A Tour de France take on the Calendar Girls by two famous photographers looks set to add some ooh la la to the Grand Départ celebrations. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Paul Berriff.
When Liz Annetts received a phone call from a stranger asking whether she and her friends would mind stripping to their underwear for him, she didn’t slam the phone down.
Instead, she heard him through and decided it might be a good idea. The result is a Tour de France take on the famous Calendar Girls, featuring female members of the Harrogate-based Cappuccino Cycling Club. The cyclists range in age from their 30s to 50s and sport nothing but Rigby & Peller underwear and a smile.
The plan to create the best imitation yet of the Rylstone WI calendar was hatched by Bedale-based Paul Berriff, a former press photographer and award-winning documentary maker, and his friend Masham-based Michael Dunne, now 86, a fashion photographer who worked with the world’s top models and magazines. Michael’s camera assistant back in the 1960’s was David Bailey.
“We wanted to do something different to mark the Grand Départ and we thought it would be great to get girls on bikes in key locations on the route. The idea is to raise money for charity and to show off Yorkshire at the same time,” says Paul.
“I rang a couple of cycling clubs and they weren’t interested. Then I spoke to Liz. There was a long silence and she said she’d consult other members. They said yes.”
The women of the Cappuccino Cycling Club are a game bunch. Each Saturday, around 20 members pedal between 50 and 100 miles fuelled by stops for cake and coffee. The hills, the weather and the traffic can be hard work but they were nothing compared to posing in bra and pants in public. That really strengthened the group’s camaraderie. There was laughter, hugs and tears as they were forced to confront their various body hang-ups while letting it all hang out for the camera. “Does my bum look big in this?” was the most common question.
If you wonder what possessed them to do it, it was the same have-a-go spirit that gets them out of bed and into the saddle on Saturday morning along with the chance to raise money for the air ambulance.
“Within half an hour of asking, I had six definites. In the end, 13 of us took part,” says Liz, 41, a project manager for a finance company.
The choice of charity became more relevant when Stuart Newton, a member of the Cappuccino’s male contingent, suffered a broken neck in a cycling accident and the air ambulance was called out.
“Cyclists are often to be found in remote, inaccessible locations and need the air ambulance, which relies on charitable donations,” says Paul, who drove round the Tour de France stages choosing locations that reveal Yorkshire’s beauty and diversity.
The result is that the half-naked women are not always the focal point of the pictures, depending where your interests lie. The model fights for attention with the glorious Dales landscape and a fine flock of sheep in Muker, while the stockings and suspenders will barely get a glance from ardent cyclists, who will be sighing over the bikes or tutting over the lack of helmets.
“We agonised over the helmets and decided we had to include them in at least one picture,” says Elaine Wilson, 49, an IT specialist.
There were a few artistic differences. The photographers’ expertise was never in question but the men were overruled by the models on more than one occasion.
“Michael tried to introduce some mountain bikes in one shot and we said no because we use road bikes,” says Liz, who rides a Trek Domane.
For the group shot, they had all the women clad in colourful knickers and perched on a dry stone wall with their bottoms to the camera. It caused a few tears then a mild mutiny and Paul agreed to scrap it for a full frontal of them in their Cappuccino Club shirts.
“There were tears and times when it was quite emotional,” says Rachael Bateman, 42, a lawyer. “Women are over-critical of their bodies at the best of times. There were days when some of us lost our confidence and the others would rally round. What’s nice about this calendar is that we are all different shapes and sizes.”
The new Rigby & Peller store in Harrogate supplied the underwear and store assistants Laura and Sam helped the women choose what they felt most comfortable in.
Each shoot had minders for moral support when the gawping and wolf whistles got too much. Rachael was on hand in York when a passing student took a photo of a scantily clad model on his phone. She ran after him and ordered him to delete the image immediately. He did it, no question.
It was one of many laugh-out-loud moments. Another was when Liz, in a corset and high heels, and Elaine, in bra and knickers, were cycling up a hill in Marsden, near Huddersfield. Rachael was on traffic stopping duty and that included flagging a double-decker bus full of teenage boys to a halt while her half-naked friends cycled by. In Muker, the sheep escaped and a Land Rover got stuck.
“It was fun and looking after each other and reassuring each other has brought us all closer,” says Elaine.
Paul and Michael, meanwhile, are still recovering after what turned out to be a logistical nightmare.
“It took six weeks of trying to organise when the women were available and then we had the British weather to contend with, but it was great,” says Paul. “If people like the calendar we’re thinking of taking the girls in Italy to do it all again next year.”