This image from the 2014 edition of the Milestones TT
Calendar was shot in Parliament Square, which for the record is
the busiest intersection in the Island's second-biggest town.
Suffice to say, getting a shot like this is not for the bashful! The
choice of image is tied to a story about Joey Dunlop stopping to
check his tires at Parliament Square, and still having enough
time to win the 'Jubilee TT' in 1977.
Every visitor to the Isle of Man hears stories about the fairies; it’s hard to decide if the locals tell you those stories because they believe them, or because they’re good for tourism. But if you were on the Island for either the TT or the Manx Grand Prix in 2011, and got up very early to ride a lap of the course, you might have seen something that made you a believer.
The thing is, you wouldn't only think, "Wow. There really are fairies." You'd also think, "And they're gorgeous."
Early on those mornings, an artist named Rachael Clegg was out on the course (assisted by a photographer, Peter Greste) creating a series of photographs for her Milestones TT Calendars.
And again, the thing is, the photos were all taken on course – i.e., on the Island's main public roads – and they're all nudes.
"I thought, if I ask for permission I'll never get it," she told me. "So I just did it."
I have friend, a cynical motorcycle journalist who lives on the island. When he learned that Rachael and I were going to be at an event together (me hawking Riding Man and her selling calendars), he told me, "She's a lovely, lovely girl, who happens to be madder than a box of frogs."
After getting to know her, I'd say, not mad; rather, refreshingly unself-conscious.
Taking risks on the TT course is in her blood. Her grandfather, Tom Clegg, raced in the Clubman's TT. Tom owned a motorcycle shop over in England, which he bought from Ben Drinkwater, who has a bend named after him. Bill Doran, who also has a corner named after him on the course, worked in the shop.
Tom's son, Noel Clegg, is Rachael's dad. He was, as they say on the island, "quick round here". He was a consistent top-10 guy, with an incredible career that spanned five decades. (He must hold some kind of record for the longest active TT career, and probably would have raced into his 60s if he hadn’t had a massive crash in 2005, which caused him to hang up his leathers.)
"As kids we always went to the TT," Rachael told me. "All my memories as a kid are being wet through, wrapped up in a raincoat, watching those clocks at the start." [The Grandstand has a series of 'clocks' with a single hand that are operated by Boy Scout volunteers. As competitors lap the course, the clocks mark their progress. Racers' crews and families know that, as the hand moves from station to station, their rider has safely passed those points on the course.]
"There's something about the TT," she told me wistfully. "It kind of bites you."
Rachael, her brother, and her grandfather Tom Clegg wait for her dad, Noel Clegg, to finish a lap of the TT some time in the early ‘90s.
Rachael has serious art chops. She's got a Master's degree in Art History, and was in the curatorial program at Tate Liverpool, which is a really highfalutin' art gallery. But, it would be an understatement to say that making art is a hard way to make a living. Like most artists, she has a day job; hers is writing features for a newspaper in the Midlands.
I was curious about that career transition.
“It’s a funny story,” she told me. “I’d finished University, and I was working at the Tate but I was really skint [‘broke’ – MG]. Some friends invited me to a concert, but I couldn’t afford a ticket. I don’t know where it came from, but I thought, I’ll pretend that I’m a journalist, and I’ll see if I can get a free pass.”
“So I called up the venue, and told them I was writing for a local magazine. It was embarrassing, because the magazine was already there, so it was obvious I was lying, but I ended up talking to the tour manager, who said, come down anyway. I went through with it, and I interviewed the band [a Quebec prog-folk band called Thee Silver Mount Zion] and I thought, I really like being a journalist.”
In addition to writing general features for her newspaper, she’s also doing more and more motorcycle writing; she’s written pieces for UK publications like Classic Racer, British Dealer News, Bikesport News, and Octane.
“At the moment,” she told me, “I’m writing about Inge Stol, who was a sidecar passenger and the first woman to compete at the TT [Stol raced on the shorter ‘Clypse’ course, around Onchan, in 1954 – MG]. But I suppose I’m stronger on people from my dad’s era, because I heard all their stories first hand.”
I wondered how the calendar idea had occurred to her...
“I was riding the train, and listening to my dictaphone,” she told me.
“Are you sure these things are tame?” Rachael had a photographer on hand, and an assistant charged with “crotch-watch, nipple-watch, and perv-watch” but there was no wrangler on hand when they went to get a photo commemorating an incident between John Surtees and a cow. “I was just a part of the furniture,” she told me, as she recalled growing up listening to motorcycle racers’ stories. Many of those stories now inspire the images in her calendars.
“This sounds really sad and geeky, but I’d recorded the sound of an AJS 7R [a classic, 350cc production racer made from the late ‘40s-early ‘60s – MG], because I love the way they sound, but I had also recorded a press conference, and it was Guy Martin and John McGuinness, and they’re both very witty. I was laughing out loud on the train and it was embarrassing; people thought I was a bit weird, but something about the sound of that classic bike and that quirky sense of humor that TT riders have, it made me think, How could I celebrate that? How could I visualize the soul of the TT?”
At this point, I had to interject, “And I suppose there’s some logical reason why, when you want to tell a visual story, your first natural inclination is to do it by taking off all your clothes.”
“Yes!” she laughed, “It’s a recurring theme. When I studied art, I was obsessed with the female form; I’d happily paint female nudes all day. So when I was composing the calendar images, I wanted to tell the stories with a female figure – but I couldn’t afford a model, so I thought, I’ll just do it myself.”
Rachael and her shooter originally planned to do a 37 3/4-month calendar, with one photo for every TT milestone, but the logistics of such a big printing project caused her to break it into three regular 12-month ones. The 2013 edition’s already sold out, although you can order art prints of those images. She’s currently selling 2014 calendars, and has enough images to print a 2015 edition, too.
“I just did it as a project; I never thought about running it as a business. I’m not the best businesswoman, but my parents are brilliant and it’s become a family thing,” she added. [As an aside, I have to tell you that it was a little weird, but totally charming, to find myself standing in our little booth decorated with nude pictures of Rachael, while chatting with Rachael’s mum – MG]
Of course, I had to ask whether she rides motorcycles herself.
“This is the huge irony,” she admitted. “I can ride; I’ve been riding since I was a kid, but I’ve failed my test four times.”
“I admit that the first two times I failed it was completely my fault, and my mistakes were dangerous, so fair enough, but the last two times they failed me on stupid, ridiculous things.”
“When I took my last test, they passed a guy that was wobbling around, and they failed me for the smallest thing! I was on this narrow lane with hedges on either side, it was slippery, and on a steep hill, and I missed a gear and stalled the bike. I just restarted it, and I was only stopped for a few seconds, but they failed me because they said I should have gotten off the bike and pushed it to the side of the lane, before attempting to restart it.”
“I argued that doing that would have taken longer than what I did, and that getting off it and pushing it would have entailed its own hazards; I could have dropped it, spilled oil and put others at risk, but they didn’t accept my appeal.”
When I told Rachael that no American license test includes anything nearly as demanding as negotiating slippery farm lanes, she said, “Maybe I should come and take my test in America.”
“My dad hasn’t ridden on the street for 20 years,” she told me. “Most of the racers I know over here hardly ever ride on the street. So I guess I don’t even need a license to do what I really want to do; really, I just want an AJS 7R that I can rev up in my garage, so I can listen to it.”
At this point, I’ll just note that back in the day, the 7R was known as the “Boy’s Racer”. Since I’m sure that Rachael’s sent a few boys’ hearts racing, that’s a great choice of bike, but I know that once she’s ridden it, just listening will not be enough. Maybe she should come to America to take a license test. I’m sure that a calendar of great American road photos (Tail of the Dragon, Angeles Crest Highway, etc.) would sell like mad.
In the meantime, if you want to make a contribution to Rachael’s 7R fund, you can order a 2014 calendar at www.milestonescalendar.com