It’s a warm, sunny day in August when I am admitted to the plush inner sanctum of the Groucho Club in Soho. I am here to interview Angus Malcolm, the photographer and mastermind behind the incredibly successful Warwick Rowing Club Naked Calendar, now in its fourth year.
Waiting for me at a table in the corner is Angus himself and an arrestingly beautiful young man, tall, blond and blue eyed, who is introduced to me as Laurence, one of the stars of the coming year’s Naked Calendar from the Warwickshire Rowers. Unfortunately not naked on this occasion, his well-nigh perfect physique is easily evident beneath the simple blue jeans and white t-shirt that he is wearing.
Trying not to drool too obviously, I turn my attention to Angus and ask him how the calendar came about and how he became involved.
“Well, I was actually a writer and producer in TV and film and I used to work in the health and charity sector. In 2008 I felt like doing something different. Having always had a keen interest in photography, I started photographing men. I was approached by a guy on the website modelmayhem and found out he was part of rowing team. At the shoot I asked him if the club had ever thought of doing a charity calendar. As it turned out, he said that they had been actually thinking very seriously about it, so our meeting was quite serendipitous really. Initially the calendar was produced simply to fund the club, but by Year 3 it had started making significant amounts of money, which meant that we could start giving to charity. It was in year 2 that we started targeting the gay market, which lead us in year 3 to make a film of the making of the calendar. Our immediate concern at that time was how to stop it being pirated, and making it a charity project was a way of guilt tripping people into not pirating the film. So in the end the calendar raised funds for the club, and the video was for charity. That’s about to change now though. Instead of donating to other charities, we are in the process of creating our own. Basically all the money now goes into a kitty, which we draw on for charitable objects of this new programme which we are looking at called Sports Allies. Essentially net profits will be spent on the club or on Sports Allies.”
Moving on to the calendar itself, I mentioned the fact that the photos, particularly in the new 2014 edition, often seem to involve a lot of movement. Was it difficult keeping the photos G rated?
“It’s a f**king nightmare!” exclaimed Angus. “If you look at the images in years one and two, you will find that all the photos are very static. It’s really Calendar Girls with balls, if you like, but now we’re much more adventurous and doing shots with lots of movement in them, which makes it far more difficult, particularly if you are shooting more than one rower at a time. I shoot 365 gigabytes of images and it can take ages to get that one where nothing is seen. It’s often a case of doing the shot over and over again, and directing them to lift a leg a little higher or something like that.”
I asked if some of the guys were any harder to hide than others (well you would, wouldn’t you?).
“Bluntly, yes. And sometimes it really is a case of saying to someone, just go and stand behind that hedge.”
The film is even more difficult and youtube banned one of their videos, which is why they gave up on youtube altogether. As I’ve had cause to mention before the US can be quite draconian about (particularly male) nudity, and the Rowers have also had problems with their facebook page. Paradoxically, though, they have had lots of interest from the US, where they find it quirky that these guys are naked. Angus believes, and I agree with him, that these large corporations, like youtube and facebook globally have too much control and are imposing a mid-West culture on the rest of us.
However the American market is huge and people actually flew in from Texas for the live shoot they did last year, which again raised more money for their charitable causes.
The photos certainly have a great sense of fun about them; sexy, but family friendly, and undoubtedly homoerotic. The guys look as if they are enjoying themselves enormously, and all look completely unselfconscious about being naked together. I asked Laurence if this was actually the case.
Laurence speaks with a quiet confidence that is very attractive. “Oh yes. We all get on really well. When you train together as long as we do, you do become close. You have to if you’re going to spend 8 hours in a boat together in tight lycra. Getting naked is all part of the bonding process.”
How was it getting your kit off for the first time?
“I had no qualms, but some of the newer guys did at first. However after half an hour everyone is just fine. Angus is really good at making people feel comfortable, and of course we shoot around the boat house so we are also in a familiar environment. Not to mention that the calendar has been going 4 years now, so the more experienced members make it easier for the newer ones.”
I asked if there were any gay members on the team.
“Yes,” said Laurence, “but it really isn’t an issue. Not in the least. Certainly for me, I’m used to open showers. I went to a boys’ boarding school. Showering and getting naked with the other guys seems the most natural thing in the world to me. And, incidentally, everyone in the team is aware of the support we get from the gay community and we really appreciate it.”
Angus cuts in, “We actually wanted to play on that ambiguity. The boys are having fun. It’s not sexual fun. But it’s fun none the less. Of course there is a homoerotic charge in a group of gorgeous athletes being together naked. It’s there, and it would be silly to ignore it.”
Last year the proceeds of the film went to the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, and the club will continue to give to the Foundation till the end of this year. I asked why the Ben Cohen Foundation, and had any of the team any personal experience of being bullied.
Angus. “Not that anyone actually revealed, but they immediately saw that Ben’s journey had been similar to theirs. That was the reason why they chose to give money to his charity. It was a combination of nudity and a stance around homophobia, and the guys felt they were making a much more visceral commitment than perhaps even Ben himself. By being completely naked, they were saying, “We don’t care who looks and who enjoys this and we are making a stand and saying we support the gay community.” We had lots of letters and many of the stories came in particular from older men, who wished that something like this had been around when they were young and how much it meant to them. And the guys in the team found that particularly moving.”
Laurence. “I see it as very important that we straight guys are seen to be standing up and supporting you. I’ve seen “gay” used quite regularly in a pejorative sense – and that’s the most that I witnessed personally, but I think it’s wrong. I’ve also read plenty of moving stories that have been sent to us, one being from a guy in the police force who nearly lost his job because of being gay and him telling us how much he appreciated what we were doing,” and that seemed a good place to wind things up.