Considered one of the all time greats of snooker, some say the greatest, Scotsman Stephen Hendry announced last year that he is returning to the sport after retiring in 2012, accepting a two-year invitational card to play in the main World Snooker Tour, after an impressive semi-final run at the World Senior Championships in August.
In terms of world titles in the modern era, Stephen leads with seven, winning his first in 1990 at the age of 21, the youngest to achieve the feat and a record he still holds. He is followed by Ray Reardon, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan on six each.
His dominance during the 1990’s was the reason why he was nicknamed the ‘King of the Crucible’, the iconic Sheffield venue that has hosted the World Championships since 1977. Winning the tournament again, successively from 1992-1996 and again in 1999, along with six Masters (five successively) and five UK Championships have cemented his place at the very top of the sport. He is only one of three players to have won all three Triple Crown events- the World, Masters and UK titles, in a single season and the only one to have completed it twice (1989/90 and 1995/96). His 18 Triple Crown tournament victories is only surpassed by the current World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
In recent years Stephen has been a regular member of the snooker commentary team’s TV coverage of the major events, including the UK Championship late last year, behind closed doors at the Covid-secure Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, where I sent him this quick sketch and was very happy it eventually came back signed and dedicated. Snooker fans are looking forward to watching him back at the baize this year, ‘probably’ starting with the Welsh Open next month.
Described by the Guardian as ‘a stand up gem’, Portsmouth-born comedian Suzi Ruffell is regarded as one of the finest acts on the comedy circuit, winning the Chortle Award for Best Club Comic last year. After starting her career at the end of 2008, Suzi went full time in 2012. She has had three sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Festival with the BBC recording and screening her show KEEPING IT CLASSY, a clip from which attracted over 16 million views on Facebook.
A regular on the BBC, Suzi has also appeared on TV shows such as LIVE AT THE APOLLO, MOCK THE WEEK, ROAST BATTLE, STAND UP CENTRAL and COMEDY CENTRAL AT THE COMEDY STORE. Since 2015 she has co-hosted the podcast LIKE MINDED FRIENDS with fellow comic Tom Allen and this year started OUT WITH SUZI RUFFELL.
I met Suzi at the BBC studios after she appeared on Radio 4’s LOOSE ENDS on 7 March this year where she signed my portrait sketch.
It’s been a breathtaking year for the young Russian tennis ace and former World Junior Champion Andrey Rublev, admist the mayhem caused by the global pandemic. In a disjointed season that was partially suspended with a hiatus covering several months, the 23 year-old headed the ATP Tour with a remarkable five titles, ahead of world number 1 Novak Djokovic (4).
He broke into the top 10 for the first time, where he is currently ranked at 8, reached the quarterfinals at both the French and US Grand Slams and as a result make his debut at the season-ending, spectator-less ATP World Tour Finals, which featured the world’s top eight players, at London’s O2 arena. The year started brilliantly for the ‘ hyper-aggressive baseliner’ with a big forehand and dangerous serve, winning back-to-back titles at his first two tournaments – the Qatar Open and the maiden Adelaide International. After the season resumed he won the Hamburg European Open in September followed by victories at St Petersburg and finally the Vienna Open, which included a win over local hero Dominic Thiem and qualified him for the elite London event. Andrey’s seven career titles also includes the Croatia Open (2017) and the Kremlin Cup (2019). He was a member of the Russian team that reached the Davis Cup semis in Spain last year, in which he was undefeated.
The ATP Tour Finals have been staged at the 02 on the Greenwich Peninsula in London for the past twelve years. I have been there for all of them, except, for ‘obvirus’ reasons this year, which is the final time at before moving to Turin for the next five years. The players were all confined to their ‘bubbles’, accommodated at the InterContinental Hotel next door and playing in the vast arena, that usually holds 17,000 spectators, but sadly empty this year. So the usual opportunities to get graphs in person was non-existisant, but I posted my sketch to Andrey at the hotel, and was very pleased to receive it back, signed and dedicated.
Korean-American golf star Danielle Kang reached the World number 2 ranking earlier this year winning back to back titles at the LPGA Drive In Championship and the Marathon LPGA Classic. Since turning professional in 2011, the 28 year-old Las Vegas resident has won five titles, including her maiden major, the KPMG PGA Championship, beating Canadian Brooke Henderson by a single stroke at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago, Illinois. The following year she finished 4th at the US Open.
Currently ranked number four in the world, Danielle visited the UK this year to play in both the Scottish and British Opens. I posted this sketch to her at the former, played at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick in August, which she kindly signed and returned.
In the early years of television transmission in New Zealand during the later half of the 1960s I used to watch an Australian show called SKIPPY THE BUSH KANGAROO. It followed the adventures of a young boy and a highly intelligent marsupial, set in the fictional Waratah National Park near Sydney. A popular character was Clarissa ‘Clancy’ Merrick played by English actress Liza Goddard – my first introduction to one of my and Britain’s favourite performers.
Since then, Liza’s stage and small screen career has spanned five decades, with over 30 theatre appearances in the UK including a number of West End productions. Another telly favourite of mine was BERGERAC, which starred John Nettles in the title role as the unorthodox police officer and recovering alcoholic on the Channel island of Jersey. I mention this because Liza played the recurring role of glamorous jewel thief Philippa Vale, nicknamed ‘The Ice Maiden’. Years later Liza reunited with her ‘old flame’ John (as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby) in an episode of MIDSOMER MURDERS, another favourite.
During the gap between the pandemic lockdowns this year, Liza appeared in the Theatre Royal Windsor’s socially-distanced production of Agatha Christie’s gripping psychological thriller, LOVE FROM A STRANGER, which ran for a week last month. I posted this quick portrait sketch to her and she kindly signed it for me.
Australian professional snooker star Neil Robertson is regarded as the sport’s most successful player outside the United Kingdom. The 38 year-old left-hander, who began playing at the age of 14, turning professional three years later in 1998, is known as a prolific break-maker with more than 700 century breaks and has made the maximum 147 on four occasions. In 2013/14 Neil was the first player to make a 100 centuries in a single season.
He has won 18 Ranking titles and has been runner-up 12 times, which places him joint sixth on the all-time list alongside Judd Trump and Mark Shelby. In 2010 he won the World Championship, beating Scotsman Graeme Dott 18-13 in the final. He became World No 1 later that year and subsequently again in 2013 and 2014. He is one of only thirteen players to win the World, UK and Masters titles, claiming two UK crowns in 2013 and 2015 and the Masters in 2012 where he was also was runner-up in 2013 and 2015. He has also won the Champion of Champions tournament in 2015 and again in November last year.
I posted my sketch to Neil when he competed in this year’s World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in August, where he kindly signed and returned it to me.
Award-winning British comedian Zoe Lyons was God for a short period last Winter… more on that later. Born in Wales, Zoe’s family moved to Ireland then to Surrey and on to Glasgow, where she got her first job in a jam factory. After graduating with a degree in Psychology from the University of York, Zoe’s comic career escalated after a stint on ITV’s reality game show SURVIVORS in 2001, later appearing on such popular TV favourites as MOCK THE WEEK, QI and a regular panellist on THE WRIGHT STUFF, among others.
Back to the Almighty. Zoe appeared as the supreme being in the European premiere of Emmy Award-winning writer David Javerbaum’s AN ACT OF GOD at London’s subterranean venue The Vaults, below Waterloo Station from late October last year until January. It originally opened on Broadway with Jim Parsons in the title role. As Zoe’s adjusted slogan said, ‘God is back… and she has a lot to say!’
I managed to get my sketch signed with a bit of divine intervention, when Zoe took a break between matinee and evening performances on the final Saturday of the season.
English actress Gwendoline Christie returned to the London stage in the Autumn of 2019 to play the Queens, Titania and Hippolyta, in Nicolas Hytner’s immersive production of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at the Bridge Theatre.
She previously played the Queen in the Barbican’s staging of the Bard’s CYMBELINE in 2007 and Mag Wildwood in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S at the Theatre Royal Haymarket two years later. In 2010 she was Lucifer in DR FAUSTUS at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. The 191cm (that’s 6′ 3″ in the old money) Gwendoline has portrayed dominate roles on both the small and large screens, playing Brianne of Tarth in HBO’s fantasy-drama series GAME OF THRONES and First Order storm trooper Captain Plasma in STAR WARS:THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and THE LAST JEDI (2017). She received her first Emmy nomination for the former in 2019.
Gwendoline kindly signed both my sketches at the Bridge in October 2019.
Described as a ‘colossus of New Zealand cricket’, John Reid died this week aged 92.
Regarded as one of the games great all-rounders in the fifties and early sixties, John was New Zealand’s oldest surviving test player. He was a hard hitting batsman and brisk seam bowler, debuting for the national team at the age of 19 during the 1949 tour of England. He scored 3428 runs, including six test centuries at an average of 33.28 and taking 85 wickets in 58 test. John captained his country in 34 tests, including, most notably New Zealand’s first three test victories against the West Indies in 1956 and two in South Africa during the 1961-62 tour where John scored his highest test score of 142 in the Johannesburg Boxing Day test. After retiring he became a NZ selector, manager an an ICC referee.
In the 1990’s I drew a number of NZ cricketing legends for a Best NZ Test XI series of limited edition prints for a charity fundraiser, which John kindly signed.
Lithuanian operatic mezzo-soprano and the 2015 International Opera Awards Young Singer of the Year, Justina Gringyte returned to the London Coliseum earlier this year to reprise the titular role in the English National Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN. The exotic and wilful Spanish gypsy girl is Justina’s signature role and considered one of the summits for a mezzo.
After initial studies at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, she continued her learning at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Italy’s Accademia Musicale Chigiana and at the National Opera Studio in London. Between 2011-2013, Justina was a member of the prestigious Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. During the 2014/15 Opera season she played Maddalena in RIGOLETTO at the Royal Opera House and the Bolshoi Theatre and Hansel in HANSEL UND GRETEL for the Vilnius City Opera, but it was the role of Carmen that dominated that and the following season. She performed it for the ENO, staged at the London Coliseum, the Scottish Opera, the Lithuanian National Opera and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre known as the ‘Siberian Coliseum.’ She also appeared in semi-staged performances in Moscow and St Petersburg.
The London and Scottish productions were radically different. The ENO’s was very contemporary, set in the 1970’s near the end of Franco’s regime, using the English translation with some edgy character breakdowns… and a few cars. The Scottish production was performed in its original French, set in 1825…. with a few tables. The one similarity: no big flamenco dancing scenes. Richard Bartley in his Spectator review described Justina’s “smokey voiced” Carmen as “terrific.” She also returned to the role for the Lithuanian National Opera from October 2017- May 2018 and again the following year.
Justina signed my sketch at the Coliseum during the final week, which completed its limited run on 27 February, before the coronavirus pandemic closed the West End.