I’m guessing that a few or you were thinking, “Who?” until you noticed the photo below, at which time it became quite obvious who Melanie Roberts is. She was the woman who joined Stephen Gough in walking the 874 miles from Land’s end to John O’Groats naked back between 2005 and 2006. With the repeated arrests and continued imprisonment of Gough, Melanie’s contribution has tended to be forgotten.
Stephen is a well known and controvertial figure who has been in the news a lot. Some people consider him a hero whilst others question his sanity. His wife left him over his public nudity and his refusal to dress has led him to spend most of the last decade in one prison or another. There are naturists who think he is doing naturism more harm than good. His most recent imprisonment is definitely a travesty. I admire Gough but sometimes question the wisdom of his actions.
When it comes to Melanie Roberts I have no reservations in my admiration for her. She is an exceptional, brave, determined woman who I admire whole heartedly.
Gough’s first walk across the country began in 2003 and ended in January 2004. In 2005 whilst he was preparing for another walk he met Melanie Roberts, a hairdresser from Bornemouth aged 33, on Studland beach and asked her to join him. In a newspaper interview Melanie said “I wanted a break from the nine-to-five so I joined him.” “I just thought: ‘Why not?’,” The two of them had only just got together shortly before the walk. “I think it will be a good way of getting to know each other,” she says. “Although it could go either way, couldn’t it? But I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun. That’s our intention anyway.”
Melanie’s attitude towards walking naked across the country and the effect it might have on others was a very positive one from the outset. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m proud of my body and other women should be proud of theirs as well. You shouldn’t have to cover yourself up. I like my body because it’s me.”
Like Gough, Melanie was determined to walk the whole length of the country naked. It was not without considerable hardship. They were arrested twice before making it out of England, but were released soon afterwards. “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’.
The press reports and articles focus on Gough, neglecting to say much about Melanie, so I am not certain how many times she was arrested. Mr Gough was jailed for two weeks in September for breach of the peace by walking naked on the A701 in Midlothian. Gough denied the charges. Melanie Roberts wore clothes in the dock, admitted a reduced breach of the peace charge and was given a deferred sentence. Gough was arrested again moments after leaving Edinburgh’s Saughton prison for refusing to cover up and was bailed. He was later jailed for two months at Dingwall Sheriff Court for breach of bail conditions and was sent back to Saughton to serve his sentence. As he left jail in November, Mr Gough was again arrested for refusing to cover up. He served 3 months in jail. In February he was admonished by a sheriff for breaching bail conditions by failing to wear clothes as he left prison. The pair were picked up by police near Dingwall after an outraged Kirk minister spotted them and complained about their nakedness and they were arrested again near Dornoch Bridge, in the Highlands.
Melanie faced all this with fortitude and would not give up on the trek. “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.”
As well as the legal troubles she also had to endure the elements. Their repeated arrests meant that the last stages of their trek through Scotland were done during the winter. “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.”
She and Stephen remained together after the trek, but when he was arrested for stripping off on a plane on his way to a court hearing it was obvious that he could be in prison for a long time and the two decided to split up. She is in another relationship now but still continues to support Stephen Gough and the decisions he has made.
Rather than being a radical figure who is constantly pushing further and further in a fairly fanatical fight for the acceptance of nudity everywhere and anywhere, Melanie was someone who had set herself a challenge and had accomplished it with courage, fortitude, determination and honour. I remember there being a lot more press coverage of the second walk than there had been of the first walk. There were regular updates on the radio about where the couple had reached on their journey. Gough’s second walk had started to make his actions seem more reasonable and acceptable to the public. I think this was in a large part down to Melanie’s presence at his side. Prior to the walk Melanie also suggested that her presence might help their image and make them more acceptable.
“I am really hoping that we won’t be arrested. Maybe me being with Stephen will help. Some people might think that a naked man on his own is a bit crazy – perhaps having a woman there too will make a difference.”
Another naturist had also joined them in hiking naked for part of the journey, but Melanie was the only person to see the whole thing through at Gough’s side, despite all the adversity they faced.
For her “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.” “I don’t want to offend anyone or upset anybody and hopefully if I’m nice to people, they’ll be nice back.”
The Naked Rambler’s walks across the country were a positive protest and one which had a clearly defined objective. They had a definite target and in their journey towards that target they made nudity a lot more visible and normal. Melanie hoped to inspire women to love and accept their bodies more. Gough’s message was also a positive one “Why do it with no clothes on? To celebrate the fact that I’m a human being and that there is nothing shameful in being a human being. There’s nothing wrong with a naked body,” There was nothing sexual about the two of them tromping across the country. People could find out their route and where they had reached, so like the WNBR rides, their arrival was not a complete shock to many of the people they passed.
Whilst Gough is a person who I think deserves our support I have not found him to be inspirational. I doubt I could ever be like Stephen Gough and I don’t know if I would want to be. I admire his conviction but question his decisions. That sort of single minded confrontational behaviour, sacrificing family and children rather than compromise seems a bit too closed minded to me.
Melanie Roberts, by contrast, I find inspiring. She was a woman who accepted the challenge to walk across the country in order to promote body acceptance. She faced adversity along the way, but came through it all bravely. She was not as confrontational as Gough, nor did she decide to follow the walk by initiating further legal battles. This in no way diminishes the importance of what she did. Rather, it makes her a far more accessible figure for others to emulate. In a way she is like Yuichiro Miura, the 80 year old who climbed Everest. She set herself an extremely difficult goal, in order to be an inspiration to others and show them that they too can be capable of so much more and she achieved those goals. I hope that I could perhaps one day have the strength of character to be like Melanie Roberts. To challenge outdated ideas, to be an inspiration to others and to have the courage to achieve her goals, no matter the obstacles.