Deep Dives Dispatches

Let It All Hang Out

There is an etiquette to streaking. Firstly, no funerals. In 1997, a journalist asked Mark Roberts, the world’s most prolific streaker, to jump naked in front of Princess Diana’s coffin. ‘Do you think I’m a dickhead?’ he replied. 

That said, with 573 streaks across 30 years under his metaphorical belt and no plans to retire, Roberts is determined to leave this world as he spent his time in it – naked in public. His will dictates that he be buried unshrouded in a clear Perspex box, a Viagra administered so he can ‘go out in style’. Rigor mortis may work in his favour.

But Mark Roberts has had an active life. He somersaulted naked over the net at the 2002 Wimbledon men’s final. He arrived at the 2006 Winter Olympics ‘dressed’ as a cleaner, wearing just marigold gloves on his hands, clothes pegs on his ears, a knotted handkerchief on his head and a rubber chicken on his ‘little fella’. He ran past Tiger Woods at the 2006 Open Golf Championship with a toy squirrel over his genitals and a golf ball perched between his buttocks. He carried a patron around a pub on his back – both of them nude – as a birthday treat for the surprisingly well-endowed sexagenarian (‘I said “Fred, fuck off, I’m not running around with you with that”’) until a tumble landed the pensioner in A&E.

Heroic tales of unclothed exploits abound, distinguished by devotees’ ingenuity. In 2021, Olmo Garcia, ‘The Naked Man of Granada’, hid in a stadium for 14 hours to enter a football match. In 2003, Roberts reached the racetrack at Royal Ascot disguised as a woman, complete with bra. He invaded 2004’s Super Bowl by writing to the NFL for a referee’s uniform under the pretence of starting a British team. Wearing it, re-stitched with Velcro, under his regular clothes, also re-stitched with Velcro, he told security that a skin disorder requiring ointment meant he had to wear detachable garments and the refereeing garb was for luck. The uniform did, however, make players think an actual referee was riverdancing naked and the streak itself was overshadowed by Janet Jackson’s own wardrobe malfunction that night. (Roberts was not the only one favouring detachable clothes).

Erika Roe stresses that her infamous 1982 topless run at Twickenham Stadium was wholly spontaneous, and sparked by someone in the crowd mentioning streaking. ‘If I’d thought about it for a few seconds later, I wouldn’t have done it’, she reflects, ‘I just did something crazy 40-odd years ago that put me on the front page because it was a cold day and it made everybody laugh’. 

Streakers stress that they differ from flashers and senders of unsolicited nudes. While all expose themselves publicly and indeed unexpectedly, the streaker maintains distance and seeks to entertain, not intimidate. ‘It’s got to be fun,’ Roberts says, ‘streaking is one moment of being daft, being as free as you’ll ever be’. Asked by police why he stripped at the Super Bowl, he replied: ‘I wanted to make the great people of America laugh’. For someone who became famous through an act of public nudity, Roe describes herself as ‘shy, introverted, private and Victorian about sex and jokes’. She tells me: ‘It’s just a frivolous thing that people do, it’s a moment of fun. I don’t think it’s attached to sex much, it’s much lighter than that. I like things to be a bit clean and I think my streak was clean and fun, it was just a moment of daftness.’

In 1974, when Michael O’Brien ran naked onto the pitch during a rugby match, he inaugurated an era in which it was seemingly difficult to attend an event without someone using it for a prolonged nude jog. Such festivities could even influence proceedings. Australian football club Richmond lost 1982’s Grand Final after Helen d’Amico appeared wearing only a scarf. Richmond did not reach another Grand Final until 2017 when d’Amico generously burnt the garment on television to exorcise the ‘curse’. 

 So why quit? The risk of a penalty may be on the would-be enthusiast’s mind. After Ian Power streaked at Anfield in 1995 aged 17, Liverpool players visited the cell to sign his charge sheet. However, other streakers have suffered more stringent punishments and found themselves on the sex offenders register following charges of indecent exposure. Roberts has often successfully battled charges of causing harassment, alarm or distress to the public by showing courts footage of cheering crowds. He has debated ‘playing with the law’ by wearing a plastic replica of his genitalia. 

There are other reasons besides the law. Public nudity can feel different when in your fifties. Reformed streakers express qualms about embarrassing their teenage children or risking their careers – were they to reprise the hobby now. Another explanation lies in changing perceptions. The amateur’s dare has become the adult entertainer’s advertisement, sexualising an activity which had hitherto maintained an almost prelapsarian conception of the naked body in all its innocence. 

In 2019, model Kinsey Wolanski went viral after invading the Champions League in a swimsuit promoting an X-rated website belonging to her then partner, porn star Vitaly Zdorovetskiy. He has himself invaded World Cup football games semi-nude to drum up business while his mother did so at Lord’s. In 2018, fans of Rijnsburgse Boys football club hired adult entertainer ‘Foxy’ to distract the opposition by wearing only body paint at a match. (Rijnsburgse’s 6-2 loss suggests players have become inured to the naked female form since d’Amico’s day).  

In turn, amateurs have backed off. Ian Power reconsidered streaking during the last football season after friends’ discouragement. Believing ‘there’s more of a sexual thing attached to it now’, he grew concerned about young spectators unexpectedly seeing a naked man. ‘People are wary of offending,’ says Roberts, ‘but the point of streaking isn’t offending anyone, it’s just a minute of silliness.’ 

Streaking has, by definition, always attracted attention – Sara Brumpton tells me that, after she invaded a 1993 Hong Kong rugby championship aged 24, the image of her being removed half-naked in a sack featured in local adverts. However, in an age of iPhones, social media, facial recognition software and employers’ corporate values, a moment of youthful abandon can now hang around longer than intended. Despite the publicity, Brumpton successfully hid her identity at the time and advises: ‘Nowadays it’s probably not wise given the response on social media. I’m not sure I would’ve agreed to the interview if I was still working in education because of how it may be perceived.’

Erika Roe chose to reveal her identity along with her breasts. The resulting notoriety led to her appearing on television with David Frost and Kenneth Williams (‘a miserable old sod’), meeting Lulu (‘I went home and had a piece of toast’) and losing Oliver Reed’s address (‘I could’ve been a weekend visitor’). Journalists still arrive at her home, sent to track her down. ‘The media take you over and make it bigger than it actually is’, she reflects, ‘women are more careful now.’  

Should we mourn the streaker as a symbol of a bygone age? Has a generation lost the opportunity to bring a stadium to a halt and a crowd to a roar merely by taking off their clothes? ‘You’ll never get that high anywhere’, Power smiles, ‘it’s better than sex.’

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