Roving film cameraman Charles Davidson has finally found his spiritual home - in Belgium.
Not every Brit who makes the move overseas does so in search of the sun. In the case of Charles Davidson it was for another, more pertinent reason: he met and fell in love with a delightful Belgian lady called Dominique.
Former British soldier turned professional cameraman Charles hopped across the Channel to start a new life two years ago, and hasn’t regretted it for a moment. And after a long-distance romance, being together with his partner on a permanent basis hasn’t turned out to be the only advantage: as keen naturists for years, the couple now enjoy a relaxed, clothes-free lifestyle that Charles only dreamed about when he was living in the UK.
“Of course, the weather over here isn’t really any different from Britain,” Charles explains, “but the attitude to nudity certainly is. For a start, we go to a spa about every two weeks. It’s often the same one near our home in Oostende, but we like to try new ones from time to time. Forget your average, run-down British leisure centre or sports club. The spas here are immaculately clean and well-equipped, and are well-attended by a mix of singles (females as well as males), couples, and small groups of friends and family.
“All of the spas we have visited have an excellent bistro, serving fabulous Belgian beers, and more importantly the approach to public nakedness here is so relaxed it's almost complacent. Much laughter and chatting goes on without the slightest hint of embarrassment or awkwardness - just the way life should be, in fact. The age range goes from about nine to ninety, and everybody is nice to everybody else. As an added bonus, there’s also a naturist beach not far away, which is very popular during the summer.”
It’s a long way from his previous life, serving in the army in Germany, Cyprus and the Falklands, followed by a career supplying high-end camera equipment to the CCTV, broadcasting and medical industries. Using his product knowledge, and his contacts in the world of TV and film, Charles then moved behind the camera to establish himself as a photographer and cinematographer, and has since worked on a wide range of productions for the BBC, Channel Four, Channel Five, and the Discovery Channel.
The freelance lifestyle has its advantages, so when Charles and Dominique met (as second-time-arounders) in 2011, and then decided to move in together, they could have opted for Britain. So why Belgium?
“Lifestyle,” says Charles simply. “Naturism is accepted here far more than in the UK. As far as I know, all of the spas and saunas are naked-friendly, and there are hundreds of them, all attended by genuine naturists or people who don’t have hang-ups about nudity. The nearest naturist place to where I lived in the UK was also two counties away - which was a 150-mile round-trip! Here however we have several spas within cycling distance. It's not for nothing that Belgian spas are referred to as wellness, for that is exactly what they give you: a feeling of being well. Nobody judges your body, nobody's body is 'perfect' (whatever that means), nobody 'looks' at you, and even if you do unexpectedly bump into someone you might work with, what does it matter? They're naked, too.”
Being naked in public is of course nothing new for Charles, but the peace of mind that now comes with it largely is. “We had both been naturists long before we met, with Dominique being the lucky one in the fact she comes from a wonderful naturist family, and has enjoyed the continued freedom and liberation of naturism from her very first steps. I, on the other hand, had been a solitary naturist, being married to a dedicated non-naturist. This didn't stop me enjoying the sun 'properly' when on holiday, it was just that it was only me who was naked on the beach.
“I know that this is a common situation for people to find themselves in, and it sometimes (but not always) takes that huge leap to be with the person you were meant to be with.
Between us, Dominique and I have about 80 years of naturism experience, and I can only see that number rising as the years go by. “It also helps that Dominique’s family are all naturists, and I met her mother and daughter for the very first time whilst we were all naked - so that immediately got rid of any awkwardness, and within seconds I felt I had finally 'arrived home'. I feel completely comfortable with the naked way of life here, and I quickly realised that it was what I'd wanted - needed - from a very early age.
“Dominique has her own physiotherapy practice, and leaving that to relocate to the UK would have been a huge wrench. At present, as well as my current work which takes me all over Europe, I am putting together some short videos for product advertising for an old colleague of mine in the UK, with whose help I hope to be starting a new venture here in Belgium. So for the foreseeable future at least, we will definitely be staying over here. There could be the possibility of us living in the UK at some stage, but I think we would have to open our own naturist establishment - with all of the usual disagreement from local residents that that would entail.”
It does of course rain a lot in Belgium, so whenever the couple are in need of the sun on their backs, they head south to France. “A lot of our Belgian friends are naturists, and we expect to see quite a few of them on our main holiday this year. Unfortunately, our favourite venue, Le Romegas in the Rhône-Alpes, turned textile at the end of last season. We all think it's a huge mistake, especially when you consider there are families who have been going there for over thirty years, and that they, in turn, took their children along, so instead we are heading to the nearby Val Drome Soleil. We’ve been told it has a good international mix of visitors - French, Belgians, Dutch, Scandinavians. There might even be a few Brits, although as you’ve probably guessed by now, it has long been one of my frustrations that, on the whole, attitudes to naturism and nakedness in the UK are a long way from catching up with the European mind-set.”
Charles however is evidently very happy with his new life, and if he wants to add another string to his bow, he could always get a job with the Belgium Tourist Board. “Unlike Spain, Portugal, France or Italy, it’s perhaps not the place that many Brits would consider moving to permanently,” he admits, “but I can strongly recommend people make the short trip across the Channel to visit Belgium, and not just for the wonderful spas. The food and drink here is absolutely fantastic and has to be the country's best-kept secret: beer that will blow your socks off if you treat it like the coloured, fizzy water on offer in the UK; food that will easily rival anything you'll get in the most expensive restaurants in France; and a way of life that you will find familiar, yet different and interesting all at the same time. The Belgians truly love the (well-behaved) British, and will even put up with the 'rest' with a politeness that I find truly inspiring. Not of course, I’m sure, that British naturists fall into the latter category!”