Mark Roberts, who claims to be the world’s most prolific streaker, has stripped for the last time.
For two decades, the Liverpudlian father of three has been the Usain Bolt of the naked dash. In 1995, he leapt naked on to Fred Talbot’s weather map on British daytime TV show This Morning, and a year later he appeared nude on the green during the British Open at Royal Lytham.
Then, in 2004, he was fined £550 for trespassing after streaking across the pitch at the Super Bowl in Texas - a match watched by 130 million people in 87 countries.
For good measure, Mark has also stripped off at Wembley, Wimbledon and Ascot.
“There’s no major venue or event I haven’t done,” he says proudly. “But I’m nearly 49 now and my children have begged me to stop. It’s time. I’m not ready for my slippers just yet, but gravity’s against me.”
Last week, for his last outing -his 519th and final streak - I joined him. I would love to say that sitting naked on a bench in an icy Buckinghamshire park was somehow a freeing experience. But, with my modesty barely covered by an A4 notepad, I would be lying.
Blue with cold, I felt utterly ridiculous, a feeling not helped by the barks of derision from passers-by. Mark, of course - pro that he is - took the whole episode in his stride. But I was further discomforted to notice that even he, unlike me, was wearing clothes, after a fashion: a monkey G-string.
“Isn’t that cheating?” I asked. He laughed: “I’ve shown my todger enough now, I think I’ve earned my stripes. Anyway, it’s the buttocks that make people laugh.”
And that’s the key to Mark’s 20-year “career”. Middle-aged with a proud pot belly, he cuts a comical figure, wholly devoid of vanity. The title of his planned autobiography says it all: I Didn’t Know An Inch Would Take Me This Far.
“I’m no Muscle Mary or porn star,” he says. “That’s why it’s funny. I’m just a regular, 16st fella. If I was buff, I’d just be a poser.”
His odd obsession began by accident in 1993 when he saw a woman streak down the pitch at a rugby Sevens game in Hong Kong. “I was working in a bar over there and I was a bit merry,” he says. “When I saw that girl I said out loud, ‘Pah, anyone could do that.’ Some bloke replied, ‘okay, big mouth, you try it,’ and I said, ‘All right then.’
“It was just ale talk. But the next day there was a bang at the door and it was a mate with a taxi waiting. I couldn’t back out then.
“Everyone was dancing and clapping at the stadium and I started getting a buzz off the crowd - my heart was thumping through my chest. So I pushed to the front and took my shoes and socks off.
“I ran backwards to wave to the crowd and, as I turned round, there was the ball. I picked it up and ran the whole length of the field and scored a try. Against the All Blacks. There and then, I was hooked.”
Therein lies the nub of Mark’s compulsion: he loves to make people laugh. He says: “My first time changed my life. Everyone should try it once. I’d never had any history of nudity. I’m actually quite shy. On a beach, I’m coy and I’ll get changed under a towel. But when I perform, I’m like a different man.
“What I realised that day in 1993 was that while I could perhaps make four or five people laugh by telling a joke in a pub, I could, just by doing something daft on a pitch, make tens of thousands of people laugh.
“I don’t have a compulsion to take my clothes off. It’s only the laughter that matters. It’s nothing like flashing. There’s nothing sexual about it - it’s just comedy nudity.”
Not everyone gets the joke. His scuffles with over-zealous security guards over the years have left him with two broken toes, four broken ribs, a broken finger and 25 stitches in his leg.
In 2007, Merseyside Police sought an anti-social behaviour order banning Mark from displaying his buttocks and genitals in public. But the judge rejected the application, saying Mark’s behaviour did not cause real distress.
That viewpoint is what marks him apart from Stephen Gough, the so-called Naked Rambler, who has spent six years in jail after walking the length of Britain in the nude.
On one occasion, for example, Gough was jailed for a breach of the peace after a judge said he had “intentionally caused shock and alarm to children and their parents’ after he deliberately [walked] naked past a busy children’s play-park” - despite “repeated police requests not to do so”.
“He thinks it’s his right to walk naked wherever he wants and that has clearly caused offence,” says Mark. “I just set out to entertain people and always in a big arena. I’m no threat to anybody.”
But Mark has been kept in a cell overnight 30 times and fined a total of £4 000.
Single for nine years, Mark has three children - Rebecca, 24, Mark, 19, and Georgia, 15 - by two different women but he no longer speaks to either of the mothers.
It was a recent remark by son Mark that made him decide it was time to call it a day. Mark Snr says: “He said to me the other day, ‘Dad, when are you going to stop, all my mates are watching you?’ I asked him, ‘What do they say?’
“And he said, ‘They all laugh their heads off.’ So I replied, ‘What’s the problem, then?’ He just said, ‘Well, you’re my dad.’ That really hit home with me.”
Mark left school at 15, with no qualifications. Now jobless, he lives in a £400-a-month rented house in Anfield, Liverpool, but he is a strangely proud man.
“I’m not on the dole, my mates are helping me out. I’ve always found a way to support me and the kids. And, streaking or not, I will again.”
Not that streaking has proved a big earner. “I made a couple of grand from underwear adverts in Spain 10 years ago,” he says. He is also the star of a Channel 4 documentary to be screened in the UK this week.
So, unhappily, I joined him for his swansong - and he does have a point. There is, if our ad hoc audience is anything to go by, something inherently comical about two foftysomething blokes running across a park in the middle of February.
As we thankfully reclaim our clothes after a streak that will be - for us both - our last, Mark says: “That’s it now, I’m done. But you always want more out of life, don’t you? You never know what’s on the other side of a door unless you open it. I’m ready.” - Daily Mail