The annual naked edition of Gay Times magazine hits newsagents and online shelves this week. It has traditionally been one of GT's best sellers, especially after last year's brave decision to rip out all other regular content and devote the entire magazine to specially commissioned naked celebrity portraits and interviews.
As a freelance journalist, I'm lucky enough to regularly write for the widest-read gay mag in Europe. And for the second year running, I was asked to interview all those brave souls who agreed to get their kit off for free (and for the National Aids Trust charity) and pose naked for the magazine.
While in theory, it sounds like a dream job for any gay journo to spend a week locked in the studio as a parade of ripped, chiseled, gay and straight bodies trail in and out, the reality is that it's bloody hard work. No, honestly.
At first, being on a naked shoot makes you feel like a pervert in a gym changing room. You watch a complete stranger take their clothes off, while they are watching you watching them. And then once they're back in their clothes again an hour later, your job is to try to have a conversation with them like this has all been a perfectly normal thing to do.
The shoot in a London studio is spread across five relentlessly busy days and feels like a conveyor belt of cock. And by the middle of day two, the novelty of trying to get a sneaky peek at a boyband member in all their glory who you used to quite fancy, soon wears off. Because when it comes down to it, I'm there to work, not to gawp. Well maybe to gawp a little as it would be rude not to.
There's a lot of pressure on a writer to interview 40 groups of people (some flying solo, some with others) in just five days. If they are already well known, researching them and coming up with interesting and quirky questions is reasonable straightforward. But for those up and coming fame hungry hotties who only have a limited web presence, you need to spend more time delving into who they are.
Time spent interviewing them can vary between 15 and 40 minutes, depending on how famous the face is. For some like Ashley Mackenzie, it's a walk in the (Olympic) park as they've been in the buff for GT before. For others, it's a baptism of fire - it's both their first interview and the first time they've been naked in public.
If an interview takes, say, half an hour, it takes almost double that time to transcribe it. If it's just simple Q&A, all you need is a brief introduction and the 800 words write themselves. If it's running copy, you need to include some history of your subject, paint a picture of their current surroundings and go into more depth.
For more interesting characters like Alex Reid or Big Brother's Dan Neal, your copy runs to 2,000 words. And to keep on top of all the interviews you've done, plus research any last minute additions, you are constantly hammering your keyboard and trying to keep up between shoots.
If you buy a celebrity gossip magazine like Heat or Star, you want it for the stories, but you won't necessarily buy this edition of GT for my stunning prose. Which is why I see it as a personal challenge to delay you from skipping to the next nudie fella by trying to make my words entertaining. And doing that 40 times in 37,000 words is a challenge.
Freelancing for a gay magazine is one of the most fun jobs I've ever had because I can get away with asking almost anything, and straight men are often more than willing to play ball with no subjects off limits. Only for a naked GT edition can you ask a complete stranger to talk about his penis; whether he's ever had a same-sex experience or how often he tidies up downstairs, without ending up on a sex offender's register.
There are however other, more superficial, tests I face. Many of the stars of this shoot have physiques I'd willingly kick a kitten to death for. On the morning of day one, I scanned my wardrobe searching for an outfit that wouldn't extenuate my belly or make my arms look sinewy.
By day three, I couldn't care less. I realised I'd given up worrying what the beautiful people thought of me when I sat across from a sculptured actor half my age and didn't even attempt to hide the three empty Twix rappers and a blueberry muffin balancing on my Macbook.
Despite differing sexual desires, there's one thing gay and straight men have in common - manscaping. Only a handful of men left everything in tact. Most have hacked at the away at their chests, armpits, groins and even legs. Others have created neat little man gardens you could lay a picnic on, and still smell of a freshly applied spray tan.
But while it is relentlessly hard work for myself, the bookers, the photography team and the stars, it's one of the jobs I'm most proud to be a part of, for two reasons. Because once you read their words, you'll understand everyone has a different reason for going naked.
For some, like the much-maligned X Factor singer Christopher Malone, it was to bravely exorcise a lifetime of body issue demons. For others like Robin Windsor and ice skater Matt Evers, it wasn't to promote their careers but to talk about AIDS awareness. And for those beginning their lives in acting or music, it's to show support and offer gratitude towards the gay community.
But the reason that I'm most glad to be a part of this edition is that it shows that beneath our clothes, gay or straight, we are all the same.