'I posed naked for the photographer Rankin'

Noon's founder Eleanor Mills once posed naked for Rankin, one of the UK's photographers. Here's what it was like

Looking at the pictures of the older couples photographed naked by Rankin for a new campaign for Relate, like the one below, I had a muscle memory of the time he photographed me – naked except for a strategically placed pair of haddocks!


The joy of later life sex Rankin/Relate

Pictures: Rankin/Relate

I’ve done some pretty wacky stunts during my time as a journalist but standing butt naked with Jerry Hall, fully made up next to an enormous box of different sea creatures on ice must count as the most surreal. Jerry was a lesson in professionalism. She chose a modest fish which covered her elegant breasts, kept the rest of her clothes – black trousers if I remember rightly – firmly on and insisted on looking down the photographer’s lens so she would know EXACTLY how she was going to appear.

But I am not and never will be a model. I was there because Rankin’s FishLove shoots – of celebrities from Greta Scaachi to Gordon Ramsay posing in the buff adorned only with sea creatures to protest about overfishing in the seas – had become a “thing”. My editor at The Sunday Times Magazine wanted the inside story on the shoot – but the deal was that in exchange for exclusive use of the latest load of pictures, they had to send a journalist along to be photographed too. Step forward…me.

I’m not sure how I got talked into it. The PR for FishLove was Jo Brooks, my friend and on the Noon Advisory Board. She is best known for representing Banksy, and is as anarchic and brilliant as he is in her own way. Somehow she convinced me it would be fun…. Hah!

How the shoot began

Picture: Courtesy of Rankin Photography ltdI remember turning up at Rankin’s Kentish town studios and being made up for what felt like hours. I am bad at makeup, I hate being fiddled with and prodded. When I go on TV, I always want the makeup bit to be over as quickly as possible. With Rankin the makeup process was epic, and it wasn’t just my face. I stood revealed for all to see as the make up artist scrutinised my skin for any birthmarks or red bits. Disconcerting I can assure you. Then they tweezered and teased my hair into fabulous curls. Jerry spent most of the time on her mobile to her daughter who was supposed to be there already. It was probably about then that the champagne was produced… cunning.

What it’s like to pose naked for Rankin

I was given a voluminous black dressing gown and told it was my turn. I stood next to Jerry while she chose her elegant small fish. Perhaps ten minutes later, she was done. Rankin came and stood with me by the sea creatures. There were star fish and an enormous tuna, a mighty octopus (all slimy tentacles with suckers I thought might bite) and some beautiful (but small) rainbow fish. The lobster was an option but its claws looked razor sharp. I didn’t fancy them near my bare flesh.

I sat – or rather perched – on a high stool, using the haddocks to cover my breasts as well as I could. “Smile!” yelled Rankin.

The pair of haddocks spoke to me. They were silver and slithery, but also a lot more substantial than the other options. Rankin looked me up and down. “What if we turn them into a kind of corset?” he said. It was more a command than a question.

Time to get naked

A couple of minions got the haddocks out of the ice and handed them to me. They felt freezing on my bare skin and stank – of fish. They were also scaly and oozy. I forced myself not to think about it. I was ushered into the studio, another set of minions trying to save my modesty with the dressing gown. I sat – or rather perched – on a high stool, using the haddocks to cover my breasts as well as I could. “Smile!” yelled Rankin, surrounded by assistants. I tried. He cracked some jokes. I laughed. He managed to make me feel comfortable, beautiful – a worthy subject for his camera, even naked with freezing fish. He could see beyond my nerves to the picture he wanted.

What it was like in the studio with Rankin

“I love it, fabulous, fabulous” he yelled. I began to relax. Sure the fish were slippery, but they were also warming up. I reckoned: In for a penny, in for a pound and decided all that mattered was that the picture was a success. This was not the time for false modesty. I gave it my all. After several endless minutes of smiling, and laughing, and heaving fish to and fro across my torso (dignified it was not), Rankin got the shot he wanted. I showered — thoroughly — and headed for St Pancras and the EuroStar. I was going straight on to Brussels to do an interview. It was only once settled on the train that I realised I still reeked of haddock. As soon as I got to my Belgian hotel, I showered and bathed again, but it was a stubborn pong – and I kept finding fish scales in my clothes for days afterwards.

Eleanor Mills by Rankin

Picture: Courtesy of Rankin Photography ltd

When the picture was published, it created quite a stir – I’d been writing a lot at the time about the importance of having more women in top jobs, particularly on FTSE boards, and was attending meetings in the City. There were quite a few FTSE chairmen who spent rather longer than was warranted telling me how much they had enjoyed my photo…. I reckoned I’d certainly done my bit for ocean conservation!

How I felt after I posed naked for Rankin

It’s now about a decade since the shoot, and although it was an ordeal, I am glad I did it. As we age, it is good to have proof that in our prime we passed muster. I’ll always be grateful to Rankin for giving me the confidence to do it and for including me in the FishLove exhibition because he loved the shot. It will probably be my defining portrait – I’d bet good money that some picture editor in years to come will use it to illustrate my obituary! Rankin is a genius.

– Eleanor Mills


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