WI's naked Calendar Girls are jam-packed with offers bask in their sudden fame

Ann Treneman
Friday 16 April 1999 23:02

EVEN WITH her clothes on, Tricia Stewart does not seem your typical Women's Institute type. She is 50, looks years younger and is wearing a short-skirted lilac suit. Her mobile phone jangles like a fairground ride when it rings, which it does constantly.

It was Tricia who came up with the idea that members of the Rylstone and District WI should bare all for charity and it has been an exhausting week. When it began she was Mrs Stewart, upstanding citizen of the North Yorkshire village of Cracoe, a mile up the road from Rylstone. Now she is perhaps better known as Miss October, international celebrity and calendar glamour model.

We meet at the Vogue Fashion Agency, the new-to-you clothing shop in Skipton. It is a small, triangular-shaped place, partly owned by Miss November (aka Mrs Ros Fawcett, aged 49). As we chat, several of the other Calendar Girls, as they now call themselves, drop in. Soon we have enough on hand for at least a season.

They are in fine form. And why not? The 2000 calendar, which shows the women, aged 45 to 60, naked and performing acts of immense homeliness, has been a huge hit. On Monday they held a press launch at their local pub, the Devonshire Arms in Cracoe, even though they didn't know what a press launch was. Much to their amazement, the world showed up (well, German television, which is a start).

The Sun tried to get them to strip again but Miss March made her position clear. "We've done that and we aren't doing it again," she says.

Miss March is Lynn Knowles, the 50-year-old practice manager at the local surgery. Tricia says she is the one in most demand. Evidently someone rang up the John Dunn show on BBC Radio 2 and asked for her phone number.

Perhaps this is because she is wearing only a sieve in the photograph. Oh, and a necklace. "The only thing my husband said when he saw the photograph was `where did you get those pearls'," says Lynn. She has a big laugh. Tricia says that Practice Manager magazine wants to put Lynn on its cover.

The calendars are pounds 5 each and the original print run of 3,000 went in three days. A further 5,000 have been ordered. Calls are coming from around the world. Miss November's son rang from Australia to say that he couldn't believe it when he turned on the television and saw his mum. The local WH Smith logged 200 requests in one day. Everyone is being rung up.

"Do you know that even Vera Shuttleworth is getting calls?" says Miss November.

The others look amazed. Who? "Oh she's nothing to do with the calendar. Her husband is just on the parish council. She is getting calls!" The Calendar Girls cannot even buy a sandwich in Boots without being asked if they are warm enough. They are the talk of the town. All the husbands and relatives purport to be thrilled. Tricia alone has given at least 50 interviews.

When she got home on Wednesday night there were 32 messages on her answerphone and the BT engineer called in because there had been so many complaints about the line being busy.

Tricia awoke the next day to find a News of the World man on her doorstep, trying to obtain a photograph of the husbands in a Full Monty type pose. Tricia says the Mail on Sunday had already offered pounds 5,000 for this. The News of the World man said he would be back. Tricia says it is out of the question. "Too tacky," she says.

"We've got Angela to think about. It's not just us taking our clothes off," says Tricia. Angela Baker is Miss February, shown playing "Jerusalem" on the piano. Her husband, John, died of leukaemia last July at the age of 54 and the calendar is dedicated to him.

He grew sunflowers and every photograph has one or two, their intense yellow the only colour in the entire calendar. All the money raised is going to the Leukaemia Research Fund.

The photographs, taken by Miss July's husband, Terry Logan, are a curious mix of Health and Efficiency and Country Life and no one wants to go over this rather delicate line. Tricia has turned down Vanessa ("too seedy") and another daytime television programme because it features "ugly people talking about sex".

The Calendar Girls don't want to do exclusivity deals and have said no to Take a Break, Bella and Best.

The shop is filling up. A few women are actually trying to shop. Outrageous. They eventually give up.

Then there is Julian, a friend, who takes over answering Tricia's phone. He has come from London with an order for 30 calendars. He puts forward the idea of a Christmas single. "But we can't sing," says Tricia. "Well you can't make wine either but that's what you're doing in the photograph," he says. Miss November, the only month to have purls and pearls, admits: "I can't knit either."

A would-be shopper interrupts. She is a newsagent. She hates top-shelf magazines and tells her staff to be "oblivious" to them. But she loves the calendar. "It's real women. It's about womanliness."

That was the idea. "No touch-ups," says Miss September (aka Christine Chancy) who is pictured with a strategically placed teapot.

Tricia's phone jangles again. It's her husband. He says he hasn't seen her in three days. She laughs. She is having fun.

"I reckon we are going to sell 50,000," she says. She could well be right.

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