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.
Viennese director and screenwriter Jessica Hausner attended last year’s BFI London Film Festival to support her latest film LITTLE JOE. She has been described as one of the most inventive and surprising auteurs in the Austrian arthouse scene.
In her intro on Jessica for the BFI website, Carmen Grey acknowledges through the work of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl that we have come to expect from Austrian cinema, a perverse delight in revealing the darker impulses underneath the veneer of civilised society. Carmen writes that Jessica “leans towards that tendency, but is less interested in limit-transgressing provocation than in nudging audiences into a zone of radical uncertainty. Hausner’s are female-centred films of ideas and philosophical experimentation.”
She gained international attention in 2001, when her first feature, LOVELY RITA, a portrait of a young girl confined by family constraints, was selected for the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at the Cannes Film Festival. Translated as ‘From another angle’, it is the prestigious French festival’s official selection of 20 films with unusual styles and non-traditional stories. Jessica’s 2019 feature LITTLE JOE has been described as a “floral Frankenstein horror.” It was in the official selection for the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where English-American actor Emily Beecham won the Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Alice Woodward, a floral breeder and single mother who creates a unique plant she calls ‘Little Joe’, after her son.
The BFI hosted ‘The Cinema of Jessica Hausner Retrospective’ from 21-29 February this year which Jessica attended. She signed this sketch when she arrived to participate in an ‘In Conversation’ event on the opening day.
One of France’s most influential contemporary filmmakers, screenwriter and director Celine Sciamma is known for exploring the themes of gender fluidity and sexual identity among women in her work. She cites David Lynch, Chantal Akerman and the writing of Virginia Woolf as major influences. Since her debut feature, WATER LILLIES in 2007, Celine has written and directed four features and was responsible for the screenplay for three other feature productions among other writing credits.
She has won numerous accolades, including a Cesar Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI, directed by Claude Barras and based on Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel ‘Autobiographies d’une Courgette’. The film was nominated for an Academy and BAFTA Award for Best Animated Feature in 2017.
Celine’s latest film, the erotic love story of two women in love, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE screened at last year’s London Film Festival, which Celine attended along with both leads Adele Haenel and Noemie Merlant. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay Award for Celine. The film was also nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and nine Cesar Awards. She is a founding member of the French branch of the ‘5050 by 2020’ movement, a group of movie industry professionals advocating gender parity in film.
Celine attended a screening and Q & A of the film at the Curzon Soho cinema last October, where she signed my sketch.
Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall has a simply simple signature. The band’s lead singer and songwriter was described by Q magazine as the “the most prodigious voice this side of Motown”.
Formed in Manchester in 1985, the soul-influenced group has sold over 50 million albums, reaching their peak from 1989 to 1995. They have had ten songs in the Top 10 UK Singles Chart and five No 1 albums. ‘Stars’ (1991) is one of the best-selling albums in UK chart history. ‘Holding Back the Years’ and ‘If You Don’t Know Me by Now’ reached number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Simply Red have won three Brit Awards with Mick winning Best British Male in 1993 and two Ivor Novello Awards, including Songwriter of the Year in 1992 and three Grammy nominations. After a five year hiatus, Simply Red reformed in 2015. Mick also produces wines from his base in Sicily under the label II Cantante’ (The Singer).
He signed his simply black sig on my drawing as he left Wogan House after the band played a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘The Dock of the Bay’ on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 show on 8 November last year, the same day they released their latest studio album ‘Blue Eyed Soul’.
American golfing sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda returned to the UK last month to participate in the Women’s British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland. Due to Covid-19 it was played without a crowd in attendance and Jessica had to withdraw at the last minute because of a non-coronavirus health issue. Both returned to the US and joined the field in the second major of the year, the ANA Inspirational on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, where Nelly narrowly missed winning her maiden major, finishing second equal after a three-way play-off with the eventual winner, Miriam Lee from South Korea and Canada’s Brooke Henderson. It did however move Nelly up to No 2 in the world rankings.
The daughters of Czech tennis Grand Slam winner Petr Korda, Jessica (27) turned professional in 2011 with Nelly (22) joining her on the LPGA tour six years later. Jessica, who has finished in the top ten in all five majors, has won five LGPA tournaments and Nelly has collected three titles. Both were members of the 2019 US Solheim Cup team.
I sent this sketch to Jessica and Nelly at Royal Troon and was delighted to receive it, signed by both. During the pandemic very few items have been coming back so I was very surprised and especially pleased when the mailman delivered this last week.
It took a few attempts to override spellcheck’s efforts to correct my typing of ‘Shakespears Sister’, but I prevailed, enhanching my skills as a serial misspeller. The group’s name was taken from The Smith’s song ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, which was based on a 1928 Virginia Woolf essay and lecture. Delving further, it was apparently misspelt – dropping the final ‘e’ – in a woodcut artwork for the group’s first single sleeve. The apostrophe ‘subsequently surrendered to pop music.’
Anyway, after that rambling intro and a 26 year gap, Shakespears Sister reunited and played at the London Palladium last November as part of the ‘Ride Again Tour’ tour to support their compilation album ‘Singles Party’ and EP ‘Ride Again’. Formed in 1988, initially as a solo act by Irish singer-songwriter and former member of Bananarama, Siobhan Fahey, Shakespears Sister became a duet a year later when Siobhan was joined by American musician Marcella Detroit. Success and accolades followed with two Top 10 albums and a string of hits, including ‘Stay’ which, true to its meaning, stayed at No 1 on the singles chart for eight weeks, winning a 1992 Brit Award for Video of the Year. It also reached the Top 5 in the US. Their second studio album ‘Hormonally Yours’ achieved double platinum in the UK, spending 55 weeks on the charts with three Top 20 singles. It received the 1993 Ivor Novello Award. In May 2019 the duo performed ‘Stay’ on the Graham Norton Show, their first TV performance since 1993.
Siobhan and Marcella both kindly signed my sketch at the London Palladium after their 5 November performance.