Each year around this time, I get a call from a newspaper features desk, or a drive-time producer, or a telly researcher, or all three, inviting me to comment on the lamentable condition of the British male in summertime.
It’s silly season, of course, and I know just what they’re after. The genre: black comedy. The tone: exasperated amusement, fond derision. The substance: look at us tragic, misshapen, fish-out-of-water Brits, pasty losers to a man, outshone by our effortless, olive-skinned southern European cousins, our hard-bodied American beach brethren, the great mass of sexy, slender, shirtless international studs who put us sweaty, sunburned shallow-enders to shame.
Typically, my article or segment or quote will appear alongside a recent photo in which a red-faced British politician is caught making an unpardonable seasonal style faux pas: sandals with socks, short-sleeved shirt with suit. Or perhaps he’s been long-lensed lobstering in the surf, a skinny-legged, pot-bellied embarrassment. In a baseball hat. Or clamdiggers. Or budgie-smugglers.
Naturally, I don’t mind any of this. I’m a tart and a hack and a bread head and I’ll happily expound, at any length, on any topic under sun or shade, so 500 words on the pitfalls of summer style for the price of a bottle of Prosecco is meat and potatoes to me. (That’ll be meat incinerated on a Homebase barbecue, potatoes sliced into a slimy, mayo-heavy salad.)
As luck would have it, and to add injury to insult, I am precisely the kind of pale, wobbly Englishman who, as the mercury climbs, suffers the indignities of what I think of as Reverse SAD (we get miserable in the heat) so I’m well positioned to opine on Panama hats and factor 75 sunblock and wasp stings and sun rash and heatstroke and picnic fiascos and why never to take off one’s shirt in front of a foreign lady, because she will immediately Google the number for Beached Whale Rescue.
Happily, however, I’m in a minority. All those newspaper articles and radio spots and TV reports are based on a hopelessly outmoded characterisation of the UK’s Mr Summertime. They’re stuck in the days of knobbly knees competitions and saucy seaside postcards, candyfloss and kiss-me-quick hats. In our era of gym-buff bodies and shoes with no socks – not to mention the fact that in the summer of 2015 we Brits come in all colours, many of us beautifully brown all-year-round, rather than livid pink – most British men I know take to summer like sharks to the deep: sleek, chic and eminently fit for purpose.
Sure, there is still an unsightly army of leery, beery oafs that descends on tawdry Mediterranean resort towns to soak up the sangria and the third-degree burns, but the Esquire reader is above such things, unfazed by tropical conditions, by UV rays, by insects and grass stains and fast-melting Magnums.
So this issue of Esquire, rather than cowering under a beach umbrella like a Charles Atlas wimp, strides confidently poolside and lays its towel in full view of the DJ booth, offering countless options for warm-weather lovers, from primo swimming trunks (don’t say we never spoil you) to Russell Norman’s recipe for caprese salad, Harry Jameson’s advice on how to look fit on the beach and our countdown of the 25 summer skills you won’t need next month (or, indeed, ever again). Plus: sports casual, what it means and how to get it right.
Happily, from my point of view at least, it’s not all sunscreen and sand between your toes. We have a second focus this month: sport.
Two icons of glorious summers past – multiple Wimbledon champion Boris Becker and Ashes winner Andrew Flintoff – sit for interviews with Ben Mitchell. A brand new schoolboy hero, Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane, swaps his football strip for the best of this season’s lightweight suits. And Tim Lewis takes on the curious case of golf, the sport with the fast-disappearing fanbase.
Finally, a standout feature that has nothing to do with summer fun, though the events it describes did happen in June. To report it, Tom Barber undertook a journey through space and time, to 1815 Belgium and to his own childhood bedroom, in south London, for a terrific piece on the enduring fascination of one of the signal moments in British military and geopolitical history: the Battle of Waterloo, which took place 200 years ago this month. I’ve had a close look at the paintings and to be honest, I’m not sure Wellington and his men have much to offer us by way of sartorial tips for the summering Brit abroad.
On this month’s cover, however, is the handsome American film actor Jake Gyllenhaal, in a navy Burberry suit, strolling on a beach in Los Angeles. He looks great, I think. Relaxed, carefree, and comfortable in his second skin. Could a heavily perspiring, middle-aged British journalist with a body that is not quite beach-ready possibly pull off a similar style sensation on his summer hols this year?
Don’t answer that.
Read Jake Gyllenhaal's cover interview here.