“I’ve got problems with my body image, like anyone. Even in the shower by myself I find myself hiding a bit. I look at my body, at my varicose veins, and I think, ‘You’re ugly’. Then I think, ‘No! What I am is not my body.’ I write the negative thoughts down and I find they are all lies.”
There is something almost fevered about Gough as he speaks, a magnetism that forces me to follow his tangled train of thought. Despite the cameraman, photographer and artist sketching him as he speaks, he seems utterly unselfconscious, his pale face glaring at the camera like a seasoned actor. His critics have accused him of attention-seeking, or just plain insanity. In 2012 he broke down in court and was ordered to undergo psychiatric tests, which concluded that nothing serious was wrong.
“They said I’m a solipsist. Well, I’m not. What’s self-serving about being in prison?”Gough claims that, far from there being any problem with his own mind, it is those who claim to be offended by his nakedness who suffer from a mental disorder.
“There’s nothing wrong, nothing indecent about the human body. So why is it indecent to be naked? The logic doesn’t compute.”
Gough seems to believe that if he does not consider himself offensive, then no one else should. I ask him whether he would walk into a church or mosque naked.“Yeah. It’s public space. I’m the public, aren’t I? I’m free to go there.”
I suggest that a naked body would be deeply disrespectful for a congregation.“Those rules aren’t right.” Eventually, however, Gough says that if he were asked not to go somewhere in particular, he wouldn’t. His former solicitor, John Good, points out that in the many cases in which he represented Gough, there was never a single complainant: “The convictions were based on hypothetical risk.”
Gough’s life history is unsurprisingly chequered, although he says his childhood was “normal”: the toilet door was locked, people got dressed in private and nudism was not a stance he inherited from his parents.
At the age of 21 he went to Thailand, then joined the Moonies, a controversial church that insists on celibacy during youth. He said he was “kicked out” for having sex, and the experience contributed to his conviction that suppressing the human body can only be harmful.“What do they say? ‘What you resist persists.’ ”
Gough served in the Royal Marines before working as a lorry driver and a T-shirt salesman. He married and had two children, whom his now-ex-wife prevents him from seeing after he persisted in being naked.“I write to them, but they don’t write back. When they grow up I hope they’ll see why I’ve made my choices. I stand for truth, and actions speak louder than words.”
Sixteen years ago, on a “slow, pondering walk” in Canada, Gough had a sudden epiphany that led to his conviction to go naked. “I thought, ‘I am good. My body is good!’ ”Suddenly, his eyes fill with tears. He stops, trying to control his voice, and holds up two fists. “Me . . . and . . . good. Bam!” He smacks his fists together. “They weren’t separate any more.”
Gough’s older brother, who followed him into the Moonies, still belongs to the sect and barred us from holding the interview at the house of their mother, Nora. When I spoke to her on the phone, she complained the prison governor had never allowed her to visit Gough in jail, “because he was in solitary, I suppose. It’s not the first time I’ve seen him naked.”
Last Tuesday, the Court of Appeal refused to certify that Gough’s latest appeal raised a point of law of general public importance, which means that he has exhausted his avenues of appeal in the UK. Gough is surprisingly upbeat about the loss. “It could be good news — if it goes to the next level [the European Court of Human Rights], more people are going to know about it.”
As Gough prepares to leave for his mother’s house, he says he feels “a little trepidation” but is looking forward to seeing Nora. “I want to bake a cake. Scones fresh out the oven. I like cooking.”
He gets me to put my number in his phone, which he says he has almost forgotten how to use, before stuffing it in his sock, jumping boldly over his mother’s garden fence and marching up to the door. I leave, but a few minutes later, to my surprise he calls.
“They’re throwing me out the house,” he says flatly. Even in his own household it seems Gough’s convictions are too extreme to be accommodated; after all he has endured, this seems a particularly cruel disappointment. I say I’m sorry. “Oh, you know, that’s life, isn’t it?” And with that, he’s gone, no doubt to be arrested again soon.