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Haverhill artist Ben Sullivan's portrait of the Queen now hangs in the RAF Club

Not many people living in Haverhill can say they have sat chatting one-to-one with the Queen for almost 90 minutes, but artist Ben Sullivan can.

Ben, who last year won the prestigious BP Portrait Award, was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Queen that was unveiled last week at The RAF Club (of which Her Majesty is patron) in Picadilly, London as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations.

The club approached Ben early last year to invite him to apply for the commission.

He had to submit a portfolio of his work and be interviewed before he was chosen to be the artist to paint the portrait, but it wasn’t until the end of February this year that he got a sitting arranged.

Artist Ben Sullivan chats to the queen after the unveiling of the portrait. Submitted picture (4911398)
Artist Ben Sullivan chats to the queen after the unveiling of the portrait. Submitted picture (4911398)

Although normally having six to eight sittings for such an intimate portrait, Ben was offered just the one - in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle.

Much has been made in some parts of the media of the fact that the painting shows the Queen’s handbag, which is not the normal state of affairs.

The unique feature was something that Ben wanted to include, as he explained: “She came in with her handbag and put it by the leg of the chair and I thought ‘you could move it, but it’s kind of a personal item and its quite nice for a portrait of someone of that stature because it’s hard to get into their inner world because they are the monarch’.

“It’s quite nice to get something in the painting to show her as a person, not just as the Queen.

“I was thinking,” added Ben, “there can’t be anyone more famous than her can there really, in the world. It’s an incredible thought.

“Perhaps Nelson Mandela came close when he was still alive, but she’s probably the most photographed person in the world.

“I suppose I could say ‘where do I go from here.’

“I was told I would have one hour (for the sitting) and if she enjoyed herself she might spend a bit longer and she actually spent one hour and 25 minutes sitting, so I like to think that meant she was having a good time.

“She was very relaxed. We talked about Windsor Castle, because she had two weddings coming up that she was very excited about and she was talking about the gardens at Windsor Castle, which she loves.”

Ben Sullivan with his wife Ginnie and his portrait of the Queen (4911427)
Ben Sullivan with his wife Ginnie and his portrait of the Queen (4911427)

Ben was accompanied by his wife Ginnie to the unveiling of the portrait on October 17, and he said, it was hung on the wall in the Sovereigns Room, formerly the ballroom, just ten minutes after being revealed.

The painting also has, behind the Queen, a Spitfire that was flown by Ben’s own grandfather in WWII, and a portion of ‘Hurricanes in Flight’ by Eric Ravilous, one of the Great Bardfield Artists.

“I just used some artistic licence to do that,” added Ben. “In the same way I was able to make it personal and link it to me but also link it to the RAF.

“The club had got the word that the Royal household was very pleased with it (the portrait) and you hear that and you think ‘that’s good’.”

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