Once he’s got over the stage fright – and with very little covering his bare necessities – Will Roberts enjoys being a life model at an art class in Teesdale.

REMEMBER that childhood nightmare? The one where you go to school only to find you’re still wearing your pyjamas.

Well, on the way to my life modelling debut in Barnard Castle, I can’t help but think that I am about to live out the journalistic equivalent.

No doubt about it, the idea of standing virtually starkers in a church hall in the centre of my news patch is a nightmare. Anyone could walk in and join the art group… councillors, community leaders, friends, enemies… anyone.

The snow is still heavy up in Teesdale, so I’m hoping the unpredictable roads might keep down the numbers attending the art group. About five or six suits me: not too intimate or too intimidating.

Preparation for the life modelling hadn’t gone well: my torso still tells the story of festive excesses. Would it be fit for public consumption?

This was my biggest concern. I’m not an exhibitionist. I don’t have the kind of body which exudes confidence stripped down to pants in a cold room full of strangers.

Don’t get me wrong; my body isn’t a wreck. But neither is it a temple.

Call it affordable housing, if you will.

When I ring her before the great unveiling, Leah Hobson, organiser of the art group and the evening’s main model, tries to put me at ease. “It’s not about how fat or thin you are. All the artists are concerned with is the shape of the human body, because each one is different,” she says.

Which is reassuring, but not enough to stop me doing a desperate few sit-ups in my living room in the nights running up to the class.

Leah, who runs a lifestyle management company, sent me an email with a check-list of things to do prior to my modelling debut. The list includes things like making sure I am showered, with neat toe and fingernails.

My deodorant shouldn’t leave any white marks and I’ll need to roll down my socks an hour before the class to make sure my skin doesn’t show any unsightly dents.

I’ll need to pack a robe and a towel and there’s also some homework.

Homework? I didn’t do this much preparation when I did the Great North Run.

Leah suggested trying a few poses at home – in front of a mirror… or my girlfriend. I tried one in front of the mirror and got so embarrassed I didn’t bother with my girlfriend – she would have either died laughing or broken up with me. Or both.

So, like another of those childhood nightmares, I turn up to class without doing my homework.

Leah tells me that she will model for the first hour – three five-minute poses followed by a long 40-minute pose – so I decide to try my hand at drawing her before it’s my turn to take to the floor.

Leah strips down to a thong. If this was an A-level or university class, the artists would expect full nudity, but because it’s a community group (and because the Scottish country dancers upstairs sometimes come in the wrong door), the smalls stay on.

I’m not going to argue.

The artists, 13 or so, start filing in to the small, chilly room in St Mary’s Parish Church Hall. Most are middleaged and there’s one familiar face – a friend of a friend who gives me a smile and a nod on his way in. In response, I go a bright red.

Some set up easels, some sharpen pencils, while some choose the best position to capture Leah’s poses. She makes a perfect model – tall and thin, with long, chestnut hair and all the confidence of someone who knows what makes a good subject.

Her first stance has her standing with her back to the artists with her arms wrapped round her chest as if she is hugging herself.

Initially I’m embarrassed to see a naked woman in front of me, but as I start to draw, I forget about it. I am absorbed in my subject, which becomes shapes and shadows, rather than flesh and bones. Leah’s final pose is all-important. It is the one she will have to hold for more than half an hour. She lies on her back on a table, twisting her spine a little to make a more interesting shape.

Forty minutes passes quickly and soon the group breaks for coffee.

Then, as the artists swirl round the dregs of their coffee, Leah looks my way. “Do you want to get ready?”

Getting ready means taking my clothes off. There isn’t a changing room, so I quietly begin to loosen my tie. Before I know it, I am standing in my boxer shorts, alone, waiting for the second half to start. The last time I was in this hall was for the town’s garden competition prize giving and now here I am, almost naked, while others sip Nescafe.

Leah directs me to my first, fiveminute pose. I stand up, back to the group, with my hands around my neck. I read St Luke’s gospel on a poster on the wall while the artists get acquainted with my body. I can’t help but think they are wishing Leah was back in front of them – but at least I am a different subject, a different shape. For my second short pose, I sit on my towel on the floor. “Sit how you would sit normally at home – whatever is comfortable,” says Leah.

For my final short pose I jump up on a table, legs dangling over the edge, leaning back slightly. The five minutes fly by and I’m quite pleased to hear sighs of disappointment as Leah calls time.

Then there’s the main event, the pose I need to keep for 40 minutes without getting cramp. I sit back on a chair, left leg crossed on to my right. It’s quite a natural pose: I look as though I’m watching telly. I purposefully keep my head pointed downwards, making sure my eyes aren’t pointing at anyone. I can’t giggle, grin or go red and it’s less embarrassing that way.

The Scottish country dancers upstairs are in full swing now, but their music seems drowned out by the sound of pencil and pastel on paper. In my peripheral vision I see people’s heads flicking up from their drawings. Some hold up their pencils to gauge scale, others tilt their heads to one side in concentration.

I realise that although I’ve been seen like this before – and I won’t go into details – I’ve never been studied stripped down before. What will these artists make of my body? How will they interpret it?

By now my crossed leg is going slightly dead, but otherwise I’m completely at ease. It’s very rare that I sit still in silence and I find it quite relaxing.

When time is called, I have trouble standing up because my leg has gone so stiff. A chorus of well-dones greets me as I stand up and hobble to the side of the room.

The pictures of Leah and I range in style, but all of them are good. Some are sketchy and abstract, others are more traditional, capturing the smooth lines and subtle shadows of the human body.

Leah is very complimentary of my debut as a life model. “You did well, you kept very still,” she says, stuffing towels and dressing gowns into a bag. I feel quite proud, puffed up…. until one of older men in the group passes by. “Don’t give up the day job Will,” he says, as he opens the door to brave the cold Teesdale air.