Drawing: Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa

The Gdansk Shipyard electrician who made his name leading strikes under the ‘Solidarity’ banner became the catalyst for the fall of Soviet Communism and Poland’s first democratic elections 25 years ago.

He went on to become President, transforming the country into a capitalist economy and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He was TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1982.

In 1980 Gillette offered the charismatic leader a million dollars to shave off his trademark moustache in a commercial, but he refused. It did come off a few years later for personal reasons.

The remarkable 87 year old Polish filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda made a biopic entitled Walesa: Man of Hope which featured at last year’s BFI London Film Festival. Lech attended the first screening at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square and I was very keen to add one of the 20th Century’s iconic figures to my collection. It was, as they say, a perfect chance for an in-person autograph. When I arrived, he had already completed the red carpet press obligations and I caught a glimpse of his famous face complete with moustache going past the candy bar mixed sweet selection and to the auditorium. Bugger!

It didn’t help that a handful of bystanders said “oh yeah, some Polish politician sat in his car for half an hour. He was very friendly”. It would have been like shooting fish in a barrel to get his sig… but no one did.

I had seen him before at Mikhail Gorbachev‘s 80th birthday gala in 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall. He wasn’t signing but waved and smiled a lot. I waited amongst an ever increasing multitude to see him afterwards but he left through the side door under tight security.

I had drawn this sketch some time ago, based on the famous newspaper image of him celebrating victory. It was one of the bystanders – a Polish gentleman – that said to me “he’s pretty good at signing stuff through the mail – just send it to his foundation address in Gdansk.” So I did and voila! as they say in Polish, here it is!

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