clients were “intelligent, handsome, successful,” and New York’s governor fit the type—though she says she had no idea whom she was meeting that night in Room 871 of D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel.

“I mean, ask a lot of 22-year-olds,” she says. “I was wrapped up in my family, my music. I knew the name, but the face … I’m not really a TV person.”

She does recall that “Client 9,” as Spitzer was reportedly known at her escort service (which was shut down in March), “was polite. Some guys, they want to have conversations and really get to know each other. With him, it clearly was not like that. It was more of a transaction. Strictly business.”

Spitzer showed up in casual clothing, she says. There were no security guards, nothing that made her suspect he was someone important: “I was there for a purpose—not to wonder who [he] could be.”

Dupré says she practiced safe sex with all clients—including this one. But on her attorney’s advice, she won’t elaborate on that evening or say if Spitzer had been a client before. (While the ex-governor will not face criminal charges related to the scandal—see box—Dupré still fears prosecution, though insiders say charges are unlikely.)

After that night, Dupré says, she never talked to Spitzer again. It came as a complete shock when the F.B.I. told her in early March that they were investigating one of her clients. Scared, she called her mother, Carolyn, to tell her that she might be in trouble—and to inform the 47-year-old homemaker that her little girl had been turning tricks. “It was extremely painful for her,” Dupré says, yet remarkably “my mother wasn’t angry. She was supportive.”

A few days later Carolyn called her daughter and said, “Turn on the TV.” There he was: the man from Feb. 13, the governor of New York, admitting his failures and apologizing at a press conference. “It was surreal,” Dupré says. “I felt like I was suffocating.”

With the media spotlight suddenly on her, she hid in her Manhattan apartment, watching images of photographers gathered outside her door on the nightly news. A few days later she slipped out under a blanket in the back seat of a car—”I felt like a Bond girl,” she says—to a safe house arranged by her attorney. Later she moved back in with her mom and stepfather Michael DiPietro, 57, an oral surgeon—where she now sleeps in the same bedroom she ran away from at 17.

Asked how and why she went from cheerleader and soccer player to prostitute, Dupré—who has undergone what she calls “intense” psychotherapy since March—talks a lot about abandonment. Her father, Billy Youmans, 52, who owns a marble and granite company, left when she was 3 (and called his daughter after she hit the headlines to say, “Damn, girl—when you do it, you do it big!”). Her only brother, Kyle, now 26, ran away from home when Dupré was 12. “That devastated me,” she says.

Five years later in the middle of the night she crawled out her bedroom window into a life of nonstop partying, staying briefly at her father’s home in North Carolina before heading to Florida. Her days were blurred: a bottle of Grey Goose vodka at a time, “a lot” of pot, ecstasy and cocaine, taking her clothes off for Girls Gone Wild. At one point that year, she says, she was raped. “It caused me to disconnect—with sex, with real relationships,” she says.

In 2004, while working as a cocktail waitress in Manhattan, she was approached by a man who asked if she’d considered modeling. When she discovered he worked for an escort agency, she wasn’t turned off. “This wasn’t any different than going on a date with someone you barely knew and hooking up with them,” Dupré says. “The only difference is I can pay my rent.” The straightforwardness of the transactions appealed as well: “I knew what my purpose was, they knew what their purpose was—there weren’t any games.”

The income allowed her to live well and still have time for voice and piano lessons. Yet from April ’07 until January of this year, she quit the business entirely—thanks to a boyfriend who paid her bills. He was married, but “I loved him,” Dupré says. Because of the relationship, “I changed. Suddenly my life had meaning. I spent New Year’s with my mother and stepfather, toasting that this was going to be my year. The best year.”

Days later her boyfriend ended the relationship—and the financial aid. So Dupré went back to being a call girl. Two months later she was on the front page of the New York Post.

These days she finds the hours hanging heavy. “I couldn’t get a job—[the media] would bombard me!” she says, laughing. She speaks with the eagerness of a teen about how she works out for hours at a time and adores the inspirational book The Secret. “It’s like my favorite thing ever,” she says. “I have these boards on my bedroom wall with everything I want to accomplish.”

There is plenty of time to think about how her life spun out of control. She blames neither Spitzer (“I think he’s been punished enough”) nor herself. “I just did my job,” she says. “If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.” Thinking about his wife is another story. “I try not to revisit that place too often, but when I think about his speech [on TV], I think of her face. Her eyes. The hurt.” If she could speak to her now, Dupré says, she would tell her, “I’m sorry for your pain.”

And then Dupré would move on. “I’m 23 years old,” she says. “I want to do music, to do fashion, to write books—there’s so many things.” Selling her body isn’t among them. “No,” she says firmly. “Never again.”