Rolf, you must have been frightened going to Buckingham Palace to paint the Queen.
"It was a bit nerve-wracking yeah - it was a bit scary when we first went in there. We had to be into the place by about 11am to set up all the lights and the camera positions and everything, but the Queen didn't arrive until 2.30pm so I had all that time to sort of stew with my internal nerves."
So talk us through what happened then, the Queen arrives at 2.30pm...
|"I was a bit scared of splashing on to her as I sloshed it onto the canvas..."|
|Rolf Harris on painting his portrait of the Queen.|
"She came through the door and I was full of butterflies in my stomach. I said 'we have a seat here, would you please take the seat, you probably know it very well' and she said 'I've sat there many times for many portraits'. She sat down and we got on with it. I explained my basic approach to painting. I had the canvas as close as I could get to her Majesty so that the scale of the painting would be almost exactly the same as the size of the head that was in front of me.
"I was a bit scared of splashing on to her as I sloshed it onto the canvas but that's my approach, I kill the white of the canvas and paint a blur which relates to something like I see in front of me. I paint a sort of a blurry image of the queen with the blues and greens of the outfit and the yellow ochrey colour of the wall behind her and then try and refine the blur. I gradually try and get some features into it but in a rough way, like an out- of-focus photo as it were."
I guess you want it to be accurate, you want it to be flattering, you want her to like it. As it took shape, did you have any doubts about the painting you were doing?
"At the end of the first sitting it was less than flattering and really looked nothing like her. It was quite lumpy and bulgy and bad-tempered and frowning. All the features were very coarse. My job was to work on the photograph I had taken of her Majesty so that I would have a photographic reference. I had that blown up to the same size as the portrait head that I was painting so that I'd have accurate scale in my reference photo. I worked on that when I got home, so gradually refined that."
Did you chat much as you were doing the work?
"It was quite interesting, we talked a little bit about the coronation and the fact that I was there sitting out in Hyde Park as a young 23-year-old waiting for the golden coach to come. I'd been there all night with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders in the drizzle, playing Waltzing Mathilda on my piano accordion and singing to anybody who would listen, and she said 'yes I remember it being a miserably cold day and very wet'. I said 'yeah but you lit the place up when you came round that corner'. It was wonderful."
I guess most of us who haven't met the Queen imagine her to be quite formal, quite stuffy, but if you do get into conversation with her she probably isn't like that at all...
"No, she is quite a remarkable lady, I've found in my past dealings with her. I received the MBE from her way back and then about ten years later the OBE. I was amazed at the background research she must have done to do her homework about my career and exactly what I was doing, she seemed to know everything about me and talked knowledgeably about what I was doing in my life and my career. She asked me interesting and pertinent questions about everything I was up to and I was quite amazed to think that she did that with everybody that came up for their awards."
Did you get the sense that she was fan?
"I didn't really, I understand that she used to watch Animal Hospital quite regularly but it was never discussed. I can't actually say to the Queen: 'Do you like my telvisison shows your Majesty?' It's not my style!"
Is it true that you had problems painting the Queen's teeth?
"Well yes, people that had seen it - my wife, my daughter who had seen the progress, I can't remember which one of them said: 'You look as if you've got her Majesty's teeth actually sitting on the top of her bottom lip, she looks buck-toothed'. I stood back and looked at it and they were right, so I thought 'Oh my God I've got to make that right'. So I spent quite a while repainting the lip so that the teeth were inside the mouth rather than sticking out like bucked teeth!".
See The Queen By Rolf on New Years Day on BBC 1 at 8pm.