Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature
Graham Barwick at work: ‘A clause in my booking form says the women have to be respectful’

When I arrived for my first hen party as a life model I felt sick to the stomach. I was waiting in a room above the bar and below I could hear this group of women cackling and laughing. I thought, “Oh my God! They’re going to come up here and laugh their heads off when I undo my robe.” I was terrified they would be worse for drink and it would be a terrible humiliation.

As it turned out, the ladies were brilliant and some of the finished artwork was amazing. That’s what surprises me – there are always a couple of drawings in every group that are very good. A few of the women tend to focus on certain parts of my body but you can tell there is a lot of genuine artistic talent. When I take my clothes off they giggle and give the odd cheeky comment but that soon dies down. It often becomes a competition to see who can create the best drawing. I’ve even had emails from women who went on to study art at college after attending one of my life classes.

The most common questions are, am I married, or do I have a girlfriend? As soon as they know I’m hitched, things tend to die down a bit and they want to know what my wife thinks. Charlotte has been really supportive about my work and she gave me the confidence to develop the life modelling into a second career. Many people think the classes are easy money, that I just turn up and take my clothes off in front of a bunch of women. But I’m in the gym five days a week to keep my body in good trim and there’s a lot of driving involved, as well as organising bookings and managing the business.

There is a clause in my booking form that says the women have to be respectful and not harass me. I always stress before they book that I’m not a stripper – there are plenty of other people who offer that if that’s what they want. I’ve been doing this for five years now and I can honestly say nobody has ever tried to grope me. The women who sign up are more sophisticated than that.

This all came about when I turned 30 and decided I wanted to lose some weight and change the way I lived. I was 5ft 10in, my waistband measured 41in and I weighed more than 17 stone, mainly because I drank too much and ate the wrong kind of food. I remember going on holiday to the Dominican Republic and being surrounded by beautiful people on the beach. I was so embarrassed I wouldn’t even take off my T-shirt. When I came home to Yorkshire, I started walking the three miles to work as a recruitment co-ordinator and the flab began to drop off me.

After six months, I joined a gym and did some part-time modelling for commercials and trade brochures. I was approached via an agency to be a life model for hen parties, then struck out on my own when I realised I could actually do it and the money was so good. By then, my weight had dropped to 10½ stone.

I drive all over the country to sit for parties. I have worked in Cardiff, the Cotswolds, Liverpool and beyond. I often travel on my own but sometimes an artist joins me, to help teach the women how to draw. They learn how to hold their charcoal properly, how to make the best use of light and shadow in their sketches. Quite often they give me their drawings afterwards as a gift. It’s very flattering but none of them is hanging on my walls at home.

It’s amazing how much confidence losing weight has given me. I love the work and my bookings stretch well into 2014. I’m 35 now and it’s hard to believe that same overweight bloke who had a problem taking his clothes off on the beach makes a living posing naked in front of women.

Get alerts on FT Magazine when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article