Suzanne Piper on the Fourth Plinth
I am 61 and have been a naturist for more than half my life. With my husband David we formed a naturist club - Shabden Leisure Circle - organising social activities and visits through what was then a newsletter and is now a full blown A4 glossy magazine - Naturist Life. Soon after we formed the club I started becoming involved in the regional and national organisation in the UK. It was not long before I was working on BN magazine as part of the Publication Board, then Public Relations Officer and Research and Liaison Officer before being elected as President of British Naturism. My PRO work was at a time when few naturists were willing to appear in the media and demand was, at times massive. So even twenty years ago I was very much the public face of naturism in the UK and seen so often on television both with and without clothes that people must have become bored. More recently I have participated in the World Naked Bike Ride in London.
Photograph Baz Hipwell.
When David (my husband) applied to be on The Plinth I was mildly interested but not enough that I wanted to participate, after all it was London (pollution) and it could be in the middle of the night (antisocial hours wreck me). As the time drew nearer and I saw the project unfurl I became more interested especially when he got that email awarding him a place in week 2.
Oh heck why not apply I thought, not likely to get a place - after all two people in one household would be a fluke! I decided right from the start that this little old pensioner with her fragile health would definately be nude, whatever the time of day - or night. The draw for August - the sorry you've not been chosen email. Then there was the draw for September - no email, what was happening? Then a few days later the sorry one. Last chance was the draw for October and David was asking whether I had received anything, no and I was about to go to bed. But then an email dropped in and yes, against all the odds I had my place, during the evening of the 7th October.
Do I accept? Do I do nude? There was no question about that, after all we filmed on Studland beach on wet sand with sand flies in October, so why not central London? I filled in the acceptance straight away and included a nude photo of me for my profile - right from the start I told people who I was and what I intended to do.
So I was going to be nude, what would be practical? Well I was lucky in that I had been able to watch other plinthers over the previous couple of months and also David's experience. The set up he had used worked. Given the practicalities of communicating with those actually in the Square especially with my extreme deafness and the background noise from traffic and fountains and the bright lights which would make it almost impossible to see anyone I decided to also take the techie route. A few rehearsals took place, but it was proven technology so with a few refinements with speakers, dongle and mouse gaffer taped together into a hub it meant there was only one lead to plug in. So I should be set up and ready to talk to people from around the world via Skype within 5 minutes of landing on top of the plinth.
Before the event the thing that held the most concerns was the height of the plinth and the journey there in the cherry picker and I was teased about that, but I really do not do heights. It was yet another challenge, but the show must go on.
We went up the week before to see Lady Godiva for her 5-6am slot, to give her support (she needed it given the crowd gathered) and for me to see how it worked. So we were all ready. About the only thing we couldn't plan for was the weather and the day before, with it looking as though it would be dismal David went out and got a huge fishing brolly to make sure the computer equipment was kept dry!
On the day we watched the forecast, there was to be a window somewhere between 19.00 and 22.00 - we were hoping the brolly would keep it away untill 22.00. Allowing plenty of time for the 23 mile journey it was pretty smooth until we got to the Edgeware Road - burst water main, diversions through streets not designed for the traffic, SATNAV and a nose for direction became helpful. I made a call to One and Other to let them know we could be late. (We had to be there 90 minutes before). Eventually arriving, and only a few minutes late, and needing to just sit down and relax we were kept outside the One and Other office in the rain for several minutes by an over officious security guard. I was really getting angry, as I was wound up by the journey - if it had not been for all my supporters on the ground in the Square and on the internet I could quite easily have turned round and gone home. So I was then allowed in, but made to stand whilst a security check of me and my bags was made. The same officious security guard I felt was over intrusive and I was very concerned about my carefully gaffer taped equipment and laptop which was precariously perched on a stool. I felt like a criminal. Then I was allowed to sit down and the atmosphere became a little more relaxed - a cuppa helped. There was a plethora of paperwork to complete, much the same as I have seen in the past though for television - in other words they can do what they like with the material they shoot. You sign your life away.
Then I was taken into a little room by a charming crew member for a short interview which, along with everything else from the project, would be held in the Wellcome Archives for posterity. That was very easy as I can ramble on for hours, ten minutes was far too short. Then she took a photo of me and then after yet another security check of the same items and me as well as a short H&S briefing it was show time!
So it was outside and into the dreaded cherry picker. It felt a bit weird as the basket lifted off the ground and the crew member was reassuring me that it would be fine but that I wouldn't belive her until I was actually on the plinth - much like naturism was my remark, whatever I say, until you actually get your clothes off you will not believe how comfortable it is and then within five minutes wonder what all the fuss was about.
I was vaguely able to make out a few people as we trundled across the pavement, lights flashing and beepers going and then we were taking off. And I didn't really notice it! But I didn't look down either!
The previous plinther was off, me on, no rain (brolly worked), table up, laptop out, peripherals plugged in, boot up, banner out (turned that round later), chair opened up, sit down and wait to log into internet and Skype and then we were ready to rock and roll.
It seemed ages before the first call, although it probably wasn't, Kerry from Santa Monica, Los Angeles, somebody David works with and who shares our love of cats. Like many people from around the world he has become entranced with the One and Other project. Then the calls all came in at once so I dealt with them as best I could ringing back missed calls when there was a lull. We covered many aspects of naturism and the fact it is for everyone and that it is the person, not appearances that matter. I hope that during my hour I convinced people that there is more to me than the exterior body. We also chatted about naturists perspectives of naturism in other countries. With so many international calls our home grown naturists were outnumbered, were they so shy?
In between calls I chatted on into the mike about naturism and Spielplatz where we live as well as chatting to Captain John down in the Square. He has become something of a fixture during the project and the sweetie was running to keep me warm and he always ensures that each plinther gets a rousing send off. He was true to form but didn't need to work hard at it. It was lovely that some former plinthers, some of whom had gone nude, some not, some of the twecklers who actually were very kind about me when they saw my 'performance' were there along with friends, some of whom had travelled a fair distance especially for my hour. Special mention must be made of Sid who came all the way up from the west country for the day specially for me.
Then it was almost over, Captain John was asking if I had an alarm clock and David was sending me a Skype message, but I had been wathing the time on the Mac Book. I stood up and there I could see the flashing lights of the cherry picker - my timing was just right - no delay for the following plinther. I'd had my hour. Back to the office, offers of cups of tea, and privacy to change - I just took my dressing gown off and dress on - well they'd seen me! And I now have the T shirt!
Then it was off to the pub, Mark and Tina knew just where we could find decent drink, not one of those fancy places. A few people recognised me and shook my hand. And then it was home, by way of, well I'm not quite sure where, as the Edgeware Road was still closed.
A few days on I am still recovering. At least I've gone from cotton wool brain to shivery and slightly headachy. Tomorrow will be better. But was it worth it? - yes I believe it was, if only a few people realise that it is the person within that is more important than external appearances and even more people realise that nudity is not illegal in England then we will have helped the world become a better place for naturists.
And my favourite plinther - the lady, Susannah M, not a naturist, who went up in her dressing gown, took it of and sat for the hour, simply being … herself.