What’s the first thing I show Americans visiting England? Is it Buckingham Palace or the Tower of London? No. Harry Potter World, perhaps? Definitely not. (I save that for the second trip.)
If you want to give an American a true taste of England, why show them one set of crown jewels when you can show them dozens? Because nothing will leave an American more awestruck than an episode of what I believe to be England’s unsung national treasure: Naked Attraction, a TV show that describes itself as “dating in reverse” because you start where the best dates end—naked.
Let me paint you a picture.
In each episode of Naked Attraction, a person is presented with six potential dates concealed in individual bright, multi-colored boxes. At the end of each round, the picker has to eliminate a contestant until only one lucky winner is left to go out with. So far, so innocent, right?
Not really. In the first round of elimination, the lower portion of each contestant’s box lifts up, revealing the bottom half of all six from the hip down. Now, you might be thinking, Well, you can tell a lot from a person’s shoes and trousers. But you’re forgetting the name of the show. This is Naked Attraction. The contestants in the boxes are wearing only their birthday suits.
Once the boxes lift up, the picker carefully goes from contestant to contestant, examining their nether regions while voicing what they do and don’t find attractive. They are guided in their decision by the sensational host, Anna Richardson, who, like a kinky fairy godmother, prompts the picker with questions such as “Are you a fan of asymmetric labia?” or “Do you like low-hanging testicles?” with the same intonation you might ask a person their favorite Marvel superhero.
After a contestant is eliminated—“I’m going to have to get rid of [X] because his penis is a bit veiny”—the rejected party is revealed in full.
The next stages you can guess—the box lifts, and this time we get either bare chests or breasts, then faces, then a question revealing the contestants’ voices. When it’s down to the last two, the picker—for a reason I have yet to figure out—removes their own clothes to make their final decision in the buff.
Victorious, the new couple proceed to go on an awkward, clothed date, always seeming less comfortable than when they were nude, before we hear from them two weeks later to see how they’re getting on. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they seem to have shagged on the first date and never gone on a second.
You might be thinking, Well, you can tell a lot from a person’s shoes and trousers. But you’re forgetting the name of the show. This is Naked Attraction.
From what I’ve described, you might be imagining that the show is viewed as soft-core porn—that a small minority of people pervily ogle naked bodies because they’re too lazy to turn off SafeSearch on their laptops. I would’ve thought so, too.
But, actually, the show is beloved by many, and has steadily increased in popularity since Episode One premiered, in 2016. Gearing up for its 10th season, which was still taking applications at the time this story went live (“We’ve got a bod for every pod,” reads one advertisement), Naked Attraction is aired by a major state-owned TV network, Channel 4, and watched by millions of people.
When there were threats that the channel might be privatized, people quickly took to the Internet to highlight the need to protect the show at all costs, as if the subject at hand were endangered pandas. Because, despite what you might imagine, Naked Attraction is often incredibly heartwarming.
This is mostly to do with the fact that the show’s contestants aren’t the people you might envision happily taking their kit off on the telly. Six-packed studs with 12-inch trouser snakes and bombshell blondes with bodies like Barbie (or Margot Robbie) are few and far between. Instead, there’s a huge variety, and it’s surprisingly body positive. They’ve had every sexuality and gender imaginable on the show, not to mention people with missing limbs, stomach bags, scars, tattoos, big bits, small bits … You get the idea.
An episode I watched recently featured Ian, a 75-year-old retired engineer from North Yorkshire. He looked like your friend’s granddad. Ian had been married to his wife, Gloria, for 31 years. After she died, he came out as a nudist and realized men were more interested in him than women were, so “why cut out half the population?”
If you want to give an American a true taste of England, why show them one set of crown jewels when you can show them dozens?
Having not been on a date since 1975, Ian decided he’d come on Naked Attraction, picking from a lineup of men and women. The first person he eliminated was 67-year-old Jane Buckle, from Hungerford, in Berkshire. Ian declared he liked Jane’s “shaved pussy,” but because she had a large “vajazzle” (a bejeweled sticker on her mons pubis), “the good bits were hidden,” so she had to go.
I spoke to Jane about her experience and asked her the questions I’ve wondered since I first started watching the show. Why does someone go on Naked Attraction? How much money does someone need to be paid to flash their flesh on the small screen? Hundreds? Thousands?
The answer is nothing—contestants aren’t paid. Instead, Jane went on the show mostly for fun. In the past, she’d always said she wouldn’t do it, but after the pandemic hit, the realization that any of us could die at any moment made Jane want to make the most of life. Which for her meant appearing on Naked Attraction.
When I asked Jane whether she was worried about people she knew seeing her naked on TV, she proudly proclaimed that most people thought she was brave to do it, and she was quick to point out to her detractors that they “wouldn’t have had the balls” to go on the show themselves.
In fact, Jane hopes that she can be an inspiration to other older people. And she didn’t mind being the first person to get eliminated, especially when Ian finally took off his own clothes and revealed the largest “Prince Albert” I’ve ever seen. (Your granddad probably doesn’t have one of those, and I suggest you don’t google it.)
Naked Attraction is shocking to watch, to be sure. It’s the only time, or so I hope, that you’re staring at so many genitals in a completely sexless environment. But it’s also comforting to see people like Jane so confident and happy in their naked selves (so much so that they’ll agree to be filmed for millions of viewers).
Most of the naked or nearly naked bodies we see these days are the perfectly toned ones of social media, magazines, and porn, inevitably inviting comparison to our own sad ones. In contrast, Naked Attraction is normal people choosing not to hate themselves. It’s like a self-love tonic.
To hear Flora Gill reveal more about her story, listen to her on Air Mail’s Morning Meeting podcast
Naked Attraction is available to watch in the U.K., and to owners of V.P.N.’s, on Channel 4
Flora Gill is a London-based writer