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Pulling rank for sake of the pint

The new real ale spokeswoman calls time on Camra's 'blokes-with-beards' image. George Wright reports.

PAULA Waters is living proof that you do not have to be bearded, beer-bellied, or male to like real ale.

For one thing, she is the first woman to run Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, and for another she is smooth chinned.

The 44-year-old design and technology teacher, whose favourite tipple is Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout, was named Camra's new chairman last Thursday.

Mrs Waters, who works at Lord Silkin secondary in Telford, Shropshire, has been an active Camra volunteer since the early 1980s when she developed a taste for ale.

Now she is in charge of the body that safeguards the traditional British pint and says her aim is to change the image of real ale fans.

She said: "The stereotype of the bearded real ale drinker in a tank top is terribly outdated.

"My taste for decent beers has grown over the years and most of my female friends also drink it now. When I reached pub-going age in the late Seventies my Pomagne and Martini-drinking friends were amused by my preference for Vaux Double Maxim, a Sunderland strong brown ale."

A quarter of Camra members are women. However, recent research shows that most women do not drink beer.

Mrs Waters has been vice-chairman of Camra for two years. For the past three years she has organised the week-long Great British Beer Festival at London's Olympia. She says it is like "running the biggest pub in the country".

"I'm looking forward to taking the helm at Camra," she said. "Our army of 67,000 members is the voice for British beer drinkers."

In 1995 there were 280 small breweries. Today there are 400. "Real ale is becoming increasingly popular. Although pubs are closing down, small breweries are springing up because people are so passionate about the real thing," said Mrs Waters.

In her other life as a teacher she says she gets quite a bit of stick from colleagues in the staffroom. They "compare my taste in alcohol to that of a bearded old man. The pupils have had a bit of fun with it too, asking me what my favourite beers are and how much I drink.

"I think they see it as quite an interesting thing for me to be involved in. But I would get more street cred if I was the spokeswoman for alcopops instead.

"I would much rather my students drank ale than that horrible fizzy stuff, but I try to avoid talking about it with them. I don't think it would be a good thing for me to be seen to be promoting alcohol of any sort in the classroom."

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