Drawing: Sir George Benjamin

Autographed drawing of composer Sir George Benjamin

One of Britain’s greatest living classical composer-conductors, Sir George Benjamin celebrated his 60th birthday leading the Philharmonia Orchestra in A DUET AND A DREAM at London’s Royal Festival Hall in early March this year. From composing at the age of seven Sir George has become one of today’s most prominent composers, conductors, pianists and music teachers, regularly appearing with some of the world’s leading orchestras and ensembles. Sir George taught composition at The Royal College of Music for sixteen years becoming the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before succeeding Sir Harrison Birtwistle as the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at Kings College London in 2001. The recipient of numerous international accolades, Sir George’s honours include the Commandeer de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres and a Knighthood.

He kindly signed my sketch at the RFH after one of the Southbank venue’s last performances before it closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. All concerts have been cancelled until December this year.

Drawings: Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson

Autographed drawing of cricketer Stuart BroadAutogrpahed drawing of cricketer Jimmy Anderson

Right-arm England seamer Stuart Broad joined fellow countryman and pace bowler James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson in the 500 Test Wickets club yesterday, dismissing West Indian opening batsman Kraig Braithwaite on the last day of the third and final test at Manchester’s crowdless, covid-secure Old Trafford stadium. It spearheaded the hosts impressive 269 run win and secured a 2-1 series victory. Stuart, in his 140th test was not only the Player of the Match with bowling figures of 6/31 and 4/36 and a rapid-fire first innings 62 off 45 deliveries, but he was also named Player of the Series. He is only the second English bowler behind Jimmy to reach such a milestone and joins an elite group of only seven cricketers who have taken over 500 test wickets.

In a nice piece of symmetry, Jimmy’s 500th wicket was also the same batsman, on the second day of the Third Test against the West Indies at Lords in September 2017, in his 129th test match. Stuart and Jimmy are presently the most successful fast bowling pair in world cricket, their credentials with the red ball are unmatched. Jimmy’s 589 test wickets from 153 matches are the most by any fast bowler and places him fourth on the all-time wicket-taking list behind Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan (800), Australia’s Shane Warne (708) and India’s Anul Kimble (619) but ahead of Australian Glen McGrath (563), Courtney Walsh (519) from the West Indies and now Stuart (501).

He signed my drawing at the Headingly Cricket Ground in Leeds in August last year during the Ashes series against Australia. Stuart signed his sketch at the Oval on the last day of the fifth and final test against India in September 2018.

Drawing: Olivia de Havilland

Drawing of actress Olivia de Havilland

One of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Dame Olivia de Havilland passed away peacefully at her home in Paris on Saturday, just a few weeks after her 104th Birthday. Her career spanned five decades, from 1935-1988, including 49 films. At the time of her death she was the oldest living performer to have won an Oscar.

Dame Olivia was renowned for playing strong, beguiling characters in difficult circumstances. The first of her Academy Award nominations, was for Best Supporting Actress, as Melanie Hamilton in the 1939 classic GONE WITH THE WIND. She won the Best Actress Oscar twice, the first for her performance as WW II fire warden Josephine ‘Jody’ Norris in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) and her second, three years later as Catherine Sloper, a women who is controlled by her wealthy father and betrayed by her greedy lover in William Wyler’s THE HERIESS. She also won a Golden Globe for the role.

Dame Olivia continued to act until the late 1980’s winning her second Golden Globe Award in 1986 for ANASTASIA:THE MYSTERY OF ANNA. She also featured on the stage, appearing three times on Broadway, ROMEO AND JULIET (1951), CANDIDA (1952) and A GIFT OF TIME (1962). In 2017 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the oldest recipient of the honour.

Last year I sent this sketch to Dame Olivia with a signature request, but it was returned with the attached letter, which is self explanatory.

RIP Dame Olivia.

Letter from actress Olivia de Havilland

Drawing: Hozier

Autographed drawing of singer Hozier

Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier made his international breakthrough with the single ‘Take Me to Church’ and the subsequent music video which highlights the injustices and violence perpetrated against members of LGBT community. It went viral and multi-platinum in several countries, including the UK, US and Canada and was Grammy nominated in 2015 for Song of the Year. It is a mild tempo soul song, with lyrics using religious terminolgy to describe a romantic relationship. “Growing up, I always saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic church”, Hozier said in an interview with Rolling Stone.

Hozier established the organisation ‘Home Sweet Home’ led by celebrities Saoirse Roman and Glen Hansard. In 2016 it illegally took over an office building in Dublin to house 31 homeless families. Last month he realised ‘Jackboot Jump’, with royalties going to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.

In early October last year he had a five-night residency at the London Palladium. “Stunning atmospheric performance leaves the audience mesmerised”, headlined Rachael O’Connor’s review in The Irish Post. Hozier kindly signed my drawing that I left at the stage door.

Drawing: Jonas Kaufmann

Autographed drawing of tenor Jonas Kaufman

German operatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann has established himself among the greats. The New York Times described him “as the important tenor of his generation.” The Discover Music website wrote, “Combining the holy trinity of brooding good looks, charismatic stage presence and a powerful and versatile voice.” Jonas began his professional career at Staatstheatre Saarbrucken in 1994. Since then has played all the major operatic roles at all the major venues including his debut at the Royal Opera House in London in 2006-2007 as Don Jose in Bizet’s CARMEN to critical acclaim.

Jonas returned to Covent Garden earlier this year in the Royal Opera’s new production of Beethoven’s only opera FIDELIO as the political prisoner Florestan. In his five star review for The Stage, George Hall wrote, “An announcement excuses Kaufmann for being under the weather, but for his thrilling crescendo on his very first note onwards he is outstanding.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic the run closed in mid March, but Jonas kindly signed my drawing before he left.

Drawing: Neil Simon

Drawing of writer Neil Simon

Proclaimed by TIME magazine as ‘the patron saint of laughter,’ writing colossus Neil Simon passed away in late August 2018, aged 91. Considered the most popular playwright since Shakespeare, I drew this sketch of Neil and sent it to him a year earlier, hoping to have it signed, but it was returned with a letter form his office saying that Mr Simon was no longer able to fulfill requests for autographs, but did appreciate my letter and drawing.

Neil dominated Broadway like no other playwright over the past half-century. In the New York Times obituary, Charles Isherwood wrote “Mr Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling.” Hardly a year passed from 1961 to 1993 without a new Simon production. His unparalleled career spanned four decades, with over 30 plays and musicals, starting with COME BLOW YOUR HORN in 1961 until 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY in 2001. He also wrote as many screenplays, mostly adaptations of his theatre scripts.

His breakthrough play was BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1963), followed by a string of smash hits, THE ODD COUPLE (1965), PLAZA SUITE (1968), THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1971) and THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1974). His final play was ROSE’S DILEMMA in 2003, produced off-Broadway and in Los Angeles. From 1965-1980 Neil’s plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other writer of the era. In 1966 he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.

His arsenal of sarcastic wit with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living involving typically imperfect characters, unheroic figures who are at heart, decent human beings were the hallmarks of his work. He has more combined Oscar (4) and Tony Award (17) nominations than any other writer, winning three Tony’s for THE ODD COUPLE, BILOXI BLUES (1985) and a Special Award in 1975 for his overall contribution to American Theatre. His Academy Award noms were for THE ODD COUPLE (1969), THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1976), THE GOODBYE GIRL (1978), which did win a Golden Globe and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1979). He also won four Writers Guild Awards and received four Emmy nominations among his many accolades that included the Pulitzer Prize for Drama LOST IN YONKERS in 1991. He was the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named after him in 1983.

I was very fortunate to collect Neil’s signature a few years ago, when he signed and dedicated a poster from his 1988 farce Rumors for me.

Drawing: Sir Stirling Moss

Drawing of Stirling Moss

On Easter Sunday this year British motor racing legend Sir Stirling Moss passed away peacefully at his Mayfair home, aged 90, after a lengthy illness. Widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, even though he did not win a Formula 1 World Championship, Sir Stirling will always hold a unique status in motorsport. He won 16 F1 Grands Prix and was runner-up in the world drivers’ championship on on four occasions between 1955-1958, finishing third for the following three years.

Not limited to F1 racing, he was considered the ultimate all-rounder with 212 victories in various motor racing categories. After becoming a professional driver at the age of 18 in 1948, Sir Stirling was the first Brit to win his home Grand Prix with a narrow victory over his illustrious Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio at Aintree on the 16th of July, 1955.

I drew this portrait of him based on that day, his face with the imprint left by his goggles protecting him from the onrushing oil, dirt and track debris while driving his Mercedes W196. Some, including Sir Stirling believed the five-time world champion, who dominated the first decade of Formula One had allowed him to win his debut Grand Prix in front of a home crowd, a claim the South American consistently denied, saying Sir Stirling was “simply faster that day”. Sir Stirling famously lost out on the 1958 F1 title by a single point to compatriot Mike Hawthorn after vouching for his rival, preventing him from being disqualified when he was accused of reversing on the track in the Portuguese Grand Prix.

A crash at Goodwood in 1962 prematurely ended his involvement in top-level motorsport, leaving him in a coma for a month and partially paralysed for half the year. Such was his aura, which has never faded, the Evening Standard ran bulletins of his progress as a matter of national concern. He did continue to race historic cars and legends events until the age of 81.

The rhetorical phrase “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss? was the question supposedly often asked by British policemen when stopping speeding motorists. Sir Stirling himself was apparently asked that very question by an officer who took some convincing about the identity of his esteemed infringer. Compactly built, soft-spoken, patriotic, modest and competitive, Sir Stirling once said, “I’m a racer, not a driver” and motor racing in the 1950’s was not so much a technical challenge, but more a test of instinct and daring. He was knighted in 2000.

I sent the sketch to Sir Stirling two years ago, hoping he could sign it, but received a very nice reply from his wife, Lady Susie, explaining that he was still suffering from a serious chest infection, caught while on holiday in Singapore and after months in hospital, was convalescing at home. He would be happy to sign it for me once he was feeling better. Sadly Sir Stirling never recovered. However, a few years earlier, he kindly signed and dedicated a photo for me, commemorating his 1955 victory.

R.I.P Sir Stirling.

Autographed photo of Stirling Moss

Drawing: Sir Ian Holm

Montage drawing of actor Ian Holm

The virtuosic British actor Sir Ian Holm, who, according to the New York Times, had “a magic malleability with a range that went from the sweet-tempered to the psychotic,” sadly passed away on Friday, aged 88, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. I drew this montage sketch a few years ago, which incorporated three of his most defining performances, two from the stage (Lenny and King Lear) and one screen (Sam Mussabini) portrayal.

The stage was his initial and natural stamping ground, becoming a star with the Royal Shakespeare Company, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1953. He originated the role of the sleek, entrepreneurial pimp Lenny in Sir Peter Hall’s London premiere of Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING at the Aldwych Theatre in 1965, which transferred to the Music Box Theater on Broadway two years later, collecting four Tony Awards, including Sir Ian’s win for Best Performance by a Featured Actor. He reprised the role for the 1973 film adaptation, also directed by Sir Peter.

In 1976, at the height of his career, Sir Ian suffered from acute stage fright, later described as a breakdown, playing Hickey during previews for Eugene O’Neill’s London production of THE ICEMAN COMETH. He left the show and never returned to the stage until the early 1990’s. His lengthy hiatus from the theatre was cinema’s gain.

His first major film role was Ash, the calm but chilling, technocratic android is Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979). He would go on to play many memorable movie performances, including the ‘ultimate passport to screen fame’, the homely Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins in Sir Peter Jackson’s series of Tolkien trilogies. He features in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) and THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) and as the elder Bilbo in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) and THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014).

In his moving tribute after Sir Ian’s passing, Sir Peter recalled meeting him for dinner in London, where they discussed the possibility of him playing THE HOBBIT’s older Bilbo. He was very sorry, initially declining because he had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and no longer could remember lines and certainly couldn’t travel to New Zealand. But he agreed to do it after it was decided to shoot his part in London. “l know he was only doing it as a favour to me,” said Sir Peter, who held his hands and thanked him with tears in my eyes. “We witnessed a wonderful actor delivering his last performance,” he said.

In 1982 Sir Ian received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role as the straw-boated, pioneering athletics coach Sam Mussabini in CHARIOTS OF FIRE, winning a special award at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA, his second from the British Academy, having previously collected the famous golden mask for playing Flynn in THE BOFOR’S GUN (1968). Sir Ian received a further four BAFTA nominations throughout his distinguished career.

Sir Ian was once asked what would entice him back to the stage. He replied a new Pinter play and that’s what triumphantly happened. In 1993, his portrayal of Andy, an angry bitter man facing death in MOONLIGHT at the Almeida Theatre was was recognised by the London critics at their annual awards. Following that success he returned to Shakespeare in 1997, performing a ‘stocky, grizzled, bullet-headed’ title role in KING LEAR directed by Sir Richard Eyre on the Cottesloe stage at the National Theatre, winning an Olivier, a Critics’ Circle Theatre and the Evening Standard Award. Sir Ian also received an Emmy nomination for the televised version. “This is Holm’s Lear,” wrote the International Herald Tribune’s Sheridan Morley, “and we are unlikely to leave this century with a better… piercing to the heart of the character as king and father he exploited all his emotions and at a crucial point, mad on the heath, he dropped his cloak to reveal an old man’s nudity.”

While I had the privilege of meeting Sir Ian on a couple of occasions, I had not drawn a sketch. Eventually this was rectified and sent to him in 2016, hoping to get it signed. But it was returned with a letter from his agent, apologising, but he was unable to personally sign autographs any longer, understandably for health reasons. A small black and white photo with a pre-printed signature was enclosed.

However In 2000, when Sir Ian was filming LOTR in Wellington, New Zealand, he did sign a small copy of a poster for one of my personal favourites, Atom Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), which surprisingly, at the age of 65 was his first lead role in a film and arguably his greatest screen performance as Mitchell Stephens, a troubled lawyer who tries to persuade bereaved families to sue following a fatal school bus crash in a small Canadian community.

RIP Sir Ian.

Autograph of Ian Holm on The Sweet Hereafter poster

Drawing: Tilda Swinton

Autographed drawing of actress Tilda Swinton

Just prior to the March Covid lockdown the British Film Institute hosted a Tilda Swinton season, during which the celebrated British actor was presented with its highest honour, the BFI Fellowship recognising her contribution to film culture, independent film exhibition and philanthropy and her “daringly eclectic and striking talents as a performer and filmmaker… for her work is which is powerful and far ranging and as such occupies a unique place in our collective film history.” Tilda responded saying she “was very happy and touched,” sharing the honour with her “beloved film-making playmates, living and departed.”

After finishing school Tilda spent two years as a volunteer in Africa, before studying for a Social and Political Sciences degree at Cambridge University, where she also performed on stage. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, appearing in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Her screen career, which includes small independent and mainstream projects to international blockbusters AVENGERS:ENDGAME and THE CHRONICLES OF NANIA, began with experimental films directed by Derek Jarman, beginning with CARAVAGGIO in 1986. She went on to appear in a further six films by the late renowned British director.

Her supporting performance as Karen Crowder, the ruthless lawyer on the verge of a mental breakdown in the 2007 legal thriller MICHAEL CLAYTON, was recognised with both BAFTA and the ACADEMY AWARD victories, as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Tilda won a BAFTA Scotland award for her role as Ella Gault in the erotic drama YOUNG ADAM (2003). She has also developed a live performance art installation with producer and friend Joanna Scanlan, entitled THE MAYBE in 1995, where she was asleep in a glass box on public display at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was repeated the following year in Rome and again in 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tilda appeared in person at the BFI on London’s Southbank on numerous occasions during the 1-18 March season, introducing screenings and participating in Q+A’s. Always friendly and accommodating with fans, she kindly signed my quick portrait sketch at the venue during the final week.

Drawing: Fanny Ardant

Autographed drawing of actress Fanny Ardant

While my physical ‘stalking’ at stage doors and events in London came to an abrupt halt in March – the 14th to be precise – due to a you-know-what, the mail has continued to be delivered, albeit reduced, but a signed treasure arrived recently, a sketch I sent to one of France’s most admired actresses, Fanny Ardant, back in 2009.

More than a movie star, Fanny was part of cinema history, the muse and companion of the great French new wave director Francois Truffaut during the early 1980’s, before his early death. Fluent in English and Italian, she has appeared in more than eighty motion pictures since 1976, including Hollywood and British films, thirty theatre productions and twenty TV dramas. She has also become an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

At this year’s Cesar Awards in Paris, a couple of weeks before France went into lockdown for the aforementioned you-know-what, Fanny won her second Cesar for her supporting portrayal of Marianne in the romantic comedy-drama LA BELLE EPOQUE, having previously won for Best Actress in 1997, for her comedic role of Eva, the gay bar manager in PEPALE DOUCE. She has also been nominated for two Moliere theatre awards. Last year Fanny directed the opera LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK at the Greek National Opera.

The sketch, drawn in my fine black biro style, prior to the 4B pencil take over, was accompanied by a signed photo. It took eleven years, but well worth the wait.

Autographed photo of Fanny Ardant