The Boys Of Bridgend Get Bigger & Better (NSFW)

By The Gay UK, Apr 14 2015 11:15AM

Bridgend in South Wales seems to be enjoying a bit of a heatwave as I make my way to meet Russ Hughes, the photographer and creator of the Boys of Bridgend for a chat about the upcoming 2016 calendar. Well, it might not be a heatwave but it’s definitely warmer than usual for April and things are about to get a whole lot hotter as he’s promised to bring along one of this year’s new recruits for a chat. There are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Russ Hughes/Boys Of Bridgend

Russ Hughes/Boys Of Bridgend
I arrive to catch the tail end of an ongoing shoot, though I seem to have missed the opportunity for naked men with this one. It’s a young woman getting head shots for a portfolio, I’m informed. As she leaves, in walks Rhys, one of the calendars newest recruits who I can only describe as ‘traditionally beautiful’. Even fully dressed you can see that he is in splendid shape with his boyish good looks and cheeky smile. I’m impressed. If this is a taster of what is to come with the new calendar then pulses are set to race the world over.

We sit, drinks are poured and our chat begins. I’m interested to know how the Boys of Bridgend began. Unlike other calendars on the market, the guys who feature here aren’t part of a collective group or team and while some of them have known each other for a long time, the only solid connection that seems to bring them all together is that they all hail from this small Welsh town. So I begin by asking Russ how it all came to be.

“I’m asked on a regular basis to do charity work, be it donating shoots as prizes or shooting charity events, but I wanted to do something more to help, so one day I hit on the idea of a calendar and it all went from there. I’d never done anything like it before and I had no idea about the amount of work that it needed, but once I set my mind to it there was no stopping me. I just had to work out who to shoot, where to shoot, how to fund it and how to get it made on a tiny budget. I also set myself a timescale of 3 months to get it all done. Now that I know what I know, that seems insane, but I went into it a bit naïve and looking for a challenge and I definitely set myself one.”

The 2015 calendar went on to be a big success, selling in over 35 countries, so it seems that it was a challenge that he managed to overcome, but what about the process of making it. How did it get off the ground?

“I’d love to say that it was plain sailing but it seemed like we hit brick walls at every turn. On the day of the very first shoot the model text me to say he was pulling out. I think he’d spent too long overthinking it and had talked himself out of it by the time the shoot day came. We were already miles behind schedule and I was panicking like you wouldn’t believe. I text one of the other guys who finished work and drove over, so we at least got the shoot done, but we were still a guy short. By the time we had completed all 12 shoots we had lost a further 2 guys who then had to be replaced, and we were still behind schedule. Aside from the shoot problems, we also had trouble finding funding to even get it printed. Companies just weren’t interested. In the back of my mind I was worried that I would be left with hundreds of pictures but no calendar to put them in. I ended up paying over half of the printing costs myself just to make sure that it was made and nobody ended up disappointed.”

You’ve been teasing us on social media with snippets from this year’s calendar, which is very obviously different from what we’ve seen before, so what sparked the change?

“There’s a couple of reasons, really, but mostly because of how well the last calendar did. We always thought that we would sell a couple of copies locally, raise some money for the charity and that would be that, but it went down a storm and people were buying it from all over the world. It was obviously a winning formula so changing that this year is a bit of a risky move, but we don’t want to get complacent, either. We did it one way and it worked well, so now we want to test the water and give everyone something different. People who have already bought the calendar already have lots of black and white images of naked men in the Bridgend countryside, so if and when they decide to buy the new calendar we will be giving them something completely different for their money so it won’t seem like they’ve paid for the same thing twice. We’ve put out teasers on Facebook and Twitter which have had a really positive response, which is brilliant, but just like last year, you haven’t seen anything yet. The final calendar images are still under lock and key and have been seen by nobody.”
“Keeping things fresh and new is what we want to do, and we really have changed everything. The theme of the calendar is completely different, we’ve got a bunch of new guys and we’ve also changed the charity we will be supporting this year as well.”

Russ Hughes/Boys Of Bridgend

Russ Hughes/Boys Of Bridgend

Money raised from the 2015 calendar went on to support the Everyman Appeal, which benefits men who suffer from testicular and prostate cancer, while money from the 2016 calendar will go towards the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation. How did that partnership come about?

“The guys over at the StandUp Foundation have been amazing. Really, truly amazing. We have had such a great response from fans and we really want to be as interactive as possible, so when work started on the new calendar we put it to our supporters for them to suggest charities that they would like to see us donate to. The response was incredible and there were lots of worthwhile charities thrown into the mix, but the one that came up over and over was the StandUp Foundation, so it was a no brainer for us. We contacted them to explain who we are and what we do and within an hour they were on the phone to us to get it in place and they have been fantastic ever since. The work they do, especially within the LGBT community has been so brilliant and the fact that we can help them is amazing. It’s like we’ve come full circle. It’s no secret that if it weren’t for the LGBT community the first calendar would have been nowhere near the success that it was. They really took us to their hearts and gave us sales all over the world. I love the fact that we can now give back to them in some way by supporting a charity that does so much work, both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world, to tackle homophobia. If we can make one persons’ life a little easier through sales of this calendar then we will have done something worthwhile.”
“It really is an amazing charity,” adds Rhys. “I do a lot of charity work but I’m especially proud to be supporting the StandUp Foundation. What this charity is striving to achieve and already have achieved is a massive boost for not just the youth but people of all ages. No-one should have to grow up being bullied or feeling ashamed. It’s bad enough to witness it let alone being the one on the receiving end of it, so the message the charity is sending out is such an important one. We all need to stand up and hopefully we can encourage more people to acknowledge what is going on and do more to help stop it.”

And it was just those sort of prejudices that put another spanner in the works for the boys this year which could have seen them have to cancel the 2016 calendar altogether.

“Yeah, it was a really sh**y time, actually. After the success of the last calendar we had companies actually approaching us wanting to help fund the next one, which was a big relief for us. When I had a meeting with them to discuss the new theme and charity our biggest sponsor decided to pull out. He didn’t want his company to be seen to be supporting LGBT causes as he thought the association would be detrimental, and so that was that. We didn’t try to persuade him as that’s not the kind of attitude that we want to be associated with, either, so we were happy to part ways but it left us with a big hole to cover our printing costs. We decided to dip our toe into Crowdfunding to see if that would help and luckily we have ourselves some amazing supporters because we hit our target in 8 days. How amazing is that? All our former sponsor did was confirm the fact that we were supporting the right charity this year, and once again the LGTB community came through for us when we really needed it.”

I was keen to know how Rhys, a 24 year old support worker, found himself signing up to appear in the latest calendar. Was there any sort of audition process or did you manage to just win them over with your looks? (Cue lots of blushing)

“I’ll have to leave all the ladies and gentlemen decide about my looks I think. I just saw an advert that was posted way back in January to say they were looking for guys for the new calendar so I thought I would give it a go and sent over some pictures. They asked some questions about me, I think to make sure I would be comfortable getting my kit off, and about my job and age, stuff like that, and then it all sort of went from there. It all happened pretty quickly, really. I’ve done a lot of charity work in the past, though nothing like this, but I am up for anything so I figured I’d give it a go and it’s been great.”

Russ Hughes/Boys Of Bridgend

Russ Hughes/Boys Of Bridgend

And what about the shoot? You didn’t have to get naked in the great outdoors like last year’s recruits, but how did you find the overall process of it?

“It was actually a really great experience, to be honest. Shooting with the props was really funny. That was probably my favourite part of the shoot because we had a good laugh doing it. Russ helped me to settle in really quickly and we just got in with it. I wasn’t nervous or shy but I wasn’t sure how I would take to doing the poses. When you see photo shoots they always look great but you never realise how awkward it can feel because it’s not something you naturally do, but Russ was happy with what we got so I left feeling confident that it went well.”

All of the guys from this year are being kept firmly under wraps, so has it been difficult to keep the secret about what you’re doing? Does anyone know?

“I checked with Russ and then told my parents, brother and my partner. I think I will probably get a bit of a ribbing from the boys I play football with when they find out, especially when they see some of the shots we took, but they will know it’s for a good cause so it will all be in good fun. My family thought it was hilarious but they’re really proud of me for doing it.”

So what’s next then? Calendar buying time is still a few months away but you’re all still hard at work. What can we expect to see from you over the coming months?

“We don’t want to take anyone or anything for granted. We’re trying really hard to be as interactive as possible and get amongst our followers and supporters, so we’re on Twitter and Facebook every day chatting with people and keeping everyone up to date. It’s important to us that we build connections with people rather than disappear for eight months of the year and then come begging when we have something to sell. We want to be approachable and friendly and not just be salesmen. We’re constantly thinking up ways to bring content to people and we release new teaser images all the time to show people what we’re doing. We’re hoping to be able to get out on the road this summer and go to some local Pride’s so if anyone wants to see us, get in touch. We’ve got a big reveal coming shortly where everyone will finally get to see all the guys from the new calendar for the first time and loads more merchandise coming out as well so if the calendar isn’t enough, you’ll soon be able to buy clothes, keyrings, mugs and loads of other stuff, with money from all sales going to the charity. We’ve also been working on video content, some of which you can see already on YouTube, with more to be released throughout the year. It’s going to be a busy few months. Bigger and Better. That’s what we keep telling everyone.

For more from the boys, check out

twitter.com/BoysOfBridgend

www.facebook.com/bridgendboyscalendar

Or

instagram.com/boysofbridgend
By Lizzie Twomey

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