JENNI MURRAY: Why I'm going topless on TV

Why I’m going topless on TV: Despite two metal hips and a mastectomy JENNI MURRAY bares all in a move that would have made her younger self scream in horror

  • Jenni admits she was initially horrified to be asked to join the strip tease show
  • Decided to take part as it promotes people checking their breasts for cancer
  • The cause is something close to her heart after she battled breast cancer

This week I found myself in a strangely assorted group of six well-known women, talking about how we plan to bare our breasts on national television.

We will do so while performing a striptease routine — on ice, no less. Gathered together for filming in a dance studio in Leicestershire were: me, a feminist who has long campaigned against women going topless in lads’ mags and on Page 3; Linda Lusardi, now an actor, formerly voted the best ever Page 3 girl; the singer, author and presenter Coleen Nolan; Hayley Tamaddon of Emmerdale; Dr Zoe Williams, the GP on This Morning; and Shaughna Phillips, best known for appearing on reality show Love Island.

What on earth has possessed us? Well, we’ve all signed up to an ITV series called The Real Full Monty On Ice. It is inspired by the original Full Monty film in which a group of unemployed men in Sheffield do a Chippendales act to earn some money.

Jenni Murray, pictured, is set to join six other famous faces who will be baring all on ITV’s The Real Full Monty on Ice but reveals she was initially sceptical

The TV version has the noble aim of promoting the importance of examining yourself for signs of breast cancer. It is a subject dear to my own heart, and to each of the others. Coleen lost her sister, Bernie, to the wretched disease and her siblings, Anne and Linda, are both dealing with advanced cancers.

Still, for all of us — even Linda Lusardi, who has done it lots of times before — the thought of baring our breasts makes us worried.

(You might, by the way, expect Linda and me to butt heads, given our very different views. In fact, we got on like a house on fire and she even told me she has come round to my way of thinking about lads’ mags. Win!)

Over and over I heard Coleen, who is leading a team of women in the series for the third time, saying how much she dreads that moment at the end of the show when she has to ‘get them out!’.

I know exactly how she feels.

You might also wonder how I was persuaded to sign up, given my well-known views on the exploitation of women.

It started when my agent, rather embarrassed, asked if I would be interested in taking part about a month ago.

Did I, in other words, want to bare my breasts (well, I’ve just the one, actually) to a huge live audience, together with millions more who would watch it all on telly over the Christmas period?

My initial reaction was perhaps predictable. No way! Not a chance! How dare she?

Joining her in the strip tease are actress Linda Lusardi, (pictured together) singer, author and presenter Coleen Nolan; Hayley Tamaddon of Emmerdale; Dr Zoe Williams, the GP on This Morning; and Shaughna Phillips, best known for appearing on reality show Love Island

How, I demanded, could she assume I’d fall into such a clear patriarchal trap? I’ve always held there’s nothing empowering about women baring their bodies. Why did she assume I would abandon my principles?

But the truth is there was another reason for my protestations. Like so many women, I’ve never been truly comfortable in my own body.

Living as a teenager through the Twiggy era, I wanted so much to look like her but had the words of my slender mother ringing in my ears: ‘What a pity you inherited Dad’s bone structure rather than mine.’

I wasn’t fat in those days but I was a big girl. My legs were once described as ‘gladiatorial’. Not the best shape for a miniskirt.

My battles with my weight throughout the rest of my life are well known — I even wrote a book about it called Fat Cow, Fat Chance. Yes, I’ve been called a fat cow in the street on numerous occasions, and that was fully dressed.

So I have never dreamt of displaying the undressed evidence to anyone but my nearest and dearest, and even then I could never feel any pride in the way I looked.

I have spent half my adult life on some sort of diet — Atkins, Dukan, WeightWatchers, 5:2 —and, in the way these things tend to go for so many of us, I’ve lost a bit, relaxed a bit and put it all back on and more.

She reveals at first she protested greatly to being asked to join the show due to her views on the exploitation of women but admits another part of her was uncomfortable revealing her body to the world. Pictured, The Real Full Monty cast of 2018,left to right, backrow. Victoria Derbyshire, Sally Dexter,Ruth Madoc, Sarah-Jane Crawford and Megan McKenna and left to right front row Colleen Nolan, Michelle Heaton and Helen Ledere

I finally succumbed to surgery in 2015 when I reached 24 stone, and lost 11 of them, but I did it strictly to improve my health and my mobility.

I didn’t expect to get that Twiggy look and, of course, I still have saggy arms and won’t be planning any further surgery to tighten the skin on my tummy or bingo wings. I still loathe the changing rooms at the swimming pool or the clothes shop, just as I hated being naked in the showers at school.

If it weren’t for a physiotherapist’s advice that swimming is good for my replaced hips, I doubt I’d even try to swim. I still don’t like the look of myself in a cossie and genuinely have no desire to flaunt my mutilated breast.

And yet in the days after my emphatic, principled refusal to do The Real Full Monty, I began to feel guilty.

Hadn’t I always spoken openly about my own mastectomy after breast cancer, and done my best on Woman’s Hour to encourage women to check for symptoms and do something about them quickly?

Was I not a patron of the charity Breast Cancer Now, and had I not insisted, in a book I wrote a good 20 years ago called The Woman’s Hour, that we included a photograph of a woman, naked from the waist up, who’d had a radical mastectomy and no reconstruction?

The publishers were reluctant. It was a pretty radical act in the days when it was considered unacceptable to so much as say the word ‘breast’ in polite company.

The TV version has the noble aim of promoting the importance of examining yourself for signs of breast cancer – something Jenni (pictured) dealt with first hand, and even had a mastectomy

If it had been important to show women then that being flat on one side was nothing to fear or be ashamed of, why, now, was I too scared to put my money where my mouth is?

Sadly, I have become convinced that the pressure on women’s looks is greater now than ever. The perfect body is a rare and beautiful thing but generally unattainable unless you are born that way. Yet we seem determined to ignore that simple fact.

I worry a lot about the impact the internet is having on young women, who suffer more pressure than I have ever endured to get the right look.

Globally, the number of cosmetic surgery procedures has increased from 14 million to 23 million annually since 2010. Men make up 14 per cent of patients and women the rest.

It’s a costly business so, as was reported on Channel 4 News this week, a significant number are seeking cheaper deals abroad.

One young woman had had her nose and other parts of her face done but wanted more to become an effective Instagram influencer. The results were disastrous. She showed an enormous bleeding hole in her left breast and said her nipple had ‘just fallen off’.

Jenni (pictured after losing her hair due to chemotherapy) claims there is no better way to show young girls what real women’s bodies look like than by stripping off on TV

I wanted to weep for her — and beg her and others like her to learn to live comfortably with what they had been given. Surgery is all very well for your health, in my case for cancer and dangerous obesity, but please, not just for vanity.

What better way to show young girls what real women’s bodies look like than by stripping off on TV?

It was also, I told myself, a chance to put more pressure on the NHS to reverse its ageist new policy, introduced in the wake of Covid-19, of denying women aged over 70 routine mammograms for the foreseeable future for their own ‘protection’. A policy, of course, which leaves many at risk of breast cancer going undetected. And so — with great trepidation — I said I would do the show.

She says she spent half of her adult life on some sort of diet and eventually had surgery in 2015 to help her lose weight

That’s when they dropped the next big shock: that it was to be an ice spectacular, filmed in Blackpool.

Strong words were communicated to the producers at this stage. I haven’t donned a pair of ice skates since my kids were small. Skating was out of the question. I had even been worried about a dance routine, what with my two metal hips and the left arm that hasn’t risen above my shoulder since I broke my humerus six years ago.

I was promised that the choreographer, Ashley Banjo of Diversity fame, would find a way of including me without risking more breaks in my old bones. And the filming would be, as they say, ‘in the best possible taste’.

I was somewhat reassured, made a commitment — and have barely had an anxiety-free day since then.

I first met my co-stars at a freezing cold ice rink in Bayswater, West London (no thermals). Given the subject matter, our first meeting could have been miserable. Far from it. We were soon gossiping away. No skates were required, either, thank goodness, which I intend will remain the case for me. I’ve suggested being brought on in a sledge! Queen of the ice!

Instead, we put non-slip attachments on to our shoes, stepped nervously on to the ice and found what I can only describe as large plastic doughnuts with which we were to play human curling. I got to sit inside one while Zoe and Linda pushed me across the ice.

We laughed a lot and, yes, despite our differences we bonded.

Giggling and gossiping are often derided in women as frivolous occupations. They’re not. It’s how we manage to connect and trust each other in a way men rarely achieve with such ease.

The next training session took place at a cabaret club where we learned burlesque with a delightful dance teacher and three of her pupils.

As result of the surgery in 2015, when she weighed 24 stone, she was able to lose 11 stone but says she only did it to improve her health and her mobility. Pictured, Jenni with her DBE in 2011

They’d all had mastectomies, showed them to us quite without fear or embarrassment, and gave us lessons in how to be confident about our bodies. It must have worked to some degree because there is now film of me tottering down a staircase, flirtatiously, covered with a huge red feather fan.

Watch this space. Will the fan come off?

The choice, I’m assured, is mine — but I hope, as the oldest and least mobile of the group, I won’t be the one to bottle out.

I’ll hate it but I shall do my best to be confident about it.

Still, I intend to insist that the costume I have to wear has sleeves to hide my arms and doesn’t show my middle, whatever else it reveals. Not all that confident then!

The performance promises to be a spectacle but not a salacious strip show.

I only hope that, after all this work, the breast cancer message will be heard loud and clear and that, by the time the show airs near Christmas, the NHS will have sorted out the mammogram and treatment question so that they are available for any woman who needs them, of whatever age.

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