Camp as a row of tents. Camp as Christmas. Camp as me - apparently.
I've never been what you might call a sporty person but my two sons enjoy their football. Last week I turned up as usual to collect them from their after school training session. As I waited for them to gather up clothes and bags, their coach told me he was impressed by their increasing ability and enthusiasm. Naturally I enjoyed a moment of fatherly pride. But then he asked loudly in front of the other assembled mums and dads...
"Were you ever sporty?"
I hesitated for a second but decided to be honest.
"Not really..." I said.
That was all he needed and before I could say any more he launched into...
"No. Thought not. From what I've seen on TV, you were a bit camp!"
Just to make the point he repeated the words "a bit camp" several times, while doing a funny voice and flapping his hands about like Larry Grayson, much to the amusement of the other parents. Too camp to be sporty!? I was thrown for a second. My Daft Bloke Who Used to Be on TV guard was down and standing there on the school field I could have been 48 or 14, the embarrassment was pretty much the same.
It was just friendly banter. He didn't mean any harm. Besides he had a point. I had turned up dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, listening to Cher on my MP3 player, eating a cup cake. So I just laughed it off and wandered back to the car with my two muddy sons. But all the time I was thinking...
"Hang on a minute... I was in the Cub Scout football team... I had an all-white Leeds United kit with numbered sock tabs and white football boots... I once cycled from London to Southampton on the hottest day of the year in a vest and Lycra shorts... I can be camp and sporty!"
Surely sport is one of the campest things going anyway. Bright, stripy outfits. Men in shorts. Gary Lineker. Synthetic fabrics. Team bonding. Cheerleaders. Body building. Leotards. The Olympics. Kevin Keegan. Jock straps for goal posts. Isn't it?
I wasn't going to win that one. Sport might have its camp corner but Children's BBC is way out there with tinsel, shopping and Elton John. On Saturday morning television I was part of a comedy double-act who portrayed exaggerated characters in ostentatious and over the top theatrical costumes that made jokes, often laced with sexual innuendo. That's fairly camp I suppose. Out of character I wasn't particularly 'manly' or 'macho' either. The football coach wasn't the first person to have made this observation. I am generally regarded as "a bit camp". Friends and relatives think so too; even my own children.
Check out any online dictionary and you will see the word camp has many definitions, from 'theatrical' to 'kitsch' to 'effeminate' to 'the behaviour of homosexual men'. Although not exclusively so, the word is most commonly associated with the behaviour of gay men. People who know me as a family man, like the football coach, clearly find it so confusing that describing me as 'camp' is the only solution. Without making judgements or wanting to sound defensive though, I am actually straight.
There was a time, obviously before the arrival of Loaded magazine, when I deliberately avoided behaving in a laddish or blokey way because it was trendier to be camp. I was a drama student in the early 1980s. Enough said. But it wasn't just me. This was the era of New Romantics, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Smiths. Even working class hero Paul Weller was suggestively posing topless and stroking his bare chest in his Style Council videos. Everyone was camp in those days.
As a young student, adopting camp turned out very useful after I caused the leader of the militant Women's Group to issue the feminist equivalent of a fatwa against me, for crimes against women.
It wasn't entirely fair. It was stupid of me but my reasons were sincere. It was a favour for a fellow male drama student. He was making a documentary about attitudes towards women and sexism and needed some provocative opinions on camera to spice up his film and spark debate. As a budding actor I offered my services and naively starting spouting sexist rubbish about how housewives should be chained to the kitchen sink.
In Manchester University in 1981, faced with the wrath of an angry Women's Group I was lucky to escape with my life let alone both testicles but thankfully the grovelling apologies and subsequent camping around campus saved me. Pathetic wimps like me were no threat to the future of feminism. So I was allowed to live.
My camp tendencies probably go back even further. In the '70s my childhood attempts to emulate pop stars like Marc Bolan, David Bowie and yes *cough* even Gary Glitter, clearly influenced my theatrical bent. As a very young boy my mum even stuck me on the catwalk, modelling children's clothes in the church hall. Vicars and young boys on catwalks. That's more camp than a Shih Tzu in a snow globe. It's no wonder I'm camp. I'm surprised I'm not the full wigwam; the total tepee.
These days I'm definitely not very sporty but I still enjoy the occasional bike ride or a paddle in my kayak (and that's not a euphemism). But in my opinion being a bit camp should not exclude anyone from taking part in or enjoying sport; so here's my Top Ten tips for fellow male campers who want to have a go at sporting activity:
1. Always wear the daftest, tightest or brightest outfit you can find
2. When emerging from the changing room - do a silly walk
3. While doing the silly walk, whistle or hum a retro TV sports show theme tune
4. Carry a handy man bag containing an energy drink and a packet of Mini Cheddars
5. Hop, skip and leap about enthusiastically without demonstrating any skill whatsoever
6. Try to not to get muddy by avoiding puddles even if it means avoiding the sport itself
7. If you are forced to stretch, strain or exert yourself in any way - always make a stupid noise
8. In the pub afterwards ask to see the wine list
9. Go home and watch The Big Bang Theory on TV
10. Write a blog about it
Good luck and have fun!
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