Curled up in a tent off an English country road in a snowstorm, Stephen Gough is feeling optimistic. 'The Naked Rambler' is free after seven years of near continuous jail for his refusal to wear clothes in public, and the charges of outraging public decency have been dropped.
“After wasting so much time and money, I hope they will think harder about arresting me again,” Gough, 53, told Metro. “They can still charge me with disorder but it doesn’t make sense when what I’m doing is not threatening or insulting to anyone.”
Although Gough’s actions have put him behind bars – and in solitary confinement – the Naked Rambler claims this is a campaign for individual freedom: “Some people think it’s a frivolous protest but this came from realizing that to feel good about myself I can’t see my body as something shameful.”
Following this epiphany in 2003, the ex-marine embarked on three naked walks covering the length of Britain. Gough’s case became famous and well supported, but this came at the cost of estrangement from his wife and children. “I do miss my old life,” the rambler admits, but his resolve is unwavering. “People that really care about you don’t care if you’re different.”
Gough has always passed psychiatric tests and his mind and body are sharp, but the campaign has tested him. The rambler has broken down in court explaining his values. The plan now is to make the 50-mile trek to his mother’s house and take a long rest. Gough has not called her yet, to avoid raising her hopes should he be arrested again.
Supporters have been calling frequently since his release, and the movement has grown since 2003. One group with 3,000 members provides funding and holds rallies at his court appearances. “He has successfully changed perceptions,” said naturalist Will Golden of ‘Free Stephen Gough’. “Seven out of ten people in Britain support him – I would never have thought that possible.”
Public opinion could yet decide the rambler’s fate. “The law is flexible on public nudity and [prosecution] is dependent on public offence and complaint,” Professor Hector MacQueen of Edinburgh Law School, told Metro.
Q&A with the 'Naked Rambler'
Metro: Doesn’t your right to freedom impact others rights to not be offended/traumatized?
Gough: I don’t believe the body can be offensive, indecent or disgusting. You’re looking at the same species. I understand it makes people uncomfortable but that’s not my fault – its their belief that is telling them the human body is disgusting.
What reactions do you get from the public?
Some people want to cheer me on and shake my hand, they want to give me food or money. Others say its disgusting but not so many. Some areas are difficult. I’m not looking for confrontation but I confront beliefs and that upsets some people.
Does being naked in England not damage your health?
Since going naked I have had one bout of flu in 6 years. It’s freezing but that doesn’t hurt me, I think it helps your body resist diseases and is not a problem as long as I don’t push it too far. If I get too cold I stop and put up my tent. I try to eat healthy; porridge in the morning, lots of vegetables, water, and not much else.