Public speaker and The English Cream Tea Company boss Jane Malyon gives a talk at a Bournemouth hotel to 180 naturists
Jane Malyon, professional speaker and managing director of The English Cream Tea Company, based in White Roding, writes about her most surreal public speaking engagement to date...
When I’m not being the Chief Scone Gnome of The English Cream Tea Company, I travel around giving talks which are (hopefully) ‘edutaining'. Sometimes it will be for a small group such as a WI and sometimes it’s more of a keynote speech for hundreds at a conference-style event.
On Friday January 17 I was at Rhodes Arts Complex as compere for the Isabel Hospice and Friends Dress Agency fashion show evening, the brainchild of Mayor Cllr Norma Symonds. All great fun.
However, Saturday January 25 was a whole new experience: I was to travel to the Suncliff Hotel in Bournemouth to give a talk about afternoon tea to 180 naturists. That’s not naturalists, like David Bellamy, you understand – we’re talking about people who have no clothes on. Absolutely nothing. Well, what a revelation this all turned out to be!
I was invited by event organiser Mark Walsh, who is himself a British naturist, and he advised that my own clothing would be optional.
My speaker agent advised me that I’d only be able to use photos for my speaker website if I was wearing clothes, so I remained covered up throughout as there was indeed a photographer.
Perhaps if I’d stayed the whole weekend I’d have thrown caution to the wind – after all, there was a host of naked activities to try out, from water aerobics to yoga (though the thought of the downward dog pose did not appeal).
Mark had kindly offered to collect me from Bournemouth railway station in a camper van. Upon arrival, as I looked around the station pick-up area, there he was in the van, apparently naked from the get-go. In fact, he was wearing a flesh-coloured T-shirt and trousers, which turned out to be helpful, as he had to get out of the vehicle to put my case in the back. Phew!
We arrived at the hotel and I immediately noticed that the windows were covered up with plasticised film sheets. It transpired this wasn’t to stop people seeing in (because, Mark assured me, the nudists didn’t mind a bit), it was more to do with the fact that the hotel was owned by the Qatari royal family and their Muslim faith preferred the window coverings to be put up.
There were several guests outside the hotel having a smoke, with dressing gowns and flip-flops on. However, immediately upon entering the hotel, I was surrounded by lovely, smiling, friendly people, all of whom were totally stark naked.
I was completely the odd one out, although the hotel staff were clothed. I saw only waiters, no waitresses, and wondered if this had been an active decision or was by chance.
I was glad to find out that the hotel had been ‘bought out’ for the whole weekend by the naturists. Prior to this I had tried to figure out how the hotel would blend the mix of naked guests with fully-clothed ones, especially at the breakfast buffet queueing for sausages in the morning.
The majority of attendees at this event were middle-aged or older, and my guess is that some were even in their late eighties.
The theme of the weekend was the 1960s, with bands such as Edison Lighthouse playing. How the guests were to join in the theme without fancy dress clothes baffled me, although I suspect the odd daisy and flower power image might have been body-painted on for the evening.
Greeted with a cup of tea by the lovely Pam Fraser, we had a chat. She explained it was fine to take photos of people wearing white wrist bands because that signified they were happy to have pictures taken and published. However, she guided that female nipples could not be published though male top halves could (discrimination!), and she allowed her long hair to cover her breasts for photos. Perfect!
Pam is in her 20s and was probably the youngest naturist there. She’s not only involved in organising the event but is also extremely enthusiastic about the world of British naturism. She loves it! She wears clothes as little as possible in life, but is the only sibling of five in her house who does so. Her brothers have learned to take no notice.
I quickly gathered that naturism is not a sexually-based way of life – that’s not their intention behind being bare. It’s not about indecent exposure at all. For them it’s a freer way of being.
I learned that there are whole villages (for example, in Spain and France) that are naturist all the time, and many of the guests at the ’60s weekend in Bournemouth attend naturist holidays and trips regularly. Their travel luggage is very light as they mostly need just two towels; one for use and the other in the wash.
Apparently there are nude cruises plus naked dining events in restaurants all over the UK. Indeed, there’s a whole world out there that I didn’t know about before this weekend.
The guests filed in for the talk and for afternoon tea. A number sat on their own towels on the hotel chairs. However, they did universally seem to have flip-flops, sandals or slippers on.
I noticed that apart from being extremely charming and welcoming, the guests were (like any other audience) all shapes and sizes, some with scars (which normally you wouldn’t be aware of) and some with piercings etc. Two gentlemen wore bow ties (just bow ties) as the occasion was ‘afternoon tea’. Very civilised.
The talk went down a storm and the group was very participative, which was fun. I didn’t find the nakedness in front of me particularly off-putting, though perhaps a little surreal.
Part of my talk was about teatime etiquette, and when I discussed where napkins should be tucked, they all had some fun with that!
My only problem was that the hotel was super-hot to keep the naked guests cosy – and being the only one wearing a jacket, trousers and boots, I was sweltering.
I was given extra time because everyone was having fun with the talk and the tea, but in the end I had to come to a close because it was time for the guests to go off to learn Argentinian tango. Apparently the chaps would be wearing underwear for this because the dance involved extremely up-close and personal contact, but the ladies would still be naked. Oh, the rules and nuances were fascinating.
I waited for the organiser Mark to jump back into some clothes to drop me off at the station, and we got talking about the group coming to our area for an afternoon tea at one of the two venues my husband Roger and I run: Pledgdon Barn in Elsenham and The Secret Sconery Tearoom in White Roding, which is open for special events.
I checked with hubby about whether he would be open to a naturism event at our venues and he concluded "Why not?" Why not indeed. They were such a nice crowd.
The only ‘negative’ was that after my talks I usually sell copies of my book Scone or Scon(e) – The Essential Guide to British Afternoon Tea to audience members. Not one person bought one in Bournemouth, but if you think about it, without clothes, pockets or bags, no-one had money about their person. And if they had a credit card, I wouldn’t like to think where they carried it.
All in all it was a fun and fascinating event, and I’d go to speak to them again in a heartbeat. The life of a speaker, clearly, is not dull.
* Jane Malyon, whose sons Edward and George attended Bishop's Stortford College, is a professional speaker and author, and an expert on the history and etiquette of afternoon teas, appearing regularly on TV and radio. She is managing director of The English Cream Tea Company, based in White Roding, which delivers fresh afternoon tea across the UK and teatime gifts worldwide. In 2011 at Quendon, she orchestrated a Guinness World Record for the largest English cream tea party.