Doing It All for Sir Elton
Brighton and Hove Gay Men's Chorus' Chris Jessop blogs for GT
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I've just returned from a 16 hour round trip to Leicester, knowing that out of respect and kindness, the news which needed sharing with my mother, must be done in person. I'd built up to this moment, worked on the reasons, knowing that this she could find particularly tough. I would kindly assure her that it wasn't a reflection on her parenting skills, and that although I am her only son, some of us are just like that. And I'm watching this woman, who frankly is old enough to know better, as she resists rolling around on the floor in stomach clenching laughter, all of it at my expense. I might have taken exception if I thought that she knew me less well than she does. You see I can't decide whether I'm just easily led or just enjoy shocking people by doing what they would least expect of me! And the words now hanging in the air, are forever out there,
"I want to take my kit off for Sir Elton!"
Three weeks ago I got a phone call from John, Chairman of Brighton and Hove Gay Men's Chorus and he asks, "How would you like to be photographed naked?" Slightly concerned he might be overstepping the boundaries of our friendship, I listened on as he explained that we'd been approached by Gay Times to feature in their next naked edition. "Do you think the boys would be prepared to take their clothes off and raise money for Sir Elton John's AIDS Foundation?"
I've long been aware of and regularly purchased the annual naked issue. A bit of an event, cellophane wrapped, glossy covered, always featuring a tastefully naked celebrity on the front. I usually can't wait to see who has been brave enough to bare all for the photographer and more importantly, how the nude reality lives up to the fantasy, as I enjoy flicking through the pictures, playing 'Hot or Not'. I then imagine other readers doing the same, whilst checking out our images and I'm not so sure that I want to embrace the public scrutiny in quite this way.
But as is so often the case, I find myself engaging my mouth before my brain, so, full of bravado, I agree to add my name to the list and watch as the list quickly fills with the names of other chorus members.
It must have been around this time that I developed a rather socially concerning and all consuming habit. At every opportunity I took to removing my clothes and staring at myself naked in front of the mirror.
It was not just the casual glance which you might expect as you leave the shower or quick check to remind you that your gym membership has expired, no, this involves long analytical head to toe observation, we're dealing with symmetry here, definition, size and shape, aspects of my body that I have never really paid due attention to before. Don't get me wrong this is definitely a case of being obsessed not impressed.
And that's how I sold it to my mum. That I was helping Sir Elton with his fund raising, not in a collecting tin outside the supermarket type of way but that he really needed me and my friends from the Chorus to take our kit off.
So on the assurance that this was not filth and with approval gained, the vanity gene kicked in. I knew that the edition celebrated bodies of different shapes and sizes, I like the message, I get the idea, I just wasn't sure that I was ready to be a poster boy highlighting a body, which was sufficiently different in shape and size, to warrant celebrating. Yes I have issues, and I'm terrified! What I really want to gain is some body confidence, to become the type of bloke who unashamedly struts across the changing rooms at the gym naked, proud not ashamed to look like a hairy arsed biker. So in an attempt for a quick fix, I book far more sessions with my personal trainer than my monthly expenditure allows, I reduce the strength of my gin & tonics, banish deserts, consider tanning options and read up on the pros and cons of waxing as I continue to drop my kit, in the hope that one day it'll all miraculously be OK.
So when my reality check arrived, precisely one week before the photo shoot, it was both public and painful. I was on Brighton seafront, in broad daylight, sporting nothing but a pair of baby pink boxers and a leather bikers jacket, whilst a growing audience gathered around me to watch! This was not my intended introduction to public disrobing, nor was I embracing some as yet unexplored fetish. Suddenly and with no warning, I watched as a car turned and smacked into the side of my prized Triumph motorbike, leaving me lying motionless in the middle of the road underneath it. With the help of the emergency services and a pair of scissors, I said goodbye to my Diesel jeans and Abercrombie t shirt, allowing for all manner of sensors to be stuck strategically over my body, leaving me wired to a machine, before the ambulance carefully took me off to the trauma unit.
It's not my intention to be flippant, I know I'm bloody lucky but no one wants to read a morbid blog. And from that moment on it all changed.
Mirror watching took on new horrors, the dislocated shoulder upset my desire for symmetry and definition, as did the ankle burn and the scrapes, bruises and swellings all down my right hand side. As I removed the many sensors which remained firmly adhered, from my body, they effectively tore any hair from the immediate vicinity and I was left with a leopard print effect that was not in the original waxing plan.
And as the day came nearer and my stomach became more bloated, I still for some crazy reason wanted to be part of the whole experience.
Resigned to the fact that the body I now had was the one I was to be photographed in, the secret location was revealed and visited, the clothes came off and we laughed. And how we laughed! Not at each other but with each other, we felt liberated. It was as much fun to be naked, the shape and size that we are, than potentially that which we aspire to be. It felt great to be doing this with a group of great friends and I love the fact that our ages span almost five decades, making, I believe, BHGMC an example of a very real and positive modern gay community. I hope they're not too heavy handed with the airbrush and that they don't photoshop too generously because on reflection I think we looked OK just as we were.
If my proud mum has her way, the Gay Times naked edition will be appearing on quite a few coffee tables in leafy Leicestershire villages this winter. With every cellophane covered copy raising much needed awareness and more than a few bemused eyebrows, when it hits the news stands in late November.
And as I left Leicestershire, an interesting point was raised. If the Brighton & Hove Gay Men's Chorus have helped Sir Elton raise money for his AIDS Foundation, maybe, just maybe, he might return the favour and invite us to sing with him in the future. Who knows? Good point mum!
More details about Brighton and Hove Gay Men's Chorus on their official website. To buy the album have a gander here.