Drawing: Dario Cecchini

Autographed drawing of Chef Dario Cecchini

One of life’s little pleasures is David Gelb’s Netflix series, CHEF’S TABLE. It’s part of my overall vice for watching cooking shows, replacing a gap in my vocational achievements. The latest series was released this February with four episodes. My favourite was about Dario Cecchini, the charismatic Tuscan butcher and celebrity showman. In the small village of Panzano in the Chianti region off Italy, where Dario grew up, his father ran the local butcher shop, which had been in the family for eight generations, spanning 250 years. Dario, however did not want to be a butcher. He wanted to be a vet. After his mother passed away from cancer, Dario moved to Pisa to study veterinarian science, but he had to cut his studies short and return home to look after his ailing father, who also died leaving Dario no option but to take over the family business.

He said, “I won’t be the one to save the animal, I will be the one who kills the animal.” Even though he grew up in a butcher’s family he knew nothing of the it. He contacted Orlando, his father’s meat adviser and confidente, who took him to many farms and introduced Dario in his philosophy, “When an animal is born, we must try to give it the best life and when the animal dies by our hand we must respect the gift of the animal.”

Dario customers just wanted steaks and fillets, he but wanted to use all the animal, including the ‘less noble’ parts, as he puts it, from ‘nose-to-tail.’ All parts of the animal are useful if butchered and cooked in the appropriate way. Dario says it’s a combination of knowledge and a consciousness respect for the animal. In order to persuade his customers of this, he starting cooking to show how this could be done, establishing ‘Ristorante Soloccia’ across the street from his shop “I am not a cook. I am a butcher who cooks.”

He relies on instinct and keeping things simple and a glass of red wine that helps the process. It became such a huge success that a second ‘meat-centric’ restaurant Officina Della Bistecca was opened next door. The boy who wanted to be a vet had become the most famous butcher in the world.

Combining another vice, the need to scribble, I did this quick sketch and sent it to Dario to sign, which he did, appropriately in a big red marker, cleverly adapting the philosophical phrase ‘carpe diem’ to ‘carne (meat) diem’.

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Drawing: Gemma Barnett in A Hundred Words For Snow

Autographed drawing of Gemma Barnett in A Hundred Words For Snow at the Trafalgar Studios on London's West End

Tatty Hennessy’s ‘outrageously funny and deeply moving’ coming-of-age tale… with polar bears, A HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW has transferred to London’s West End with a flurry of excellent reviews and accolades after successful appearances at The Vaults and the Arcola Theatre last year.

Directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson, the one hour, one person play, which mixes polar exploration with teenage awkwardness will run in the Trafalgar Studio 2 until the end of the month. Oxford school of Drama graduate Gemma Barnett plays Rory – short for Aurora – a young woman determined to scatter her dad’s ashes at the North Pole. It was a trip they had planned before he suddenly died in an accident, one last expedition, which the Guardian’s Michael Billington called an “extraordinary story. “The play explores the difficulties and desires of growing up and searching the unknown in a melting world, covering the themes of climate change, feminism and self-discovery.”

As Tatty points out, it’s very relevant, given the UN’s latest stark and startling Climate Chang report. “How traumatic, isolating and overwhelming it must be to lose someone you love and to lose them at 15, to be grieving during puberty,” said Gemma in an interview for London Theatre Direct.

I caught up with Gemma last Saturday at the stage door after her matinee performance, described by James FitzGerald in his WhatsOnStage review as “impassioned and intoxicating,” where she signed my sketch.

Drawing: Dave Myers and Si King aka the Hairy Bikers

Autographed drawing of Si King and Dave Myers The Hairy Bikers

My ritual Sunday diet of TV cuisine shows always includes an ample helping of the UK’s most popular cooking duo, Dave Myers and Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers. The exuberant, down-to-earth chefs have had a string of hit television shows over the past twenty years, involving a mixture of cooking and travelogue, creating their own fresh take on culinary classics.

They have now taken to the road on a nationwide tour. AN EVENING WITH THE HAIRY BIKERS is described as an “epic night of cooking and conversation’. The pair rocked up to the iconic London Palladium on Saturday for their only gig in the capital. Luckily I noticed them from my vantage point across the road where I was watching a Six Nations rugby match and partaking of the local hospitality. I quickly raced across to catch them.

After eventually sorting a car park outside the stage door and posing for the obligatory selfies with a few passers-by I asked them to sign my sketch. “Is that a kiwi accent?” asked Si. “Guilty,” I said. That’s why I often put a little stick-note on the drawing ‘To Mark’ to avoid getting ‘Mack’ or ‘Mike’ or some other deviation. But he was conversant with the Antipodean tongue and inscribed correctly.

Drawing: Isabella Rossellini

Autographed drawing of actress Isabella Rossellini

Her mother was the three-time Oscar winning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and her father the neo-realist master film director Roberto Rossellini. With that parentage and pedigree Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanni Rossellini was destined for a cinematic career… and more. She made her movie debut alongside her mother in Vincent Minnelli’s A MATTER OF TIME in 1976.

Isabella’s most memorable role was as lounge singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s cult classic BLUE VELVET, a role that won her the Best Female Lead Independent Spirit Award. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe, playing Anna Hauptmann in HBO’s TV film about the Lindbergh kidnapping CRIME OF THE CENTURY and an Emmy nomination for her portrayal as Prof. Marina Giannini in the medical drama CHICAGO HOPE.

Fluent in Italian, French and English, Isabella has had several parallel careers including modelling, where she was the face of the French cosmetics giant Lancôme for a long time and now at the age of 66 she is the company’s global brand ambassador. She has also been a journalist for Italian TV and has written and published three books.

Isabella is an avid dog lover and trains puppies for the blind. Last year she bought her one-woman (and her trained dog, Pan) show, LINK LINK to Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre. Described as more of a surreal theatrical lecture, exploring what distinguishes humans from animals with a comic twist, covering everything from animal intelligence to the sex lives of whales. She kindly signed my montage sketch at the stage door afterwards.

Drawing: Danny Dyer in The Dumb Waiter

Autographed drawing of Danny Dyer in The Dumb Waiter at the Harold Pinter Theatre on London's West End

A “propa nawty geezer” is how one interviewer described the parts English actor Danny Dyer is famed for, the  generic ‘hard man-with-a-heart’. He returned last month to the West End stage as a killer in Harold Pinter’s THE DUMB WAITER, which was part of the Pinter Seven double bill with A SLIGHT ACHE.

It concluded the PINTER AT THE PINTER season, Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious box-set approach to all of the Nobel Laureate’s 21 one-act plays over the past 21 weeks at the theatre named after him.

THE DUMB WAITER, written in 1957 is set in a basement of a Birmingham restaurant, where two cockney hit men, Gus and Ben are preparing to execute an unknown victim as a dumb waiter (a shelf on pulleys) descends from above with food requests. Danny played Ben alongside Martin Freeman as Gus.

Jamie said that Danny, who had a close friendship with the playwright was one of Harold’s favourite actors and considered him a protégé “There were no airs and graces about Harold,” said Danny, “I learned so much from him that set me up for the rest of my career.”  THE DUMB WAITER is Danny’s fourth Pinter play. He met Harold in 1999, who cast him as the waiter in CELEBRATION at London’s Almeida Theatre, which transferred to New York’s Lincoln Centre in 2001 as part of the Harold Pinter Season. He followed that with the role of Foster in NO MAN’S LAND at the National Theatre and in 2008 as Joey in THE HOMECOMING back at the Almeida.

Danny’s breakthrough came in 1997 in the cult film HUMAN TRAFFIC as the mad raver Moff. He later said in a Guardian interview that it wasn’t much of a transition “That role was me. I was still living it then. It was the only audition where the first question was “Do you take drugs?” I said, “Yes, I love drugs.” They said, ‘Perfect.”  Since 2013 he has played The Queen Victoria pub’s landlord Mick Carter in the BBC TV soap EASTENDERS, winning three National Television Awards.

I left this sketch of Danny as Ben at the stage door on the final day of the PINTER AT THE PINTER season and it came back signed and dedicated with a nice inscription.

Drawing: Ruby Turner

Autographed drawing of singer Ruby Turner

Described as both a ‘national and international treasure’, Jamaican-born British R&B and soul singer, songwriter and actress Ruby Turner returned to the equally legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Soho earlier this month for a sold-out run. In recognition of her 30 year career the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors presented her with its prestigious Gold Badge for her contribution to British music in 2009. Over the three decades she has released twenty albums, including her 2007 double album ‘Live At Ronnie Scott’s’. Apart from her music, Ruby is also a very accomplished actress, with an impressive list of stage and screen appearances, including A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, CARMEN JONES, SIMPLY HEAVENLY and FAME in theatre and films LOVE ACTUALLY, JEWEL OF THE NILE and HOTEL BABALYON.

Ruby signed a profile ink portrait I sent to her when she performed at the Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand way back in 1995, which I posted in December 2013. This is my updated 4B pencil sketch, which Ruby kindly signed for me at Ronnie Scott’s on 6 February.

Drawing: Daniel Kaluuya

Autographed drawing of actor Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaluuya’s status as a ‘rising star’ was bolstered last year when he received the British Academy’s Rising Star Award. Born in London to Ugandan parents, Daniel was raised on a council estate. He wrote his first play at the age of nine and started his acting career in improvisational theatre. He featured as part of the original cast of the British teen comedy drama TV series SKINS, co-writing some episodes.

His entry into mainstream theatre drew plenty of attention, playing the lead role in the Royal Court’s 2010 production of SUCKER PUNCH by Roy Williams. The play and cast received rave reviews with Daniel winning both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for his performance as Leon, a young boxer.

Daniel’s International screen breakthrough was his role as photographer Chris Washington in the horror GET OUT in 2017, for which he received Academy Award, BAFTA, SAG, Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Award nominations. He followed that with Marvel Studio’s blockbuster BLACK PANTHER, playing chief of the Border Tribe, W’Kabi.
Daniel signed for me at the Gala Screening of Steve McQueen’s heist film WIDOWS, which opened last years BFI Londo Film Festival at Cineworld’s Empire Cinema in Leicester Square.

Drawing: Greg Davies

Autographed drawing of comedian Greg Davies

The 100 Hearts Night of Comedy at the London Palladium last week gave me an opportunity to catch some more of my favourite comics, including Greg Davies. The sold-out evening raised money for the Brompton and Harefield Hospital charity.

The English comedian is technically from Wales. Davies is a clue. While living in the West Midlands of England, his Welsh father drove his mother, across the border to ensure Greg was born in Wales… in St Asaph, Flintshire to be precise, fifty years ago.

TV viewers will know Greg from a number of small screen appearances, including Mr Gilbert, the archetypal misanthropic and permanently bitter comprehensive school teacher in THE INBETWEENERS, who treats his pupils with utter contempt with biting wit and sarcasm. In another classroom role Greg played Dan, a teacher who hates his job. Thirteen years teaching Drama and English, prior to his comedic career change would have given Greg plenty of material.

He is currently in his BAFTA-nominated role as Ken Thompson in the fifth episode of the popular BBC/Netflix sitcom CUCKOO. Other high profile appearances on the telly include LIVE AT THE APOLLO, MOCK THE WEEK, WOULD I LIE TO YOU? and the host of the panel game show TASKMASTER. I was waiting at the Palladium’s impressive new stage door for the talent to arrive.

You can’t miss Greg. He is literally one of the biggest comedy stars, standing 2.03 metres, (that’s 6’8″ in the old money). I presented my sketch of Greg as a suitably harassed teacher and his friend asked, “Who’s that?” “That’s me!” he replied, which is always a good sign when they recognise themselves in a drawing, which he was pleased to sign.

Drawing: Chita Rivera

Autographed drawing of Chita Rivera

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero eighty-six years ago in Washington DC to a Scottish-Italian mother and a Puerto Rican father, Chita Rivera has became an absolute performing phenomenon, especially in musical theatre. Last year she received the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre in recognition of her stage contribution, which has spanned nearly seven decades, starting with her first Broadway role in 1951 in CALL ME MADAM, followed by lead roles in GUYS AND DOLLS and CAN CAN. Six years later she was cast as the firebrand Anita in WEST SIDE STORY, a role that launched her towards stardom and ensured her inclusion in Broadway folklore.

Chita has received a record ten Tony nominations, winning two for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Her first was in 1984 for her performance as Anna in THE RINK opposite Liza Minnelli and again in 1993 as the vampy diva Aurora, the title character in Kander and Ebb’s KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN at the Broadhurst Theatre after reprising the role from the West End production a year earlier. Both performances also earned Chita the Drama Desk Award. In 2009 she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Chita signed and dedicated, adding her distinctive flower doodle, my montage sketch, including her as Anita from WEST SIDE STORY, last Saturday at Wogan House after she appeared on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio 2 show prior to her concert at London’s Cadogan Hall the following day.

Drawing: Ethan Hawke

Autographed drawing of actor Ethan Hawke

After his breakthrough role as the painfully shy student Todd Anderson in 1989’s DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, Ethan Hawke has gone on to appear in nearly 70 films, helmed three features and a documentary, directed three off-Broadway plays, written three novels, earning numerous accolades including four Academy Award nominations, two for Best Adapted Screenplays for BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT and two for Best Supporting Actor as Officer Jake Hoyt in TRAINING DAY (2001) and as the father, Mason Evans Snr. in BOYHOOD (2014). He has also collected a clutch of BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG, WAG nominations.

In fact Ethan has won 53 awards from 134 nominations to date, including an Emmy as a voice cast member of INVASION! and this year received Best Actor awards from both the New York and the London Critics Circles, and the National Society of Film Critics, amongst others, for his performance as the Reverend Ernst Toller in FIRST REFORMED. Many believed it was a major surprise that he wasn’t also Oscar nominated.

However, Ethan has stated that theatre is his ‘first love’. He received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination in 2007 for his performance as Mikhail Balcunin in Tom Stoppard’s trilogy THE COAST OF UTOPIA at New York’s Lincoln Centre Theatre.

I was fortunate to catch Ethan on stage in 2009 as part of the transatlantic Bridge Project at London’s Old Vic theatre in Sam Mendes’ double bill, Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD and Shakespeare’s A WINTER’S TALE, in which he played Trofimov and Autolycus respectively, receiving excellent reviews.

Ethan returned to London last October for the BFI London Film Festival to support his film BLAZE, which he also wrote and featured in as a radio DJ. The non-conventional biopic of outlaw country musician Blaze Foley had it’s premiere at the Curzon Cinema in Soho, where he signed for me.