Anything can happen when you pose with nothing on

There are dangers when you strip off for charity while lobbying, says columnist Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards, chief executive, Julia's House
Martin Edwards, chief executive, Julia's House

If, like me, you have ever stripped off for charity, Polly Tommey's controversial semi-clad "Hello Boys" posters for the Autism Trust earlier this year might bring back mixed memories.

I think the charity sector should have room for a few mavericks, but these shock tactics by the founder of the charity drew a thumbs-down from more measured autism campaigners, as well as from critics of sexualised images of women.

Her boldness succeeded in getting the attention of the politicians. She secured a warm letter from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and a positive but somewhat wary letter from the Conservative leader, David Cameron. She even met the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who enlarged his manifesto for her - and John Prescott then asked her round to play croquet with his balls.

Okay, I made the last bit up, but you see the problem if you strip off when lobbying: even if they take you seriously this time, how far must you go next time?

My experience of baring all was nakedly about money. In the heady days when cheeky calendars were still funny, as a fundraising director I appeared in the Highland Hospice's misnamed "Highland Hunks" calendar. December was to be me and one of the doctors, but he chickened out, saying it would "compromise his doctor-patient relationships". Recruiting our burly chef and two tattooed male nurses instead, I set up the shoot in a discreet room and prying female colleagues were sent away with a flea in their ear.

I'm afraid vanity overcame me, and I tried to pump up by doing press-ups before joining the group. A mistake - wandering around semi-clad and breathless at work makes people imagine rather unedifying reasons for your state. Anyway, we duly posed in our birthday suits with only a strategically placed hospice banner preserving us from colleagues' constructive dismissal claims.

The result was horrifying. Not so much because of our total dissimilarity to Armani models, but more because of our pallid Highland flesh, which looked quite frightful on camera. Shamefully, I ordered the photographer to give us an electronic tan, which he did by turning the whole photo ludicrously orange.

The Mr Decembers had been 'Tango'd'. Inexplicably, the calendar sold in its thousands.

- Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House.


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