NPower skirts around modern sport

From Tanya Aldred, The Guardian
You will have seen the NPower girls. From Edgbaston to the The Oval, come rain, come shine, they smile, they wave, they pose, all sumptuous curves, salon-soft long hair, nut-brown legs and just-the-right-side-of-slutty red and green uniforms.

The girls (never women) are undeniably gorgeous and have been a highly successful brand for NPower, which has sponsored Test cricket since 2001. They are, by all accounts, clever, intelligent, cricket-mad and in control. It just all seems a little bit 1970s, not such a long way from being draped over a car bonnet, promising the spotty youth in accounts the drive of his life.

NPower says the girls don’t just look pretty, they work for their wages. They bring photographers their water, pose for pictures, give away boxes full of four and six signs, judge fancy-dress competitions, pose for photographs and no doubt put up with tiresome innuendo from first ball till last. A colleague who NPowered up for a couple of days wrote how exhausting the whole thing was. But the company doesn’t exactly play down the sex appeal of its hired hands. The blurb on its website reads: “It’s a miracle anyone knows what’s going on at square leg with legs like these in the crowd.”

It also, kindly, profiles an NPower girl of the month – many of them, remember, have a degree up their sleeve – with questions like, “Who is the most fanciable England cricket player?”

Giant cut-outs of the more delectable girls are as prized a decoration to a student house as traffic cones used to be. The cameras love them, the players seem to love them and for many fans the girls are more than a sideshow – it’s a rare Test session that isn’t interspersed with shouts of “NPower, give us a wave, NPower NPower give us a wave”. And yes, there are some seriously weird blogs out there from men who should perhaps seek professional help.

Perhaps it was growing up when dungarees and Doc Martens did the business for a night out that makes it seem surprising that a large electricity company that prides itself on being forward-thinking and right-on environmentally should see the most appropriate way to brand its product as employing pretty girls in tight clothes.

But NPower is by no means the only company pressing the sex button, just the most high-profile. On the walk from St John’s Wood station during the Lord’s Test it was hard to avoid women in skimpy gear handing out betting slips, whisky tasters, wine, magazines, mini-newspapers and prize draws.

Sport and sex are established and enthusiastic bedfellows. Where George Best went perhaps largest and longest, others have enthusiastically followed. And the days of the mobile-phone camera and Heat magazine now ensure that even the most desperate forays are recorded for posterity.

In the Tour de France, women decorate the podium in yellow jerseys that leave little to the imagination. In boxing, they walk round the ring holding up “Round 1” signs and little else. In speedway, they start the race dressed in little more than collar and cuffs. Even at Wimbledon, where the women players are half the story, the photographer will always have an eye for the knicker shot. This year they were red and French. And the Formula 1 paddock must be the most testosterone-charged area on the planet.

This wouldn’t seem so bad if there was a bit of sexual equality in the world of product placement. But I’m still on the lookout for a fit young man in tight Lycra to flash a bright, knowing smile and hand me a bit of sponsored tat at a cricket ground. It could be a long wait.

Sportsmen, admittedly, are not so shy about their assets. David Beckham is a leading specialist in the world of the raunchy snap. French rugby players have posed naked since 1999 for a calendar which has spawned a DVD of its development and now a highly homoerotic coffee-table book. Australian rugby league players have followed suit and the England all-rounder Chris Lewis was before his time when he posed for Cosmopolitan in nowt but a pair of pants.

But perhaps the last word should go to a little known slow left-armer from Plumstead, Matthew Brimson. Turn to page 657 of the 2000 Wisden and see him giving a cheeky grin and a sausage surprise in the Leicestershire team photograph. Sadly his employers took a dim view of the incident and Brimson’s career never recovered – he retired at the end of the season to take up a teaching post at a boys’ public school.

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A little po-faced? Or does Aldred raise an important point? Or maybe you’d like to put forward a caption for the picture with Dickie Bird and a couple of NPower “girls”? Post your views in the Comment box below