George undertook a year of naked beekeeping for a Calendar Girls-inspired nude calendar.
A medical student has been creating something of a buzz across the rooftops of south-east London – by beekeeping in the buff.
George Lodge, 23, of Bermondsey, who is in his fifth year studying medicine at University College London, began inspecting his hive in his birthday suit for a charity calendar to fund a research trip to Britain by a beekeeper he met in Zanzibar.
Originally from Winchester, Hampshire, but now living in the capital, George said: “Having gone to an all-boys school and done life modelling before, I was pretty good at getting naked anyway. It’s not something that’s ever really bothered me.”
He continued: “So, when a friend flippantly suggested I should pose beekeeping naked, to raise money, I thought, ‘Why not?'”
Inspired by the 2003 film Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, in which a WI group pose for a naked calendar to raise money for leukaemia sufferers, George posed for the 12 months of 2019 tending his hives in his birthday suit.
With his history of art student girlfriend, Ottilie Kemp, 22, appointed as the official photographer, he soon produced a charity calendar with a sting in its tail.
George added: “It was quite a silly and fun thing to have done, but it was in aid of a great cause, which was to bring over my friend Khamis Dadi Khamis and show him how we beekeep in Britain.
“It was an invaluable experience for him, so, thankfully, my antics – which made a few of my friends and family think I’d lost the plot a bit – were not in vain.”
Fascinated by all things wild since childhood, George’s passion for bees was sparked by his former travel agent mum Clarissa, who had kept them as a schoolgirl.
“It became a bit of a joint hobby for my mum and I,” he recalled.
“While my brother Archie, who is two years older than me, didn’t take the blindest bit of notice of it all, I was absolutely enthralled and read all the books I could lay my hands on.”
Both becoming keen members of the Winchester Beekeepers’ Association, George and his mum were given their first swarm of around 20,000 bees by the organisation when he was 10 years old.
Soon the young beekeeper, or apiarist, would be rushing home from boarding school at weekends in the summer months to spend time tending to his hive.
Explaining why he is so passionate about the honey-making insects, he said: “I found it fascinating to observe how a hive of tens of thousands of bees interact together, all doing different things.
“I have a mind that enjoys intricacy and order and to be a beekeeper, you have to watch very carefully what is going on inside the hive, so that you can diagnose what is going well and what is going less well, so you can decide what needs to be done.”
He continued: “It’s also very meditative and it forged a very close bond between my mum and I having this shared, niche hobby in common.”
As he grew older, George’s love of the bees grew stronger – despite being “religiously teased” by friends for his fixation.
Keenly interested in traditional beekeeping methods, he even took a year out midway through his medical studies to travel to various countries and see how apiary processes vary in different parts of the world.
In April 2017 he went to work for two weeks at a honey co-operative on Pembar Island, just off the coast of Tanzania, where he met Khamis, a local radio technician and part-time beekeeper.
“I am very interested in traditional beekeeping methods and wanted to see how it was done around the world,” said George.
“In Africa, they have different things to contend with. For example, the weather and the threat of ants getting into hives, so it was a voyage of discovery for me being there and meeting people like Khamis.”
Keen to return the favour and show Khamis traditional British methods of beekeeping as well as thank him for his hospitality in Zanzibar, he suggested his new pal accompanied him back to England.
But, on his meagre salary, the Tanzanian beekeeper could not afford the trip – inspiring George to sell a nude apiary calendar to pay his expenses.
“I’d had an idea of selling honey to raise money, but knew that wouldn’t make nearly enough,” he said.
“Then, one day, I was discussing beekeeping with a friend and he jokingly asked if I had ever tried it naked. That prompted the idea of making a calendar.”
Raising more than £2,000 from a pre-sale of the calendar, George was able to pay for Khamis’ flights and costs, allowing him to come to the UK in April 2018 for a month-long visit.
George continued: “I took him everywhere I thought would be useful for him to see, where he might be able to learn something that could help the co-operative on Pembar Island.”
“It gave me a great feeling of satisfaction to be able to return the favour and, hopefully, show Khamis our techniques so that he can take what he wants from it.”
Then, knowing a whole load of people would be expecting to see the calendar in 2019 with a naked beekeeper for every month, in May 2018 he arranged his first naked shoot at Bermondsey Street Bees, a London-based honey producer with a hive on the rooftop, where he works part-time.
“I was a bit apprehensive beforehand,” he admitted. “I wasn’t particularly relaxed, as I felt a bit of a plonker stood there on a rooftop in London, looking down on people walking around on the street below, with nothing on.”
But, George got through it without incident – going on to pose for the remaining photos at his family home in Winchester, over the summer months – even summoning the courage to ask another local beekeeper to join him … although, the answer was a very definite: “No thanks, honey!”
“I think he thought I was coming on to him,” George laughed.
By the end of the year, the calendar was complete, and was sent off to all those who had paid £20 to pre-order one.
“My brother said he’d pay £20 not to have to see one, though,” George admitted, revealing that he was not stung once.
“My girlfriend’s mum was also pretty adamant that she would pay the money, but didn’t want to be sent the calendar – which I suppose is fair enough!”
Now back to studying medicine fully dressed, and still with another year to go, he will not be beekeeping in the altogether for a while now.
After baring all for his hobby, people certainly take his passion more seriously these days.
He said: “It raised a few eyebrows when I announced my decision to go beekeeping in the buff.
“But there’s no longer any doubt in anyone’s mind how avid I am about apiary!”
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