One evening a few summers ago, I convinced a friend to run with me up Portobello Road completely naked. As we reached the finish line, we could hear the sirens in our wake. We were accosted by two policemen. I was convinced they would throw us in the slammer. Instead, the officers gently told us that it would be wise to put our clothes back on. One of them, having seen my body gleaming in the pale moonlight, suggested that I should really consider getting a tan.
I have long enjoyed streaking. People wonder why someone would choose to expose themselves in such a way. There are a few explanations. Public nudity is often an act of rebellion or defiance — see John and Yoko back in the 1960s. More recently, supporters of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei have stripped off in solidarity with him. In my case, however, and for many others, it’s just the thrill of the act and the hilarity that it causes. It brings joy to others. Everyone should give it a go at least once.
This past year has not been a good time for streaking. Without crowds to cheer you on, what is the point? Doing a lap of your parents’ living room naked while they watch The Great British Sewing Bee doesn’t quite have the same appeal. But society is at last reopening and things are looking up for us flashers. Festivals are returning and football may be coming home. What’s the summer without some streaking? There is a curiously British thrill in outdoor nudity; no doubt it’s something to do with our puritan heritage.
The first recorded streak was by a man attempting to run half a mile from Cornhill to Cheapside in London in 1799 as part of a bet. Like all the greats, he was arrested mid-flight. After that, streaking went largely unrecorded until the 1960s, when a growing rebelliousness catapulted streaking into the spotlight and made it something of a national pastime.
The laws around stripping off are hazy. It’s not illegal to be naked in public in England or Wales. Being naked to cause alarm, however, is considered indecent exposure, which is criminal, so pick your spot and your audience carefully. I’d be wary about jumping out from behind a hedge at your local village hall. At any sporting event or festival, you’re likely to just get a ticking-off.
My father was a streaker before me. It’s a family tradition. No swimmer was safe from his naked cannonballs into the pool, and the subsequent victory dance. Another of my inspirations is Michael O’Brien, who streaked at Twickenham in 1974. He was escorted off the pitch by a policeman called Bruce Perry, who covered O’Brien’s crown jewels with his helmet. The image won Life magazine’s Picture of the Year. Perry said in an interview years later: ‘It was an extremely cold day and Michael had nothing to be proud of.’
Anyone thinking of streaking at Wembley during the Euros should be aware that since 1991, under the Football Offences Act, it has been a specific offence to invade the pitch. That didn’t stop the great Chris McGlade, a comedian from Teesside. He streaked at the Football League cup final in 1997, both to ‘Save Redcar Baths’, a slogan emblazonedon his chest, and to raise money for charity. He later said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. He wore black-seamed stockings, suspenders, Dr Martens and a red and white ribbon tied around his balls. He also carried an inflatable space hopper. What he didn’t realise was that by wearing stockings and suspenders, which have sexual connotations, he could have been charged with gross indecency. Luckily the cops let him off because he was doing it for a good cause — another good tip for anyone looking to strip off scot-free.
Mark Roberts is a Liverpudlian painter and decorator. He is one of the world’s top streakers. Some would say his approach is performance art. He’s stripped off at some of the country’s most famous spots: Wembley, Wimbledon, Crufts, the 2011 Turner Prize and the floating weather map on This Morning with Richard and Judy. In total, he has done 568 runs in 24 countries. What a hero. I have streaked in one place that Mark has yet to conquer, Shoreditch House’s rooftop swimming pool. Security is tight and I was chased around the building by someone clutching one of the club’s signature red and white towels, before being thrown out immediately. ‘This isn’t Magaluf,’ a member of staff explained.
If you are yet to witness a streaker in the flesh, Wilderness Festival (which looks set to go ahead this year) on a balmy August afternoon is a great introduction. At the cricket match held there, there’s an almost 100 per cent chance of spotting someone starkers. In 2019, there were 99 streakers of all shapes and sizes, cartwheeling, doing the Macarena and, in my case, chasing the commentator around the field.
If you’ve dreamed of making a huge crowd laugh but don’t think you’ll make it as a stand-up comic, take your kit off and run. It really is that easy. Streaking isn’t a sexual thing and, yes, people may look at your body and make nasty judgments. But sod them. Rest assured that others will be impressed by your bravery. After more than a year of restrictions, I can’t wait to be set free.