Some of the rowers in the 2015 calendar went on tour in the USA in December 2014. Here's Tom's account of his days in LA and all the things he loved about it.
I was thrilled to be invited on the Warwick Rowers’ U.S. Tour. Taking part in the calendar shoot was a totally new experience, and meeting Sir Ian McKellen in London’s Mayfair Hotel at the 2015 calendar launch was something I never imagined I’d be doing. But going to Hollywood, then New York and Miami– well, I certainly didn’t think I’d be ‘on tour’ when I arrived at Warwick University and joined the rowing club. It was a big change from my little house in the Welsh valleys! This is my diary of my days in LA.
Friday 28th November
Stayed at Ollie’s house the night before the flight. We were like excited kids at Christmas and were up at the crack of dawn, eager to get the bus to the airport. We hadn’t slept much, but we didn’t care. Amazingly, I had two empty seats beside me on our Virgin flight, so I stretched out and made up for my lost beauty sleep.
Tristan and Chris were on the same flight as Ollie and I. We were all wearing Sport Allies hoodies. The cabin crew wanted to know who we where and what the#WR15 and Sport Allies was about. After we told them our story they insisted on having a photo with us at the end of the flight!
When we touched down in LA the heat hit me like a blast furnace. Sadly, that was the last California sunshine we saw. The next day it poured down…and the next…and the one after. But having a 4x4 jeep to play with more than compensated for the weather. Plus, once we put Chris the efficient German behind the wheel, I sat back and fell in love with LA, its palm trees, wide and open roads, vibrant energy and positive vibes.
Sunday 30th November
Interview and editorial shoot with The Backlot. This was a new experience for us: we were wearing clothes and Angus wasn’t taking the photographs. It felt like we were a boy band. In some of the shots where we hang upside down on bars, you can see my face turning red as the blood rushed to my head.
We were interviewed at The Abbey in West Hollywood, or WeHo. While we were there we got an invitation to a World Aids Day event in the evening. This involved lighting the Christmas tree.
Monday 1st December
Buzzfeed Day! We were met by Sam Stryker, the “Editor/Office Troll” according to his Twitter profile. He said we were going to feel like superheroes. “Naked rowers, our favourite homophobia-fighting athletes!!!” the Buzzfeed website announced. We fixed problems naked: we fixed coffee machines, printers, wifi, emails, boring meetings, deadlines, staplers and more.
In the evening we went to the World Aids Day event. When we arrived, the paparazzi were waiting for us. Just joking: they were waiting for Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian! Still, it was cool to walk through the wave of cameras. The Belvedere Boys dressed as icemen were incredibly designed and ripped (made me look bad), but the highlight of the night for us was having a photo taken of us holding Kris Jenner up. Friends at home couldn’t believe it when we posted it on Facebook.
Then things got even more unbelievable: Lisa Vanderpump (of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Vanderpump Rules” TV fame) invited us for a drink at her restaurant Pump. (It was fun sitting down with Lisa and talking to her about Sport Allies and the calendar. She’s a big supporter of the LGBT community. I didn’t write: “sit naked next to a celebrity and have your photo taken” on my bucket list, and now I don’t have to. I’ve done it!
But the highlight of the evening for me was meeting Lisa’s dog Giggy- full name Gigolo Vanderpump Todd! She allowed me to hold him on my lap!
Tuesday 2nd December
E! News Shoot was the first of three things on our agenda today. We met the two lovely presenters, played Twister on TV (as you do) and chatted about Sport Allies and the calendar. It was my first time in front of cameras and I was certainly a bit nervous at first. Gradually it got easier.
Next we went to World of Wonder for more bizarreness: we wore Christmas costumes (well, sort of) and sang Christmas carols rather badly. We enjoyed singing though. Laurie, Tristan and Chris posed with random Christmas objects to recreate some of the calendar shots. All in all, a fun day with some twists!
Wednesday 3rd December
Back to Buzzfeed! After our British speedo-wearing, superhero day at the office, I wasn’t sure what to expect today. We spent the day with the Try Guys – Buzzfeed guys who try things for the first time. Today they wanted to try naked modelling. It was another unpredictable and surprising day.
Thursday 4th December
An embarrassing day for me. Ollie, Chris, Tristan and I decided to run from the Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood sign. It started off well, but the others are better runners and when I stopped to tie my shoelace they had disappeared into the mist by the time I looked up again. Into the hills! I ran on confidently, but then the paths forked and guess what? I took the wrong turn and ended up on a golf course a few miles away. A kind person gave me a lift back to the Observatory. The 4x4 jeep was empty. I did find them on top of a nearby hill, just about to call the police and send out a search party. And all this in torrential rain: the worst in three years we kept hearing. No wonder people kept say “You brought the weather with you!”
Friday 5th December
Last day in LA! One final interview before the Big Apple with Entertainment Tonight. The presenter asked us to strip down to our onesies and play a game of “Guess the Bum!” She showed us shots from our new film “Some Like It Hotter” – we identified everyone’s bum with ease. Some volunteers in the studio want to know what it’s like to get lifted on to a rower’s shoulders – like in our calendar cover shot. So we happily obliged!
Next stop was the Kitson store where we signed calendars, photos, posters and had our photos taken with supporters. We find meeting supporters one of the most rewarding aspects of doing the calendar: it’s great to hear supporter’s stories about their experiences of homophobia while growing up and why they believe in the Sport Allies message.
And then sadly, it was time to leave. I’d like to give a big thumbs up to Norm’s café for its big steaks pancakes, scrambled eggs, bowls of fruit and unlimited refills- all for 15 dollars!! Rowers are always hungry and America serves ‘rower-size’ portions.
LA is a beautiful city, and because it’s spread out, the journeys in the jeep were more fun with flowing banter and music of all genres blaring all the time all day every day. I loved visiting Santa Monica Pier and seeing the Bubba Gump Shrimp diner (Big Forest Gump fan!) plus, just driving around LA and enjoying its positive energy was wonderful. Oh, and of course… I mustn’t forget the In-N-Out Animal Style! For burgers and fries – they do it best and only in California
On top of all this, the appreciation we received for spreading the Sport Allies message was extremely heart-warming. I feel privileged to raise money for the club and battle homophobia in sports to try and make a difference. My thanks to our supporters and everyone involved comes from the bottom of my heart.
If you haven't seen our USA film it's available for you to download right now in our shop. With special guest appearances from Lisa Vanderpump, Tori Spelling and Kris Jenner.