The One Show announces People’s Portrait candidates

Date: 06.09.2013     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.12
Category: BBC One
This evening, BBC One’s flagship magazine programme, The One Show, announced the 12 candidates who will be put forward for a public vote that will decide the subject of a jointly commissioned National Portrait Gallery and BBC portrait.

The candidates will all be hoping for the chance to have their portrait painted and displayed in the National Portrait Gallery.

The 12 candidates are: writer Michael Palin, actor Barbara Windsor, singer Lulu, research psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, equality rights campaigner Jocelyn Barrow, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, campaigner Doreen Lawrence, television presenter Esther Rantzen, legal rights activist Clive Stafford Smith, paralympic champion Sarah Storey and Falklands veteran Simon Weston.

Over one week, six short films will be shown on the One Show, each one on the life and achievements of two figures. In each film a well-known One Show presenter will advocate for one of the 12 candidates. The films will tell the story of their life, chart their achievements and explain their contribution to British life.

Once chosen, the winner will sit for a portrait to be displayed as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. BBC One will follow the creation of the portrait for a one-off documentary, which will be shown in Spring 2014.

Voting for the candidates will take place via SMS and on the BBC website. Lines will open after the One Show on Friday 13 September and will close on Sunday 15 September at midnight. The winner will be announced on the One Show on Monday 16 September.

Each of the candidates were asked why, out of all paintings, people particularly love portraits, and also if they had a favourite portrait and why.

Barbara Windsor: I think portraits are the most admired of paintings as they tell such individual stories. If you know the subject of the portrait, you will instantly know if the essence of that person has been captured and you'd recognise their character and qualities. Whereas looking at a portrait of someone unknown to you is equally intriguing as it is left to the artist to show us who that person is.

Clive Stafford-Smith: The main reason I have always taken to portraits, perhaps more than photographs, is that they stretch far back into history. We tend to view history in solipsistic terms, only spanning our own lives, or – in terms of photographs – the blink of an historical eye for which we have had photography. Painting has gone on much longer – in a crude form, to prehistory. So, for example, something struck me about various pictures in the Frick Gallery in New York. I used to visit there often, years ago when I was in law school... One picture was Memling’s Portrait Of A Man. While it might be more than 500 years old, the face could be of someone next door. Or there was Holbein’s picture of Thomas More... the painting gives a real sense of who he might have been.

Colin Blakemore: Perhaps because the faces of other people are so important to human beings. Our ability to detect, categorise and recognise the faces of others is crucial in our social lives. Large parts of the human brain are devoted to the analysis of faces and facial expression. I guess that these parts of the brain are very busy when we look at portraits.

Lucian Freud's portrait of Francis Bacon (1952). Uncompromising but sympathetic. Exactly what a portrait should be. I knew Francis Bacon and I think that this portrait captures both the image and the man. The critic Robert Hughes compared Bacon's face to a grenade just about to explode. The painting is all the more interesting and mysterious because it was stolen in 1988 and has not, I believe, been recovered.

Dame Jocelyn Barrow: People love portraits because, in a nutshell, people are fascinated by people, and a portrait gives us the opportunity to share the very individual insight that a painter can have into his or her subject. The role of a truly great portraitist is to cast a new, transformative light on the subject, revealing a hidden dimension, a quintessential humanity.

My own favourite is that of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Notwithstanding the classical garb and setting typical of 18th-century portraiture, the artist conveys the sense of spirit, of implacable determination, which characterised a woman who championed the poor and the oppressed in an age when women’s suffrage was still a century away.

Doreen Lawrence: ...I think it is because portraits give a clear and realistic image of the person who is featured... It would have to be Mary Seacole, her name had been obscure for years and as a Jamaican I was very proud to see her portrait hung in The National Portrait Gallery. Seeing that was a moment to remember.

Esther Rantzen: I’m very torn when I’m trying to decide my favourite portraits, between the various Rembrandt self-portraits, which are so fascinating, and the Annigoni portrait of the Queen, which is so romantic and caused such a stir at the time (I can just remember!). People love portraits because they say so much more than photographs do, you can really study them, and read so much into the expression. I have an amazing portrait of my late husband, painted by James Clarke, who was our film director on That’s Life! which gives me constant pleasure. So perhaps that’s my favourite.

Lulu: Why I think people love portraits so much is because they feel like they can get an insight into the person who is being painted. Portraits have the potential to capture the essence of the person... I am one of those people who doesn't like choosing a favourite for anything. Lucian Freud's self portrait both fascinates and frightens me, there is an attraction and aversion. Another of my favourite artists is David Hockney because his paintings evoke a happiness.

Michael Palin: A good portrait can make a very powerful connection, transcending time and place and confronting the viewer with a new acquaintance. My favourite is the self-portrait of Rembrandt in the collection at Kenwood House. Painted 350 years ago, it has an immediacy and an appeal which is absolutely of the present day. It brings an ageing, but proud painter to life again.

Mo Ibrahim: Portraits are about people, people as they are and people as seen by the artist. They tell us a lot about the person and provide us with an insight. In a way, they bring to life all kinds of people we have heard about but have never seen, and people we never even knew existed. It is a curious human trait in us - being curious about other human beings... My favourite portrait is Ernesto Che Guevara by Korda.

Sarah Storey: I think people like portraits because they depict well-loved personalities or people who everyone admires. My favourite portrait is a hard one, so I am going to go for something a bit different and say it is the portraits the kids of Disley school (my old primary school) did of Barney and me for when we returned from the London Games.

Simon Baron-Cohen: ...Because the face is a window to the mind, and most people are magnetically drawn to automatically 'mind-read' other people. It's not just 'people-watching', it's 'mind-reading'. In 1996 I published a research article... which looked at portraits by Velasquez and Hockney to investigate if we mind-read portraits from different centuries in a similar way, across cultures and across age-groups!... My favourite portraits in this study were Figures 5 and 6 by Velasquez and Figure 10 by Hockney. They are rich in 'complex emotions' and surprisingly - probably for evolutionary reasons - we read these emotions in a largely consistent fashion.

Simon Weston: I think we are as humans very curious creatures and I think portraits are popular because you get to see almost inside the skin of the subjects. These take hours to create. They are not like a photo capturing a brief moment, they are slowly crafted to give the viewer more of an insight into the person.