Erika Roe, 57, is known as the Twickenham Streaker after her topless run at Twickenham Stadium in 1982. She’s now raising money for Against Breast Cancer.

I remember...

…Growing up in Africa

Erika Roe growing up in Africa

I was born in Suffolk, but my parents took me to Tanzania when I was seven months old.

We were deep in the African jungle, a long way away from towns and shops, out in the bush. The government was encouraging people to go out, so they bought a piece of land and carved a tea estate out of the side of a hill. 

 

…My mother taught all of us...

...and did a fantastic job
 
She stuck very strictly to the English curriculum. Poor old mum—she’d turn her back for one moment to go and ask the house help about the gardening or what we were going to have for lunch, and we’d jump out of the window and wouldn’t get back until the afternoon. We’d go off and find our local friends and go hunting or build dams in the local river, catch fish, or climb trees to collect fruit.

 

…Two lions wandered into our area...

...and caused havoc 

There had been a drought and they attacked the animals, our sheep and our horse—his flank was scratched and there was a huge tear of claws down his back. My father, two other Europeans and a huge group of local people went with their guns, spears, drums and whistles, beating the lion out of the bush. My brothers and sister were locked up in the Land Rover, but I saw the lion run over the hill and within minutes there was a shot. It had to be done as they were a risk to life, but it was sad because we respected and loved African wildlife.

 

…Going once a month to the bigger town... 

...Njombe, to do the European shopping—Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and things like that

We were always pretty peeved at having to put our shoes on when we went shopping.  My parents dressed us up, but we were wild. We were out all day from the time I could walk. There were huge snakes and dangers, but we were given complete freedom.

 

…We came back to britain in 1970 

Coming out of the 1960s was quite complicated because of the economic and political climate in Tanzania 

Erika Roe in the 70s

We left everything behind. My parents lost all that they built. My dad was in the dole queue in 1971, in those awful rooms that were packed with smoking. It was very hard to watch my father, who was such a big man, end up on social security. Eventually he worked for Oxfam and went to work in Zambia, then ran a small farm in Dorset.

 

…The first year in England, I went to six schools..

..in one year!

Then I went to boarding school at about 13 when my parents went back to Africa for one year. I was fascinated to find that the girls went into the needlework department and I was absolutely forbidden to do metalwork or anything “male”, which was anathema. Suddenly I was segregated and I was a different kind of human being from the rest of the world.

 

…We’d climb into the windows of the boys’ boarding house... 

...to get hold of No6 cigarettes 

I remember coming back from a big night out when I was 16—for the first time in my life, I was plastered. I tried to hide behind all my friends, but you had to sign in and there was a very strict lady there. She must have smelled alcohol, but she didn’t say anything. I went in and was sick in the waste-paper basket.

That was the first time I ever got drunk. I’d been very upset with my boyfriend, so I bought myself a small bottle of gin and drank it neat.

 

…I went into nursing, but I gave up after a year

My stroppy ward sister didn’t like me 

I can look back now and understand it because I know I’m quite arrogant and outspoken. I’ve never been taught to demean myself to anybody in authority unless they deserve my respect. I was a first-year student and had the nerve to talk to doctors and give them my opinion sometimes. So she started making my life very difficult with all the horrible jobs—cleaning the bedpans, picking up sick, undressing awful wounds on very ill people. I remember being asked to wash down a dead body. But I dealt with it.

 

…Moving to Petersfield... 

...where I was for ten years

Erika Roe and her family

I finally made some friends at 19—because we were so nomadic, I never really felt I belonged. One of my first jobs was doing £1-an-hour gardening, but I spent most of my time talking to my clients as they’d invite me in for coffee. They’d pay me for talking. 

 

…Taking my bike to the local pub 

The Harrow Inn in Steep outside Petersfield

There I met my first love, a local farmer, but it only lasted six months as he thought I was two-timing him. That’s the trouble with being somebody like me. I’m very tactile, very open. I’m constantly being accused of wanting certain guys, but I’ve met maybe four men in my entire life I’d want anything to do with. I’ve been single for ten years and there’s nobody I fancy, which is much better for me. I say to my friends, “You’ve got a lovely husband,” and they’ll say, “He’s mine!” and I’ll reply, “I only said you’ve got a nice husband. I promise you, he doesn’t turn a hair on my head.”

 

…That weekend in 1982 

We had a few beers, and at half time I found myself streaking.

God knows how it happened or why. The week preceding we’d been to lots of parties—it was Christmas time, then my birthday on the 30th, followed by New Year’s Eve. We were just crackling.

I was taken off by the police, and I carried on drinking in the pub, not really thinking about it much. I ended up being interviewed by a journalist who was hanging around. I thought there might be a small bit on page 36 in the sports news, but lo and behold, there I was splashed on all the front pages. 

 

…My parents thought the streak was a hoot... 

...but I was constantly trying to turn my back on it 

Every time a newspaper phoned up for another interview, I would just say to tell them to go away, but my parents would say, “Don’t be ridiculous, you’ve got to grab this chance while you can. You don’t know what’s going to happen.” Quite honestly, I found it very vacuous. I wasn’t selling anything, I just streaked—what more did they want from me?

 

…After the furore of the streak calmed down 

I did a bit of journalism for a rugby magazine

I used to interview famous or controversial people associated with rugby, but not necessarily rugby players. I interviewed Nigel Dempster and he was a bit pompous. When I went to interview him, I was absolutely shaking. I remember him trying to catch me out and taking the p*** out of me.

The other was Michael Praed, who got famous in Robin of Sherwood and then went on to Dynasty. He was having trouble with his loo overflowing when I phoned him, so half my interview was me telling him what to do, from England to Hollywood. 

 

...I became pregnant for the first time

When I was 27, with my daughter Imogen

Erika Roe and her Daughter Imogen
Image via Rex

It was the best thing that could have happened to me then. She was a passion baby—I was having an affair and we weren’t going to get married or anything, so I went off and became a single mother. We kept in touch and never fell out. 

 

…Falling in love with my Dutch husband in 1988 

We had two sons and spent 17 years building up our business on a farm in Portugal

I’ve worked 14 hours a day nearly every day of my life—even heavily pregnant—hoiking boxes around. Of course, we reaped the benefit by having money, but the marriage broke up. I think a lot of it was about stress and exhaustion. Nobody should do that. Life is for living, not just for money.

 

…My sister Jessie, the youngest of six children... 

...came to Portugal to stay with me during a difficult part of her life

We had a few arguments, but she was my best friend. But nobody realised that while she was being crazy, she was actually riddled with cancer. It was discovered too late—initially in her breast and very quickly it spread to her brain. Jess chose natural therapies and shunned all the medical advice, and it was too late. She died in 2011, aged 45. 

 

…For a year after my husband did a bunk... 

I went through a very deep depression, as he went off with another woman

After that, I was climbing out of it, running the farm and sending palettes of flowers to Holland. I paid the mortgage on my own because my husband refused. I looked after the kids on my own, harvesting flowers and ordering trucks. I had 35 people working there at any one time.

 

…Overstretching myself 

As a family, we literally learned how to build walls, plaster, put in windows, everything from scratch 

Erika Roe - building her own house

I’ve put in my own bathroom—my loo, my sink. I do everything. You look at the builders and think, Well, I can do that. So when they go home and they’re not watching, you try it.  

 

…Renting out one part of my house last summer...

...because I was really broke

I had no bathroom and no kitchen. So I used a bucket as a loo, the contents of which I buried every morning in the field. I was cooking my food outside and had mostly salads. I had an old bath, which I buried in the ground and filled with water in the morning. By the end of the day, because it’s so hot in Portugal, it would be warm enough to have a bath. So I was bathing outside, in the dark, under the night sky.

 

…Being in the garden with my daughter 

She started taking pictures of me

We were having a bit of fun and I was taking my clothes off bit by bit. Before I knew it, I was running around naked and Imogen was saying, “You look lovely, Mum.” The pictures were just for her. Then last year, we were thinking, You’re famous for your breasts, so let’s raise some money for breast cancer, for Jessie. Let’s try a calendar. Against Breast Cancer showed an interest and so we went ahead. We did it all ourselves with 35 per cent of sales going to the charity. We broke even, with little profit to us, and still have some to sell. 

 

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