Mon, Aug 13, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Serial streaker puts UK's urge to strip in the spotlight

LOVE OF LAUGHTER A judge ruled that Mark Roberts' behavior was not anti-social, as he sees himself as an entertainer of sports spectators, not an offender of them

AFP , LONDON

A streaker is chased by a steward during the third day of the third cricket Test match between the West Indies and England at Old Trafford, Manchester, England, on June 9.

PHOTO: AFP

A court ruling this month has thrown the spotlight on what some consider a quintessentially British pastime: streaking, or running around naked in public, preferably with a large crowd watching.

Serial streaker Mark Roberts, 42, managed to avoid a court order banning him from exposing himself at public events last Tuesday.

Over the years, Roberts has stripped off at events including Golf's Ryder Cup, the UEFA and European Cup football finals, the Super Bowl in the US and, more chillingly, the Winter Olympics in Italy.

But he is not the only one: big British sporting events, particularly in the summer, have long been the scene of public clothes-shedding.

"Ever since the kindly Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets to help the people of Coventry, the British have had a soft spot for streakers," the Independent said, alongside a photo spread of top past streaking moments.

These include the almost-iconic picture of 25-year-old Australian accountant Michael O'Brian -- bearded, arms held out by police and with a strategically placed bobby's helmet -- at Twickenham rugby ground in 1974.

Cricket fans were briefly diverted from slow ball action on a stiflingly hot afternoon at Lord's in 1975 when Michael Angelow ran onto the pitch and leapt acrobatically over the stumps, stark naked.

There has even been celebrity streaking. Scottish comedian Billy Connolly stripped off and ran round London's Piccadilly Circus naked as a charity stunt in 2001, watched by over 12 million TV viewers.

Serial streaker Roberts had faced being slapped with an anti-social behavior order after he breached security at the last hole of the British Open Golf Championship last year.

But his lawyer, Laurence Lee, pointed out that his client, who over the years had performed some 380 streaks, had not offended in the past year.

"My client has turned over a new fig leaf. He accepts that some people might be offended," he said.

Judge Nick Sanders rejected the police application with the explanation: "What Mister Roberts does may be annoying but, in my opinion, it does not amount to anti-social behavior."

Speaking afterwards, Roberts was unrepentant.

"I thought it was absolutely ridiculous, accusing me of anti-social behavior. What I do is something totally the opposite. I try to entertain people," he said.

Of course, he enjoys the adrenalin rush. He recalled his first-ever streak in 1993 at the Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, the result of a drunken bet the night before.

"I ran out onto the pitch and there were 65,000 screaming their heads off with excitement," he said, also recounting being chased by police at half-time in the 2004 Super Bowl.

Doctor Glenn Wilson, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said streaking is the result of a basic urge in a certain personality type.

"There is an ancient urge, it's like `daddy, mummy look at me' as a child jumps into a swimming pool. We all crave attention, some more than others," he said.

Also fueling the phenomenon is the premium that is put on fame in the modern world, in particular in the modern celebrity-obsessed culture of countries like Britain, he said.

"Fame equals exposure. It's not a case of great achievements in art or science or the military that counts for fame any more, it is simply exposure in the tabloids or on television," he said.

Not everyone is sure that streaking is entirely harmless, however.

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