Naked Rambler: why Stephen Gough won't put on his clothes

'How can any sane person be offended at seeing the human body?' Gough asks after losing case at ECHR

'Naked Rambler' Stephen Gough has lost his case at the European Court of Human Rights, where he argued that he should be free to strip naked in public.

After spending ten years in and out of prison because of his nudity, the 54-year-old still claims it is his human right to bare all. But the court in Strasbourg disagreed, and said that while he had a right to freedom of expression, this did not extend to hiking without his pants.

Gough's lawyer Mike Schwarz said the ruling came as a "massive disappointment" and could potentially mean a lifetime of arrests and imprisonment for Gough, who remains convinced he is "doing the right thing".

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

So why won't Gough just put on some clothes?

Who is the Naked Rambler?

Gough, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, became famous in 2003 when he tried to walk from John O'Groats to Land's End wearing nothing but socks, hiking boots and a rucksack. One of seven children, he spent a brief spell in the marines after school and then left to travel around Thailand. He later became a lorry driver and, at one point, a Moonie - a member of the Unification Church, founded by self-proclaimed messiah Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

When did he stop wearing clothes?

Gough's former partner Alison Ward says it was when they moved to Canada in 2001 with their two small children that he started stripping off. It began on family excursions to forests and lakes, but quickly progressed, and soon he was returning DVDs to Blockbusters without any clothes on.

Why won't he wear clothes?

Gough says it is all about freedom, not nakedness. "Freedom has to be expressed somehow, and society is not allowing me to be as free as I want to be, and it doesn't make sense," he told the Independent on Sunday's Matthew Bell, who stripped off to spend a day hiking with the Naked Rambler. The more the authorities have clamped down, the more determined Gough has become. He told Bell it had reached a point where he cannot give up.

In a statement released after the Strasbourg decision this week, Gough asked: "How can nature expressed in human form be indecent? How can any sane person be offended at seeing the human body? Yet it is these absurd beliefs that form the underlying assumptions of the countless criminal charges and convictions against me, resulting in over nine years in solitary confinement in British prisons."

Is he a naturist?

Confusingly not. The British naturist movement does not support him. "They think I'm a bit in-your-face; they think I'm a maverick," says Gough. "They want to keep it all confined, to their own strips of beach. Whereas I'm rocking the boat."

What does his family say?

Gough has spent little time with his two children, now teenagers, since starting his campaign of nakedness. His ex-partner Ward describes him as "tremendously stubborn". It was the nudity that ultimately ended their relationship. Ward's parents were visiting, when Gough joined the family on their roof terrace wearing no clothes and carrying a bowl of muesli. "It was the first time he'd turned up naked for a meal," she told the Daily Mail. "And to do it in front of my parents, knowing they were very conventional and would hate it, it was an extremely antagonistic thing to do."