A skin cancer scare meant I am now embracing the pale for good (Picture: Rachel Woollett)
More than once, I’ve been described as ‘shady’, but as this hot summer goes on, I’ve cranked it up to epic proportions.
This doesn’t mean I’m now judging your every move and calling you out on your behaviour, it means that this Queen of Shade is taking her moniker literally and, for the good of her health, staying out of the sun.
And that’s not just for the sake of a good pun; a skin cancer scare meant I am now embracing the pale for good.
A trip to Tesco for a pint of milk now entails a full layer of SPF50 before leaving the house.
And as temperatures nudge towards the 40 degrees, I’m never without my wide-brimmed Joan Collins sunhat, my Jackie O dinner-plate sunglasses, or my £40-a-time sunblock facial mist spray.
While others are navigating the summer temperatures with strappy tops, shorts and flip-flops, I’m swathed head to toe in faux-Egyptian cotton, like a Jane Austen heroine, twirling my parasol and coquettishly fluttering my lace hand fan.
Yes, I’m single-handedly bringing back Regency Chic.
The mandatory glance at Dr Google inevitably confirmed my worst fears – this could be skin cancer (Picture: Rachel Woollett)
A pale-skinned filly, I’ve never been what you might call a sun worshipper, but in my more naïve youth, I spent months hitching across the Australian outback and the plains of Southern India, without so much as a drop of cream, going totally skin commando.
Those carefree days did indeed result in some sun-induced discolouration of my skin, which has faded over time and never gave me cause for concern.
At the height of lockdown in April 2020, however, I noticed a dark patch on my face that seemed to be spreading at an alarming rate.
The mandatory glance at Dr Google inevitably confirmed my worst fears – this could be skin cancer and I needed to get it looked at quickly.
After a couple of worrying months of phone-only consultations, sending various medical professionals badly lit photos taken in my kitchen of my ever-growing dark patch, it was determined I’d need a biopsy and I was at last seen face-to-face, quite literally, by a dermatologist that August.
As I lay on a gurney, a scalpel-wielding operative gleefully sliced into my right cheek.
The scar is a constant reminder that I need to take better care of myself where the sun’s concerned (Picture: Rachel Woollett)
I watched in shock as he passed the piece of flesh he’d just cut from my face right in front of my eyes before nonchalantly plopping it in a little plastic container. A piece of my face, which I’d become quite accustomed to over the years, was now in a pot. And I could have skin cancer.
I’ve had better Saturdays.
Luckily my biopsy showed no signs of cancer, but the scar it left is a constant reminder that I need to take better care of myself where the sun’s concerned.
Achieving that sun bronzed look is still fashionable though, and that comes with its own pressure.
TV shows like Love Island perpetuate beauty tropes that not only should we all be garrotting our derrieres with cheese-wire bikini bottoms, but that our ubiquitous drawn-on eyebrows and dazzlingly white teeth must be accompanied by a deep mahogany glow, whatever our natural skin colour.
That’s certainly a change from entertainment of the past.
I can hardly imagine Elizabeth Bennet walking round in a g-string. If she had, it certainly wouldn’t have taken her 61 chapters to bag Mr Darcy.
In the Regency England of Pride and Prejudice, it was the height of fashion to stay out of the sun to achieve a lily-white complexion, while sun-kissed faces belonged to manual labourers.
It’s only in the last 50 years that tanning, in all its various forms, has been considered hot.
I can hardly imagine Elizabeth Bennet walking round in a g-string (Picture: Rachel Woollett)
I for one am happy to stay pale and interesting while doing my best Emma Woodhouse – and in many warmer cultures they know the value of dressing to keep the sun out and the cool air in.
Since deciding to go full Bridgerton, I’ve found some beautiful clothes that not only cover my extremities, but always garner envious comments from others who are sweltering with skin on show.
And since I started twirling my parasol on my morning commute, I’ve now noticed my fellow passengers tentatively unfurling a lightweight brolly as they alight onto a sunny station platform.
I hope it’s only a matter of time before my fashions catch on; a floor-length dress also hides a multitude of sins – you don’t have to hold in your gut, you can let your leg hair grow to full pelt and you can pass wind with total discretion.
As we swelter in the blistering heat of the UK’s highest-ever recorded temperatures this summer, it’s become apparent that we can no longer take risks with the sun.
That’s not just true for me after my scare, but for everyone.
Climate change is forcing our hand. The world is dangerously heating up and it’s down to us to take precautions to protect ourselves.
So I’m happy to slap on the SPF, embrace my shady side, channel my inner Jane Eyre and celebrate my whiter shade of pale.