A man has revealed how he hasn’t worn shoes for four years, in a bid to stop his feet from getting sweaty and smelly.
Ben Donnelly, 33, from Kensington, London, has always loved the freedom of walking shoeless.
In his teens, he read about the barefoot movement online, but it wasn’t until he went to the University of Surrey to study music and sound recording in 2002, that he started embracing it himself.
Four years ago, after changing jobs from a music teacher to a private tutor teaching a range of subjects, he started going barefoot full-time and as well as walking to shops, through the park and even going on the tube shoeless, he would work barefoot.
While he attracts strange looks from strangers, his girlfriend, art curator Carolina Lio, 32, supports Ben’s decision to boycott footwear.
Ben in front of the State Capitol building in Boston. The teacher, 32, from London started going barefoot full time four years ago, whatever the weather
Ben with his girlfriend Carolina, who says she sees nothing unusual in Ben’s choice to go barefoot
Ben, who is an avid Queen’s Park Rangers fan, at a football match with his friend Yousef Marafi
He said: ‘I think my girlfriend likes it, because it’s quite quirky and different.
‘I do get people coming up and saying negative things about it, but I find it happens less now, because I’m quite confident with what I do.’
Carolina added: ‘I think this was the first thing Ben told me about himself but I didn’t find it particularly strange to be honest.’
Despite taking to the streets of London – littered with glass, cigarette butts and dog poo – Ben doesn’t have a problem with stepping in anything that causes him harm.
One of the first things Ben told Carolina about himself is that he likes to go barefoot
Ben waiting for a tube at Hammersmith station. He has not problem with going barefoot on public transport and ignores any negative comments
Now, Ben goes about all his day-to-day activities without shoes – including shopping and taking public transport
He said: ‘Very occasionally, maybe twice a year or so, I find myself having to pick a tiny bit of glass out of my foot. The skin is quite thick, so it’s been a long time since I have done something that has made it bleed.
‘I’ve never had any serious infections and stuff like that. Even when you wear shoes you avoid things that would do damage, or you wouldn’t want to stand in.
Growing up in London and Cambridge, Ben always enjoyed running around without shoes on, but his parents would tell him to cover his feet up.
He explained: ‘For almost as long as I can remember, I didn’t really like wearing shoes. It was one of those things that you just have to put up with, but I started to think it didn’t have to be that way.’
The private tutor is happy to walk the streets of London with no shoes on
About twice a year, Ben ends up with broken glass in his foot but says it’s not much of an issue
Then, as a teenager, he came across an American website, called ‘the Dirty Soul Society,’ which promoted living without shoes.
‘It was mostly Americans,’ he said, ‘It was encouraging people to know their rights to living without shoes and not to accept being refused entry anywhere.
‘That’s not as much of an issue here, but I found that quite useful as a teenager, just knowing that it was out there.
‘I get hot, sweaty feet and I’m never comfortable wearing shoes. Sometimes friends had made comments about my smelly feet and I realised that if I just didn’t wear them, all those problems would go away.
Ben, pictured with his girlfriend Carolina, says that people admire him for his decision to be true to himself
Ben says he occasionally encounters opposition from door staff when he goes out at the weekend, but it’s not a problem as he just finds somewhere else to go
When he started university, the creative environment gave Ben the courage to try going barefoot in public.
He said: ‘When I got to university, I started to develop my own image and I decided to see how people would react to me not wearing shoes.
‘It went really well for me and I went from being a slightly awkward teenager to someone who was different, but comfortable doing his own thing.’
He started going barefoot in his free time, but over the years, he has increased the amount of time he spends without shoes.
‘I got a lot of admiration from people for being myself, even if they didn’t agree with it. I started moving further and further towards where I am now – going barefoot full time.
‘For a while, I was working as a school teacher and I wore shoes at work, but I gave that up four years ago and now I tutor people privately.
‘I only take jobs where I don’t have to wear shoes. I try to avoid going into schools and I also work as a musician. But I only do gigs where being shoeless is ok,’ Ben said.
Now, Ben goes about all his day-to-day activities without shoes – including shopping and taking public transport.
He explained: ‘I get the bus, the tube and public transport everywhere. I had epilepsy as a child, so I’m not allowed to drive in case I have a fit.
‘I have an advantage in London. No one really talks to each other here, so most people just walk past and don’t say a thing.
Ben on his way to a football match (left) and on a country walk (right). He says walks in the country are now more interesting as he can feel everything beneath his feet
‘It is a conversation starter sometimes, though, and occasionally people will ask me about it on public transport and I’m always happy to explain.
‘My feet have always been very hot, so when it gets cold, I find it easy to adapt to the temperature.
‘Hotter weather is more difficult. When the temperature gets to 35 degrees or higher, I have to be very careful where I step and move quickly, to avoid burning the soles of my feet.’
Ben out and about in London: He embraced going barefoot after discovering the ‘Dirty Soul Society,’ which promotes living without shoes.
An avid Queens Park Rangers fan, Ben even goes to packed football grounds without shoes on.
He said: ‘I’ve never had any problem getting into football matches. There was one time (at Man City) where I was asked to sign something to promise not to sue them if I hurt myself.
‘The only time I’ve ever got resistance is when I go out on a Friday or Saturday night and there are security people on the door. They tend to err on the side of caution. That’s OK, though, because I can find somewhere else to go.’
Ben outside the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome (left) and on a motorway in the Netherlands (right)
But Ben has notice some real benefits from going barefoot.
‘For me, I think the biggest benefit is that I am comfortable, but it’s also easier on my joints. I really enjoy being aware of what I am walking on.
‘I used to find country walks really boring, but when I started to do them without shoes on, it was so different. It would be a bit like not looking at things and then suddenly opening your eyes. I can feel everything beneath my feet,’ he said.