Drawing: Michael Bolton

Autographed drawing of singer Michael Bolton

American singer, songwriter Michael Bolton celebrated 50 years in the entertainment business last year with the release of a Greatest Hits collection and recording a ‘Symphony of Hits’ for BBC Radio 2’s long running series FRIDAY NIGHT IF MUSIC NIGHT with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the London Palladium in March.

After starting out in the heavy metal and hard rock genre with solo work and as frontman for ‘Blackjack’ during the mid 1970s-’80s, Michael changed styles and became known for his pop rock ballads in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, selling over 75 million records, with eight top ten albums and two No.1 singles on the Billboard charts. His hits include ‘Said I Loved You But I Lied’, ‘Time, Love and Tenderness’, ‘How Am I Supposed To Live Without You’ and the cover version of ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’, the last two winning Grammy Awards for Best Male Vocal Performance after four nominations. He has also collected six American Music Awards.

Michael is due to return to London to play the Royal Albert Hall this October. He kindly signed my drawing at the Palladium after the concert.

Drawing: The Joy Formidable

Autographed drawing of The Joy Formidable

I was introduced to the Welsh alt-rock trio, The Joy Formidable, a couple of years ago when they were playing an intimate venue in north London, by a friend, who offered me a free ticket and a warning that the ‘formidable’ part referred to their music and magnified sound level. He was right. They formed in 2007, when school-day pals, lead vocalist and guitarist Rhiannon ‘Ritzy’ Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd Davies were joined by drummer Justin Stanley, who was replaced by ‘sticksman supreme’ Matt Thomas two years later. Described as ‘titans’ of the indie, alternative music scene The Joy Formidable have also been labelled ‘shoegazing’ or dream pop, a sub genre, which is a mixture of obscured vocals, guitar distortion and overwhelming volume. They have released four studio albums, with most songs written by Ritzy and Rhydian, starting with ‘The Big Roar’ in 2011 and their latest ‘AAARTH’ in September 2018, before supporting the Foo Fighters on a short tour.

They returned to north London for one night only at the Islington Assembly Hall last November, before crossing the Atlantic to do a few pre-Christmas Stateside gigs. I past by the venue a few hours before liftoff, hoping to catch them in person, but they were in the middle of an intensive sound check, which I heard (and felt) behind the heavily bricked and mortared walls of the refurbished 1930 Art Deco Grade II building. Their sound technician came out to get something from the van, parked at the stage door, and kindly promised to get my drawing signed for me, which he obviously did, because it was returned a few days later.

Drawing: Ben Elton

Autographed drawing of writer Ben Elton

British writer, actor, director and comedian extraordinaire Ben Elton is currently back on a live stand-up tour of the UK, his first since 2004. Ben’s style has been described as left-wing political satire. He was part of the ‘alternative comedy’ movement in the 1980’s, which made a conscious break with the mainstream comedic style that often incorporated racist and sexist material and avoided the reliance on a standardised structure of a sequence of jokes with punch lines.

Early in his career he became the writer for two successful TV series; THE YOUNG ONES and BLACKADDER, often appearing in them, while continuing stand-up on stage and screen. He has written 16 novels, most of which have appeared in the UK’s Top 10 best seller lists, including six No.1’s. He writes in the dystopian, comedy and crime genres, winning awards for POPCORN (1996) and HIGH SOCIETY (2002). POPCORN was adapted for the stage, winning an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

In 1985 he began a writing partnership with Richard Curtis, creating BLACKADDER II, BLACKADDER THE THIRD, and BLACKADDER GOES FOURTH with Rowan Atikinson in the title role. All became international hits, winning four BAFTA’s and an Emmy. He appeared in his own TV shows in the 1990’s, including BEN ELTON: THE MAN FROM AUNTIE (a take on the popular 1960’s MAN FROM UNCLE series and ‘Auntie’ is a nickname for the BBC) and THE BEN ELTON SHOW.

In 2016 he returned to television, writing the Shakespearean parody UPSTART CROW with David Mitchell as the Bard. He followed that with two more series and a stage version, which opens early next year at London’s Gielgud Theatre. Ben has also written two West End musicals; the Olivier Award-winning WE WILL ROCK YOU in 2002, featuring the music of Queen and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, LOVE NEVER DIES in 2010.

As part of his current UK tour he stopped off in London for a night, a couple of weeks ago at the Lyceum Theatre, where he also kindly signed and inscribed this quick portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: Willem Dafoe

Autographed drawing of actor Willem Dafoe

“It’s a pain in the ass, this name,” said Willem Dafoe in a 2007 interview for Esquire magazine, referring to his christian name. “People don’t know how to pronounce it, it’s embarrassing. I’ve thought of changing it back (William was the name given to him by his parents and on his passport) so many times. I hate the idea of an actor having a professional name, but then so many people already know me as Willem.” It was a college nickname – the Dutch version of William – that stuck. Dafoe on the other hand is French in origin.

Starting out in the acting profession he thought William was a bit bland so reinvented himself, starting with his moniker. Most people around him call him Willie or Will, which he likes better. But either way it’s a name that has attracted a lot of attention and accolades. After his first screen uncredited appearance in Michael Cimino’s epic western HEAVEN’S GATE IN 1979, as a cockfighter, that was reduced to a fleeting moment in the edit, Willem has assembled an impressive collection of memorable film appearances in such momentous movies as THE ENGLISH PATIENT and MISSISSIPPI BURNING.

He has received four Academy Award nominations, three in the Best Supporting Actor category starting with his role as Sergeant Elias Gordon in Oliver Stone’s PLATOON in 1986, followed by Max Schreck in SHADW OF THE VAMPIRE four years later and last year as motel manager Bobby Hicks in THE FLORIDA PROJECT, for which he also received a Golden Globe, SAG and a BAFTA nom.

This year he was nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal as Vincent Van Gogh in AT ETERNITY’S GATE, which screened at the Curzon Mayfair last Saturday. Willem did a Q&A afterwards, signing my portrait on the way out.

Drawing: Sonia Friedman

Autographed drawing of theatre producer Sonia Friedman

Sonia herself has received the Producer of the Year Award on four occasions, the first to win three consecutively from 2015-2017 and again this year. In 2014 SFP made Oliver Award history, with the most wins, including New Play (CHIMERICA), Best New Musical (THE BOOK OF MORMAN), Best Play Revival Revival (GHOSTS), and Best Musical Revival (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG). Three years later SFP and co-productions received an unprecedented 31 Olivier Award nominations, with 11 for the record-breaking HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, winning 9, the most ever for any production.

Last year Sonia was named Broadway Briefings Show Person of the Year and was featured in TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people. She has also branched into television with the same success, winning two 2016 BAFTA Awards for the six-part mini-series adaption of Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL, which aired on BBC Two.

Sonia kindly signed my sketch for me at her London office.

Drawing: Bong Joon-ho

Autographed drawing of director Bong Joon-ho

South Korean director and screenwriter Bong Joon-ho is the filmmaking flavour of the year so far as the awards season builds momentum. The 50 year-old already has an impeccable track record, but stepped up his game with his latest release, the darkly comic thriller PARASITE, a brilliant, powerfully revealing social satire about greed and class discrimination. Co-written with Han Jin-won, the eerie tale of a street-wise family, steeped in poverty, who hustle their way into working for a wealthy, but naive household premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or.

It has gone on to collect a growing number of accolades, including Golden Globe Director, Screenplay and Foreign Language and the Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble nominations and winning a clutch of Critics’ Awards. It is also the official Korean entry for the Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film) at next year’s Academy Awards and was listed in TIME magazine’s 10 Best Movies of 2019.

Joon-ho signed my sketch at the Curzon Mayfair last week where he delivered a lecture in the BAFTA Screenwriters series, before introducing PARASITE.

Drawing: Claire Price as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

Autographed drawing of Claire Price as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

As per tradition and our annual November wedding anniversary ritual, my wife and attended a Shakespearean stage offering. This year the Royal Shakespeare Company have taken up residency at London’s Barbican Theatre over the festive season, with three plays: AS YOU LIKE IT, MEASURE FOR MEASURE and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, being performed in repertory. We chose the latter (because it was on the actual day of our anniversary).

Justin Audibert’s gender-flipped “landmark production” (Evening Standard) is a radical take on the Bards fierce and energetic comedy of gender, where 1590 Padua is reimagined as a matriarchal society with women in charge. Wealthy Bautista Minola is seeking to marry off her two sons, the sweet-tempered Bianco and the rebellious Katherine. Enter Claire Price as Petruchio. She’s after money and taming the headstrong Katherine (Joseph Arkley) is her spousal target. Yes, a women called Petruchio mistreating a man called Katherine. “Price is hugely watchable with a pleasingly dotty Queenie-from-Blackadder sort of vibe,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review.

Claire kindly signed this Petruchio sketch, which I left at the Barbican stage door.

Drawing: Dexter Fletcher

Autographed drawing of director Dexter Fletcher

British actor, director and writer Dexter Fletcher experienced the highs and lows of the entertainment business early in his career. A child star at the age of nine in films such as the 1978 musical gangster comedy BUGSY MALONE, where he played the down and out Baby Face, to actually being down and out, sleeping in cars in his twenties, according to a recent article in the Telegraph.

Now, at 53 he is collating an impressive CV. After featuring as small-time criminal Soap in Guy Richie’s iconic crime comedy LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, Dexter went on to lead roles in two successful TV series, as Staff Sergeant Johnny Martin in the Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg created war drama miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS in 2001 and head concierge Tony Casemore in HOTEL BABYLON from 2006-2009, before making his directorial debut in 2011 with the crime comedy drama WILD BILL, which he wrote with Danny King.

In 2017 Dexter replaced original director, Bryan Singer on the Oscar-winning Queen biopic BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY with two weeks scheduled principal photography remaining and the film two-thirds finished. However due to the Directors Guild rules he was credited as an executive producer. He followed that with ROCKETMAN, chronicling the life of Elton John, which premiered at this years Cannes Film Festival to a standing ovation, receiving the same reception from Oscar voters at the Academy screening.

Dexter is currently working on the third sequel to SHERLOCK HOLMES, due for release in 2021. He signed my sketch at his London agency earlier this year.

Drawing: David Mamet

Autographed drawing of writer David Mamet

Prominent American playwright David Mamet was in London earlier this year to direct his contentious dark comedy BITTER WHEAT at the Garrick Theatre. Based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which sparked the MeToo movement, it run from June to September, featuring John Malkovich’s return to the West End after thirty years, as Hollywood studio boss Barney Fein and his fall from power. David attracts frequent debate and controversy, and was once quoted, “Being a writer in Hollywood is like going to Hitler’s Eagle Nest with a great idea for a bar mitzvah.” Often described as the prime chronicler of the macho males and power struggles, his distinctive writing style, involving cynical, street-wise dialogue has become known as ‘Mamet speak.’ David’s 1983 play about four disparate real estate agents, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, which premiered at the National Theatre in London, won the Pulitzer Prize and the subsequent Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play. Four years later SPEED-THE-PLOW also won a nomination for Best Play.

David has written a number of major screenplays, including my favourite, THE VERDICT and WAG THE DOG, both Oscar and Golden Globe nominated. He also wrote the script for the 1992 film version of GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS.

David signed my portrait sketch as he arrived for the BITTER WHEAT press night at the GarrickTheatre.

Drawing: Aisling Franciosi

Autographed drawing of actor Aisling Franciosi

Irish-Italian actress Aisling Franciosi was in London this week at a Q&A event following the screening of Jennifer Kent’s period thriller THE NIGHTINGALE at the Curzon Soho cinema. The 26 year-old plays Clare, a young Irish convict at the British penal colony based in Tasmania, Australia in 1825, seeking revenge after a young British soldier raped her then murdered her husband and child.

It premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival last year, winning a Special Jury Prize. Aisling won the Gotham Independent Film Awards Breakthrough Actor gong and the Best Actress Award at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards where THE NIGHTINGALE also won Best Film, Direction and Script. For her supporting role as Katie Benedetto in the British-Irish TV crime drama series THE FALL, Aisling received an Irish Film and Television Award in 2015. GAME OF THRONES fans will know her as Lyanna Stark during seasons six and seven.

Aisling signed my drawing when she arrived at the Curzon Soho last Saturday with co-star Sam Claflin.