Whether or not he felt the need to prove this, in 2003 Stephen (I feel bad using 'SG' every time) set out to walk the length of the United Kingdom with a rucksack on his back, socks and boots on his feet and occasionally, when the weather got cold, a hat. And nothing else. He did so successfully, as you might perhaps expect of somebody who has been called upon to put himself in harm's way for his country. Evidently he is a man of some determination, steel and 'true grit' (far more so than the 'heroic' John Wayne, who, by the way, unlike for example, James Stewart, managed to dodge ever going to war for his country despite being of the appropriate age to do so and making lots of movies about being a war hero), as well as being a man of conviction.
In fact, he now has a whole string of convictions, having been arrested and brought before the courts numerous times for the apparently appallingly serious crime of wanting to walk around and go about his business - within practical limitations - without any clothes on. He has - incredibly - been arrested between twenty and thirty times. It's amazing how public money is being wasted on hounding this man. I feel a little sorry for the police in this matter, who are (reading between the lines based on my own personal experience of policing) being used by powerful groups to rather more discriminately than usual, enforce the letter of the law. As a consequence this man has been incarcerated far longer than anyone - in my experience - who is for example before the courts for domestic burglary or assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The law is being used as a sledgehammer in this matter. The law appears to be an ass - and a bare one at that.
The question I feel compelled to ask is a simple one: WHY?
In an opinion piece recently, the UK Daily Telegraph reported thus:
'"Real naturists are respectful of the feelings of others," says Andrew Welch, a spokesman for the Central Council for British Naturism. "We can't support Steve Gough's actions because they're regressive and damage the image we try to promote." Vince Bethell, the founder of a more militant nudity-advocacy group, Freedom To Be Yourself, is equally scathing, describing Gough as an "attention seeker using public nakedness to feed his ego", and darkly suggesting that the ex-Marine – whom he once advised – is a sexual exhibitionist.'
I can't figure out how breaking down the taboo of nudity is 'regressive', especially against a naturist movement which seems to do little more than lock its members away in exclusive resorts out of sight and with restricted access. Allegations about his motives and underlying sexual proclivities (with an interesting implied judgement) seem to be purely matters of opinion and not evidenced, which seems like an unusual position to state when acting as the leader of an advocacy group.
SG's former partner Melanie Roberts, however, has said publicly (in the UK's most popular newspaper/rag:The Sun) that:
“Sometimes during the walk he’d suggest we avoid obvious public places where we might get arrested — but I was like, ‘Nope, we’re doing this, we’re going straight down Edinburgh High Street’.“Even getting locked up and supervised by a nasty woman prison officer in Scotland was an experience — she refused to give me my warm socks.“We finally made it to John O’Groats, it took us months. And we were naked all the way — even in the depths of winter, hiking across the Cairngorms. Steve was tough and was always trying to push me to the next level.
“The naked walk was as much about independence and freedom as it was about strength of mind, having no shame, raising your level of consciousness.”
This latter quote seems to me to indicate that he's not a pyschopath or indeed mentally ill, but that he is an extremely single-minded, determined individual.
This man is currently incarcerated once again (by a court which incidentally banned him from appearing at his own trial because he refused to wear clothes - I wonder about the legality of such a move), at the taxpayers expense but more importantly, deprived of his freedom for what seems to me to be a very trivial matter.
Let's make it clear: SG simply walks about naked. he doesn't touch himself, display himself wantonly, he doesn't draw attention to himself (unless protesting) and there has been no indication of a sexual motivation for his actions. He simply wants the right to not wear clothes - and that is the crux of the matter.
Why is such a wish held to be so abhorrent that a man should be deprived of his freedom for enacting it? What is there about the human body (remember, no lewdness, no displaying behaviour) that is so objectionable? Why does our western society deem nudity to be an act so appalling that we lock people away for it? Why should anyone - anyone - feel it right to lock up a man for not wearing clothes?
I happen to not share Stephen Gough's wish to walk about naked (although I must admit to at times - on a deserted beach - wishing I was that brave) but I have something of an understanding of why it would be appealing. In my case, I'm too self conscious; I have too many hang ups about how I look. I envy the people who can strip off without feeling self conscious or embarrassed; and when they do so, I don't view it as a sexual or indecent act. I don't think that someone simply walking along in the nude, minding their own business, is a criminal act. In today's world I think it is challenging, surprising, thought-provoking, mischievous and rather brave - but NOT criminal.
I can't really understand how anyone else can be so affronted as to think otherwise, but it seems that Victorian values still abound in some parts of the world. I don't think that's a very good sign for the future.