February 10, 1993, Wednesday
Peaceful Colony Facing Crisis as Doors Open to Blacks, Gays
By TINA SUSMAN, Associated Press Writer
WARMBATHS, South Africa
Once upon a time, a former rock 'n' roll singer bought a farm in a quiet valley where he could shed his clothes and enjoy nature far from South Africa's strife.
For 14 years, Beau Brummell and his band of nudists peacefully enjoyed their sunbathed colony, an oasis of naked tranquility in an intolerant land. Suddenly, the changes enveloping the rest of South Africa have crashed like a meteorite into the country's only nudist colony, Beau Valley, where residents are ready to dethrone the self-proclaimed King of Nudity following his decision last month to allow blacks and homosexuals.
"Just as our own country is in turmoil at the moment, so is my nudist colony," said Brummell.
Brummell says he wants to be part of the "new" South Africa but is facing racism and homophobia from angry shareholders, who are suing Brummell.
"The years of apartheid are still very much alive and well among the whites here," Brummell said in an interview as rain fell over the lush glen. On the rare occasions non-whites have visited Beau Valley, other nudists have been hostile, he said.
Residents say the main problem is Brummell, who sold them shares in a family-style retreat only to change the rules without consulting them.
They accuse Brummell of diverting their fees for personal use, which Brummell vehemently denies, and of using his status as majority shareholder to run a fiefdom. Police seized the resort's financial records in a raid Feb. 7.
"Gays and blacks are not the problem at all," said Jonathan Egan, one of Brummell's detractors. "The problem is Mr. Brummell changes his theme. The original theme was naturism for families, and now he's advertising it as a gay retreat."
Egan acknowledges racism and homophobia are behind some of the anger. He doesn't want his sons sharing the retreat's communal showers with gay men, Egan says.
Of the 100 time-share bungalows, 41, including Egan's, are for sale.
Most Beau Valley shareholders are families with children, who spend holidays and weekends around the swimming pool, volleyball court, and fishing pond. No alcohol is sold.
Brummell, born Michael Bush 50 years ago, bought the 80-acre farm, 100 miles northeast of Johannesburg, 21 years ago with money earned as a pop singer, movie-maker and cowboy hero known as "Beau the Untamed."
The stage name "Beau Brummell" was adopted during his six years in Europe, where he released 11 pop singles, including a 1963 hit, "I Know, Know, Know," and hobnobbed with some rich and famous types.
The original "Beau" Brummell was a 19th century English gentleman, George Bryan Brummell, known for his dapper dress. This undressed, South African Brummell also is not to be confused with the mid-60s San Francisco rock group, the Beau Brummells.
After growing up in a conservative, religious South African family, Brummell describes his years in Europe as the start of his education.
"I learned what freedom was," said Brummell, a towering man with silver beard, wavy locks, and an aristocratic bearing. He also learned the art of self-promotion.
Brummell's office in Beau Valley is covered with publicity shots: Brummell naked in the African bush with cheetahs; Brummell clothed with Raquel Welch; Brummell posing with one of his heroes, anthropologist Raymond Dart.
He has become one of South Africa's leading celebrities, despite being a "proud atheist and great Charles Darwin man." In one newsletter, he describes himself as only somewhat less well-known than F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
Police have staged periodic raids on Brummell's home, seizing brochures and filing pornography charges.
But the conservative town of Warmbaths, 10 miles away, has grown to appreciate the business Beau Valley brought it. When Brummell's two children were expelled from a Christian school in 1988, other parents put pressure on the headmaster until he resigned.