Drawing: Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth

Robert Powell

Robert Powell was a guest speaker at the Art in Marylebone exhibition in London in 2010. An excellent opportunity to listen to ‘Jesus’ (his most famous role) mingle with the followers and philistines, collect a ‘graph and have a vino or three.

Robert had a distinguished TV career with forays into film including the title role in Ken Russell’s Mahler (1974) and Captain Walker in Tommy (1975). As Tommy’s father, he had no lines and appeared mostly in dream sequences. In one such sequence he is seen in a crucifixion pose, a rehearsal for his role as Christ in Jesus of Nazareth (1977) which immediately followed. It was directed by the legendary Franco Zeffirelli as a two part TV film and co-starred Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger and James Mason. Robert received a BAFTA nomination for his performance. He also spent some time in New Zealand filming Chunuk Bair, based on Maurice Shadbolt’s play about the Wellington Regiment taking and holding Chunuk Bair hill on the Gallipoli peninsula during WWI. He played the lead role, Sgt Maj Frank Smith.

I spoke with Robert after his speech about the film. In 1990 I played ‘Scruffy’ in Jonathan Tucker’s moving production of Once on Chunuk Bair, for Invercargill Repertory, my first role for the society and it still remains my favourite. I had drawn a quick sketch of him as Jesus and he was happy to sign it. As there was still plenty of wine, he wasn’t required to perform any miracle.

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Drawing: Chess with Magnus Carlsen

Magnus001

Yesterday I met Magnus Carlsen – the 22 year old Norwegian World Chess No1… well ‘met’ I use candidly. The Telegraph calls him the Justin Bieber of chess. He prefers to be likened to Matt Damon. Actually, he looks more like a condensed, cherub-faced Roger Federer.

He has the highest chess rating of all time and has been called the ‘greatest ever player’ at the tender age of 22. The former chess prodigy became the youngest player to reach number 1 in the world in January 2010. His game style is described as “poetic and brutal” – as you would expect from a Viking!

The World Chess Candidate’s Tournament has the top eight players gathering to do battle over two weeks at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, under the shadow of the Waterloo Bridge in London. The victor will then challenge current World Champion Viswanathan Anand “the Tiger of Madras” for the title. The competition concludes this Easter weekend. With chess having 600 million players worldwide, revamped rules and a new poster boy, many believe the game is returning to the glory days of the Fischer-Spasky confrontation in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972.

He is the tournament favourite and up until Good Friday he was leading. However, he suffered his first loss to Ukranian Vassily Ivanchuk, leaving a Russian, Vladimir Kramnik in the lead. Challenger hopes could be resurrected on Sunday.

Anyway, back to the meeting and signing. I arrived at the venue with half an hour to go to kick off.. or should I say ‘piece movement’. A sprinkling of photographers and journos wandered into the institute, and a smattering of your usual chess groupies. Not an autograph zombie in sight… I’m alone at last!

With 10 minutes to go I thought he’s probably already in the building working on his moves. But no, he was walking on his moves. I see this mini version of the Fed/Matt Damon hybrid walking towards a side entrance. I race after him, thinking “this is a little weird, chasing after a chess celebrity”.

He and his minder go into one of those doors… oh I would say, 6cm thick, that operate like a bear trap with hinges that are spring loaded. But my fingers on my drawing hand managed to stop the offending barrier from closing completely. As I prised it open to reveal a startled chess champion. Wringing my fingers, but with my Sharpie in my left hand, I asked him to sign my sketch. Clearly not used to such intrusions, his facial expression changed to a smile, and he calmly said “sure,” and signed. Little did I know he was about to suffer his first defeat…

I thanked him a left, still flexing my fingers, bumping into 2 guys directly behind me. I wasn’t sure if they were fans or security. Needless to day, mission accomplished. Checkmate.

Drawing: Alex Jennings and Richard Griffiths in The Habit of Art at The National Theatre

Griffiths Jennings001

RIP Richard Griffiths.

Although known as a ‘grumpy signer’ by the autograph collecting ‘fraternity’ – I guess it was one of the unique features of getting a Griffiths ‘graph with the gruffness, I personally always enjoyed meeting him and never had a refusal. He had one of the nicest signatures – full name, well scripted and always consistent.

He signed this sketch at the National during his season of The Habit of Art in January 2010. I was waiting at the stage door after an evening performance with a number of other hopefuls – a mixture of zombies and audience members. Richard eventually came out. I was standing on my own to the left of the exit. He stopped and started to roll a siggy a ciggy. After a few moments he turned to me and said. “I’m just having a cigarette.”
“Feel free,” I replied.

A little while later he said, “Have you got something for me?”
“I have.”
“What is it?”
“A sketch,” I said
“Oh.”

More minutes passed. I think I was the ‘graph guinea pig that evening, testing Richard to see if he was ‘in the mood’.

“Can I see it?” he asked.
“Sure,” and I showed it to him.
“Very good. Do you want me to sign it?”
“To Mark,” I told him and handed him the Sharpie. He did the siggy, finished the ciggy, hopped in the waiting car and left. I wonder if he’ll sign for God?

Drawing: Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle

I like Danny Boyle’s style. The Lancashire born director is the most down to earth celebrity I know. In spite of a trophy cabinet including every major film gong and co-ordinating the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, he also turned down a Knighthood.

He returned to his theatrical roots in 2011 to direct Frankenstein at the National Theatre. On the opening night he signed for me. Actually there were two opening nights (World Premieres) as the two leads – Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch – alternated the roles of ‘the creature’ and Dr Frankenstein.

He wore casual clothes and mingled with the minions in the Olivier Theatre foyer. I did this quick sketch and approached him. He smiled and said, “that’s great.” He was more than happy to sign it, confirming his humanity and humility. I asked him why he alternating the leads, he said, “you’ll see”.

I watched the show on the theatre monitor in the bar. Cumberbatch played the creature. If a ticket had been available I would have returned to see Miller in the same role, so I could see what Danny meant.

Drawing: Sir Don Bradman – The Don

bradman

Australian icon Sir Don Bradman’s story of signing autographs is almost as legendary as his cricket feats. ‘The Don,’ widely acknowledged as the greatest batsman of all time and statistically the greatest sportsman in any major sport, finished with a test batting average of 99.94. A ‘duck’ in his final match, just four runs short of a batting average of 100.

During the Great Depression ‘Bradmania’ was responsible for reviving the spirits of a nation. Between scoring centuries and media commitments, he spent hours answering fan mail, often hundreds a day. It was only when he reached 90 years of age did he stop signing en masse.

Among many stories was one when Sir Don was walking to a local shop, a man stopped him and asked if he was ‘Don Bradman’. He confirmed, but neither had a pen or paper for an autograph, so he asked him if he wouldn’t mind waiting so he could go and buy the necessary items to collect his signature. The man returned to find the cricketer still there and he duly signed. That wouldn’t happen with any celebrity these days!

Australian star batsman Doug Walters was part of an invitational team to play a charity match at Queen’s Park, Invercargill, New Zealand, in early 1988. I drew a caricature of him and he signed it at the ground. Later, I copied a few off and numbered them and he signed them at the Kelvin Hotel  that evening. I had an idea of drawing a number of Australian Cricketing legends, including Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Greg Chappell and Allan Border. Doug said most of them were playing in Tasmania the following week, so he would get them signed and returned. They were all currently playing, but the one and only Don Bradman. He had long since retired, but was still included as an administrator and selector. Doug said that Sir Don often visited the Sydney Cricket Ground where Doug had a stand named after him (demolished in 2007). In short, he was able to get Sir Don to sign ten copies of my caricature.

All were signed, dated and numbered. He also signed a run chart of his highest test innings of 334 at Headingly against England in 1930. The items were donated to charity for auction.

With all the fuss I completely forgot to get one for my own collection, so I sent another copy to Sir Don. He not only signed but also personalised it – one of my most treasured items.

Sir Don passed away on 25th February 2001 aged 92 years.

Drawing: Martin Freeman in Clybourne Park at Royal Court Theatre

Martin Freeman002The Moêt British Independent Film Awards were held at the Old Billingsgate Fish Market in the Shadow of Tower Bridge in December 2010. This time I was on the other side, covering the event for the Irish World – always awkward asking for ‘graphs when you’re interviewing the stars and supping on the sponsor’s product!

However, Martin is one of us: normal, nice and no expletives deleted. I had a couple of sketches on me from his role in the award winning Royal Court play Clybourne Park.

As a member of the forth estate one has to remain professional at all times… so I politely showed Martin the sketches and and said I could send them to his agent. He said “I’ll save you the stamps,” and we had a brief chat about his upcoming trip to Middle Earth (New Zealand) to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit.

As I write this, I discover that Martin has just won the Best Actor perspex trophy at the Empire Film Awards across town at the Grosvenor Hotel, for his Hobbit role, beating Lincoln and James Bond (Daniel Day Lewis and Daniel Craig).

 

Drawing: Sir Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot at Haymarket Theatre Royal

Ian McKellen001

Yes, Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen signed for me in February 2010. He was performing in Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket Theatre Royal. Lovely man, great play.

A Mick Jagger Caricature

mick jagger

Blast from the past. Going through some of my older stuff and found this Mick Jagger signed caricature of mine. Got it signed when he did a show in Auckland, New Zealand. I can’t remember if it was the 1980’s or early 90’s, but that’s ok, I doubt Mick will remember either.