I stumble in my heels, mentally cursing my choice of footwear. These shoes are not made for walking aimlessly around Regent’s Park, trying to locate a gaggle of naked women. My phone rings, and it’s Becca, concerned and distracted at the same time. “Where are you? Wait- I’m just getting painted. Yes, yes, walk towards the fountain with the urns at the bottom.”
As Regent’s Park contains various fountains, it takes me a while to locate this particular one. Forty minutes later, I see an orange arm wave out to me from behind a bush. Then a leg emerges, and then, all of Becca emerges, grinning broadly at me. “You made it!” We air kiss, and she waves off the bemused bystanders with a shrug. She is in a bikini, painted orange from top to toe, completely unfazed.
She leads me to the rest of the group. Conny beams up at me through the eyelashes being painted on her. Jonny is sponging orange paint on Ali’s bum, Sheina is getting a full frontal paint job while Reggi is having her legs striped. Teresa sways over to me, a slinky tigress in a black dress. I can almost hear her purr. “Welcome darling! So glad you could join us.” I chortle amiably. There’s no way I could have missed this.
Many months ago, I nearly did. When this audacious scheme first originated in Becca’s mind (as they invariably do), I was amongst the invitees. Fancy running naked through the zoo with us? A shudder went through me, and I very politely declined. Naked. With body paint. In front of strangers. In a zoo. Nightmare scenario.
Yet, as the months went by, and the charitable contributions poured in, and the Facebook posts got wilder and more exciting, a part of me felt like this was something special. Something different, and interesting, and brave. I wanted a part of it. Even if it was just as a bystander. So here I was, imbibing the Prosecco, and photographing women in various states of undress.
It’s not everyday that you see naked women being painted in a park. Understandably there are many many curious looks. Most people look, and then look away. A few looks linger, a few voyeurs linger even longer. Some take up permanent residence in the tall grass in the distance. A small child stands dumbstruck half a mile away. The music is blaring and then Tiger Feet comes on.
Ali starts dancing. Sheina joins in. Then the rest. They dance in tandem. Some in kaftans, some completely starkers. I snap away, infected by the joyous energy of the group.
We munch on cocktail sausages and crisps. Drink lukewarm bubbles. Swap stories and laugh the afternoon away. Each lady is beautiful and unique and amazing in her own way. They are all different shapes and sizes. The one thing they have in common is a body confidence that is wondrous to behold. Emboldened by each other, dedicated to raising funds for this worthy cause, they do not allow any body anxiety to get in the way of having a marvellous day.
Ali semi squats in front of Helen sans her scanties. Now her bottom bits are being embellished. Slap slap the brush slaps on black paint. Ali winks at me. Such sangfroid. I’m nearly jealous, but rapidly realise that I definitely do not want my parts on display. Such courage I do not have. I resume my role of observer/reporter with relief. Time’s ticking and I indicate to the girls that perhaps we’d better make tracks towards the zoo. A rapid clear up ensues.
Tails and paws emerge. Our tigresses are well and truly ready to streak. But first they must gently trot towards the zoo. Displaying phenomenal feline grace, they hoist their backpacks and pull along their cases. The Prosecco has added a sparkle to the proceedings, and as I bring up the rear, I see them being accosted by the paparazzi. “Ladies, ladies…this way. Pose. Smile. Roar. Claws out.” For added effect, Sheina drops her wrap and gives them an eyeful. This is what sexy looks like! They are still picking their jaws off the floor, while we collect our wristbands and enter the premises.
There are around 200 runners, and roughly about that many spectators. The run is only 350 meters, but it is a streak, and from what little we’ve glimpsed of some of the other runners, some haven’t even bothered with the paint.
There are banners lining the path with cheeky slogans like ‘Llamas rarely wear Pyjamas’ and ‘Ants don’t wear Pants, and neither do You’. Nudity is de rigeur, and much like at a nudist beach, its the ones in clothes that stick out like sore thumbs.
While waiting for the race to begin, the four of us supporters/helpers, sit and chat with one another. We talk about conservation, of the delicate eco-system balances that are being disrupted world over, by raging development, callous culling and complete extermination of certain species. Each animal has its rightful place in the food chain, and contributes to it in so many known and unknown ways. Removing it from the chain affects every link, and ultimately causes an imbalance that affects all of us.
Critically Endangered and present nowhere else in the world, the Sumatran tiger is one of those species most vulnerable to the social and economic changes currently occurring in Indonesia. After Critically Endangered, the next level on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is Extinct in the Wild. The next and final category is Extinct. The ZSL’s work in Indonesia is focusing on developing sustainable livelihoods for the local communities, protecting peat forests from destruction and countering poaching activities and resolving conflicts betweens tigers and humans.
“Would you do something like this?”, asks Helen. “Perhaps next year”, answers Michelle,”Yes, I think I would now”. I am reticent. We discuss body issues. How few there are on the Continent, and how riddled we are by them here in the UK. I am no prude but acutely conscious of my shortcomings. Could I do something like this? I’m still pondering it when the announcement that the race is beginning comes on.
We wait in excited anticipation. The curtain goes up and with a roar of approval from the spectators, the naked runners streak past us. Some have cute paw prints all over them, some have nothing but a tiger mask on their faces, others are painted as tigers too. But our girls lead the charge. Seven beautiful, glorious, brave women storm ahead, paws pounding, tails swinging behind them, radiant, laughing, glowing. Ali’s magnificent breasts defying gravity. Jonny’s perky bottom, swaying in rhythm to the music. They wave as they go around. Then come around again and again.
We yell, we scream, we take pictures and laugh. A runner catches our eye and comes over to pose with us. He puts his arm around me, wearing not a stitch but a smile. “Looks like you’ve pulled!”, Michelle whispers conspiratorially, giggling. I laugh and whoop as one runner does his eighth turn, and another runs by with a frame around his naked torso. I’m surrounded by boobs,butts and schlongs, and it suddenly occurs to me that to the animals, we must be the ridiculous species, covering ourselves up with bits of cloth.
At long last it’s over. The runners and spectators are shepherded towards the enclosure of the twin tiger cubs, born in June this year. They can see first hand how their contribution is helping protect this species last numbered at around 300. I bid my lovely tigresses goodbye, and head home.
My Whatsapp is saturated with messages the next morning. The girls are all over the papers, and online news. They are fizzing over with excitement and pride at a job well done.
What’s more touching, however, is the unspoken bond that they have forged through this experience. A madcap exploit that will have them chuckling well into their twilight years.
Postscript: The girls have raised over £3000 with the number still rising.For anyone wishing to contribute, please visit: