For the most part, the women who make up Britain’s National Federaition of Women’s Institutes are viewed as a hem-below-the-knee, sensible-shoe bunch. They spend their time promoting such homespun pastimes as floral arranging and needlework and fancy taking lunch in their best hats and pearls.
And, sometimes, nothing else. In their year 2000 calendar, 11 of 38 members of the Rylstone & District WI in northern England—ages 45 to 66—pose in the distinctly unbuffed buff, with little but teacups and clay pots for cover. (December is a group shot.) As a result, they have become the U.K.’s hottest female ensemble since the Spice Girls, selling a whopping 88,000 calendars and earning some $500,000 for Britain’s Leukemia Research Fund.
England’s mania for the Full Molly has even spread to the royal family; in April of 1999 they delivered a few calendars to Buckingham Palace. “We asked if the Queen and Queen Mum would really get them,” says Tricia Stewart, 51, Miss October, a saleswoman. The equerry’s response: “I can assure Madam the Queen likes to keep abreast—pardon the pun—of all the news.”
Though all in fun, the calendar was not inspired by a happy occasion. In July 1998 WI member Angela Baker lost her husband, John, an official at Yorkshire Dales National Park, to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Looking for an attention-getting way to raise funds for cancer research, the least-inhibited WI members settled on shedding their clothes—an idea they had previously joked about. “I agreed to it after a few drinks,” says Ros Fawcett, 50, a boutique owner. “The next morning I thought, ‘What on earth have I agreed to do?’ ”
Two months after Baker’s death they scheduled the first of three photo shoots at the sprawling 17th-century home of Lynda Logan, 56, a painter. Her husband, Terry, 61, a onetime art director, was behind the camera. (“It’s every man’s fantasy to be in a room with naked ladies,” he says. “But it’s work—and, besides, my wife was breathing down my neck.”) Though wine flowed throughout, the women credit the widowed Baker, now 54, an information officer at Yorkshire Dales, with keeping them from backing out. “She just came in, dropped her dressing gown and sat on the piano stool,” says Lynda Logan. “She said, ‘If we are going to do this, we’ve got to do it right.’ ” With that, the rest were ready to grin and bare it. Or at least some of it. “My first photo was playing darts,” says Christine Clancy, 47, an office administrator. “But we changed it to the tea pouring. You don’t have much to hide behind with a dart!”
The women have been amazed by the thousands of letters they’ve received from fans who say they were inspired by the display. “Many women,” says Beryl Bamforth, 66, a retired secretary who posed chairing a WI meeting, “have said, ‘We feel better. We wouldn’t necessarily take our clothes off—but we feel better.’ ” Plans to market the calendar in the U.S. are under way. And for the record all insist no retouching was done. At a recent calendar sale, recalls Lynda Logan, “one lady said, ‘I bet a lot of airbrushing went on.’ I said—with pleasure—’Madam, all the wrinkles are our own.’ ”
Pete Norman in North Yorkshire