Doubtless the usual legion of public sneerers will have unpleasant things to say about the decision by Neil and Christine Hamilton to pose in the nude for a men's magazine. Remarks will be made about their physical comeliness. It will be claimed that, following last week's survey revealing how randy we are as a nation, these photographs are part of a government campaign to put us all off sex.
Not for the first time, the Hamiltons will have the last laugh. Having elected to pursue that very 21st-century profession, that of the "personality", they have quickly learnt that they need to be in the news as often as possible. So, in between court cases, they have grabbed our attention by appearing, grinning gamely, on satirical quizzes, by spending a weird weekend with Louis Theroux, and by boasting about their sex life in interviews. And now, predictably, they have joined the ranks of public flashers.
Some people have been worried by this new craze for nudity, claiming that personalities, historians, middle-aged wives and restaurateurs are making fools of themselves by stripping off, but personally I think it is a lovely trend, which reveals the British as they truly are – witty, exhibitionistic, generous and highly sexed.
It is true that the members of the Women's Institute in Yorkshire who started the craze lived to regret it. Their decision to undress for a charity calendar caused such international excitement, with calendar-signing tours of America and film rights sold to Disney, that they eventually found themselves in a village version of the celebrity nightmare, full of back-biting, jealousy, egotism, gossip and infidelity. Such is the price that pioneers must pay.
Since then, flashing has become an established career move. A historian appeared in the Tatler, her crotch concealed by copies of the book she was promoting. In Ireland, a priest called Father Olan Rynn decided to spread the word by being snapped in only a dog-collar with the good book doing service as a posing pouch. In last week's Country Life, the owner of the appropriately-named new restaurant Snatch was to be seen spread out on a bed of lettuce, a couple of leaves covering her breasts.
An interesting truth has emerged. With clever lighting and a skilful cameraman, almost anyone, with the possible exception of Keith Chegwin, can look good in the nude. Nakedness imbues the poser with an odd sort of dignity: their humanity, vulnerability, wit and sexual liveliness is as clearly on display as their flesh. In virtually every case (and again one has to make Cheggers the exception), stripping off for the camera has proved to be a thoroughly sensible move.
Who could seriously deny that a carefully lit skin shot of Peter Mandelson, perhaps with his labrador Bobby, would make him less frightening? Or that one of Harriet Harman would invest her previously chilly image with warmth and charm? Or that, clothed only in his wig, Derry Irvine – all right, maybe not that. Certainly, if The Independent proposed a promotional calendar, starring its naked columnists, I would have no problem in volunteering, so long as Natasha Walter and Rowan Pelling were among the other contributors.
Quite why this simple and potentially embarrassing act should, at this particular moment in our history, cause such pleasure remains a mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the erotic power of the everyday, with the reassurance it offers to a sex-crazed culture that desire is not the exclusive right of the young and beautiful, that it touches us all.
Whatever the reason, the January issue of GQ, in which Neil and Christine will appear as Adam and Eve, seems certain to be yet another triumph for this enchanting, amusing couple.Reuse content