Birthday suits are the great unifier: we all have one. Granted, some are shabbier than others, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And while not many of us are confident enough to leave it all… uh… hanging out, let alone post the resulting pictures on a (very public) website, sometimes a single nude step can become a journey into the naked unknown — and an inspiration to thousands.
Just ask Craig Coombes, founder of website Naked Tuesday.
“The way I sound now is how it evolved,” he says. Even allowing for a crackly phone line, this Novocastrian sounds as if he’s just come home from screaming his lungs out at a particularly close Newcastle Knights home game.
“It sounds like I’ve got laryngitis and that’s what we thought it was, [but] after two weeks [doctors] started doing a truckload of tests; four weeks later they found a tumour on my vocal chords.”
That was in May 2012. Not long later, he underwent surgery to remove the tumour, as well as his thyroid and surrounding tissue. In September of that year, after radioactive iodine treatment, the heaviest blow came.
“I was sitting in the chair after the scan and four doctors came into my room instead of one, and I thought ‘oh, this can’t be good’,” Craig jokes.
It wasn’t. In fact, it was roughly as far from good as it’s possible to get. His cancer was terminal. When he pushed them, doctors told him he had between 12 and 15 months to live. So much for laryngitis. Craig began to realise his days were numbered — and the number wasn’t very high.
How do you respond to such a moment? You get nude and get on the internet, of course.
“I was watching my son mow the lawn with his shirt off,” Craig explains. “My son’s an athlete and he’s got a pretty good rig. And I thought, ‘why can’t I do that?’” When his son told him to put his shirt back on, Craig purposefully left his shirt on the grass. And then he dropped his pants. When that happened, the cameras were never going to be far away, and Naked Tuesday was born.
“Every day has a feel,” he insists. “Monday is… well, Monday, Wednesday is hump day, Thursday is payday, Friday is the day before the weekend. But Tuesday? That’s time to get naked!”
A cult Facebook following exploded into his website nakedtuesday.me when Craig appeared on comedian Adam Hills’ chat show Adam Hills Tonight in May 2013.
“The night the show aired, [the website was] flooded,” Craig’s right-hand-man- in-the-raw, Peter Buchstaller says. “[It] crashed for a moment, and everyone wanted more of Craig’s story.”
Craig insists he never set out to inspire. “[The photos] were just my way of coping, of trying to live my life the best I could,” he says.
Yet his infectious humour, his courage and his willingness to simultaneously accept and challenge himself drew people to the website. And once they were there, his twin rallying cries — get out of your comfort zone and make the rest of your life the best of your life — lifted their perception of what was possible in their own lives. Photos flooded in from around the country.
As Craig ticked items off his “bucket list” with the help of family and friends — he’s already flown over Antarctica, sat beside rugby league immortal Andrew Johns at an NRL match and rubbed shoulders with the likes of actors Geoffrey Rush and Christie Whelan — he encouraged others to think about what they wanted to achieve in their lives, then do it.
Selling t-shirts and stickers via the website meant that Craig and his team were able to begin raising funds for The Orange Pigeon, a unique Australian organisation that works to grant wishes to adults who are facing terminal illnesses. But, he says, his main goal is to make people think about how they live, and encourage them to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.
“I was forced into this; it’s only because I was told I was going to die that [Naked Tuesday] evolved. But I want other people to choose… to make the rest of your life the best of your life. Make a choice and actually do something about it.” Craig has passed the first anniversary of his diagnosis, which means if the doctors are right, there isn’t much time left. But he says there’s plenty more to do and he’s not slowing down. “When I get bored, it gets dangerous,” he says with a laugh.
A year after we first spoke, Craig’s still fighting, and flaunting.
“I’m still here, which is a huge bonus!” he laughs.
And far from bored, he’s a man in demand. Now a stand-up comedian, with the honour of being headlined by Adam Hills, Craig appeared at London’s Stand Up to Cancer event (aired on Channel 4 to 4 million viewers) and this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.