Flt Lt Michelle Goodman’s frankly rather good-looking features (bear with me – that is relevant) are to my surprise all over the front pages of several British tabloids this morning. It’s all to do with a medium-sized dust-up over orders given to servicemen at RAF Wittering not to wear their uniform 0ff-duty in public in the local town. That came after some were abused by civilians.
The ban has caused more of a furore than the abuse ever did, and the tabloid consensus (and in fact pretty much the consensus all round) is that servicemen should be able to wear uniform in public. It pains me considerably that it’s been felt necessary. But it’s all a bit of a puzzle.
The reality is that off-duty servicemen and women in the UK are a rare sight in uniform. Even in garrison towns. I’m struggling to remember the last time I saw anyone in uniform off their base. I certainly don’t live in the most likely area, but I get around. And when I was personally in the RAF – back in the 80s, it was virtually unheard of to be off-duty and in-uniform. And particularly for officers.
The picture that the papers are using is mostly this one.
The Hard Rock cafe and red phone box in the background give the impression of her sauntering down a London street. But the reality is that it’s a photo-op, (I suspect in Piccadilly just down from the RAF Club), and the sight of a female RAF pilot wandering down any normal British main street would frankly stop the traffic.
Anyway “brown-eyed, blonde” Flt Lt Goodman (the Daily Mail’s words not mine) has been roped in to fight the good fight. (Whether she likes it or not – I notice the Mail directly quotes her extensively on everything except uniform wearing in public). And the Ministry of Defence PR empire is no doubt quietly savouring the moment.