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Breast cancer survivor Ami Shirley from Bisbrooke in Rutland walks in Sophie Tea’s live Send Nudes art show at London Palladium

A cancer survivor inspired others by strutting her stuff while covered in paint at an empowering nude art show.

Ami Shirley from Bisbrooke in Rutland was among 50 inspiring women chosen to be works of art in Sophie Tea’s Send Nudes live show at the London Palladium on Friday night (April 5).

Selected from more than 10,000 applicants, it was Ami’s story that captured the heart of the artist, who is renowned for her empowering nude paintings of women.

Ami Shirley was painted to be a nudie in Sophie Tea's art show
Ami Shirley was painted to be a nudie in Sophie Tea's art show

She was invited to be part of an interview panel to share her story with 2,500 guests before stripping off in a catwalk show wearing paint rather than clothes.

Ami, 64, said: “When it came to the show nothing could have prepared me for it, I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I believed in its message and the magic.”

She added: “I felt more than my boobs, more than my legs, more than my bottom.

Ami Shirley was a 'nudie' for artist Sophie Tea
Ami Shirley was a 'nudie' for artist Sophie Tea

“I was celebrating a body as a work of art, a body which has kept me alive and given birth four times.”

Sophie Tea’s Send Nudes movement is not to titillate or to create pornographic content but instead to empower women to embrace their bodies. Her models are known as nudies.

For Ami this rang true and left her feeling like an inspiration to the hundreds of women in the audience rather than being sexualised.

Even for someone exuding body confidence, ditching the clothes and breaking the stigma was a nerve-racking experience.

The nudies
The nudies

“The hardest part was actually taking off the clothes,” she said.

“There were 50 nudies in the room and we all just laughed together.

“The painting itself was freezing cold.”

Ami, who is from Bangladesh and moved to the UK at the age of six, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, just two months after her husband left her.

Ami founded Bisbrooke Artisans
Ami founded Bisbrooke Artisans

After three years of active treatment including chemotherapy, the loss of hair, breast operations and radiotherapy she began to dance.

She explained in her application to become a nudie: “They say everyone is different and for me dancing was always my playtime.

“During my breast cancer journey I returned to this passion as a way of processing the trauma and uncertainty surrounding my diagnosis.

“But I didn’t just dance at the usual events and parties, I felt inspired to dance in public places and people would tell me that they felt my joy.

Ami Shirley with her red boots which she dances in
Ami Shirley with her red boots which she dances in

“I would talk about my cancer, often to my surprise in return strangers shared their stories too which is wonderful.

“Reaching out this way, however insignificant it may sound, can make a difference not only to our own healing but others too.”

While going through cancer treatment, Ami bought a pair of red platform boots knowing that one day she would dance with them.

She was the only model to wear shoes in the show and proudly donned her red boots as a symbol of what she has overcome.

Ami Shirley with artist Sophie Tea
Ami Shirley with artist Sophie Tea

To most walking naked in front of a sold-out audience is the stuff of nightmares, but Ami jumped at the opportunity after seeing Sophie Tea’s call for models, feeling she would let herself down if she didn’t try.

In the minutes leading up to her stage call, Ami described overwhelming anxiety and feeling like she would pass out. But as she stepped on stage, a sense of peace came over her.

“My mind was clear, it was very much like seeing the light,” said the former teacher.

Ami Shirley at Rutland Water
Ami Shirley at Rutland Water

“A lot of things had led to that moment and without sounding altruistic I knew I was there for a reason.”

Ami has always been drawn to the stage - so much so she has been removed by security on occasions.

So standing on the stage at the London Palladium was ‘a dream come true’.

“There was an occasion at Burghley House, near Stamford, where I tried to get on stage, I hadn’t had alcohol or anything, I just knew I had something to offer,” she explained.

“I can’t express exactly what it is.”

Ami Shirley after treatment
Ami Shirley after treatment

Now she believes her purpose is to share her story and inspire others, which she plans to do with talks and writing a book as well as on her Instagram account @ami_bisbrooke_artisans.

“I don’t know if my cancer will come back, I’ve had other health issues too so I know I need to do this for my legacy,” Ami added.

Although, Ami has not always been filled with self-confidence and love, she has it in abundance now. She says it took the ‘unimaginable’ of her husband leaving and cancer to discover this.

During her 30s and 40s, and after giving birth to four daughters, Anna, Georgia, Heidi and Tara, she disliked her body for showing signs of ageing.

Now she says appreciates all it has done to keep her alive and has stopped giving time to other people’s negative thoughts.

Ami Shirley with her daughters Anna, Georgia, Heidi and Tara Huzar
Ami Shirley with her daughters Anna, Georgia, Heidi and Tara Huzar

“Sometimes it takes something terrible for you to wake up and grab life with both hands,” Ami said.

“Even though I felt like my body was killing me throughout chemotherapy, it enabled me to take responsibility of my own happiness.”

She added: “No one can love me like I love myself.”

Although for her it took major life changes, Ami wants other women to appreciate the bodies they have right now by taking photos of themselves and wearing exactly what they want.

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