You may already know that Jack Straw is my MP. A few years ago I attended my first residents meeting with him and was fascinated at how animated he was (previously having only seen him on TV when being interviewed by the likes of John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman, when he would invariably be on the defensive). Not only was he of a much livelier personality – he also bore an extraordinary likeness to my dad and his brothers (not one in particular, but a mixture of them all), to a point where I could imagine him ‘giving a turn’ in the local pub or club as my family would do. I could just see him with a mike, giving a rendition of I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen or When You Wore a Tulip.
For the whole of the meeting I was unable to concentrate and afterwards I mentioned my thoughts to my partner and voiced the opinion that because of my family resemblance, I could easily do a portrait bust of him, so Paul (my partner) suggested I contact him with a view to doing just that. Back came the reply that he would sit, providing I didn’t take much time, as he was a very busy man. I asked for just 15 minutes or so, to take a few measurements and as many photos as I could manage.
Came the day and I duly arrived at his office in Blackburn, armed with all the necessary equipment. We were introduced and I asked how I should address him. ‘Call me Jack’, came the reply and hence the title of my piece. Everyone else left the room and he tucked into coffee and biscuits. Seconds into me starting work with my callipers, his mobile rang, ‘Hello Kofi!’ Unsure what to do when the Secretary General of the United Nations phones the Foreign Secretary and with nobody else there to ask, I decided to proceed, on the assumption that if it were private he would ask me to leave.
So there he was, taking his call and there I was kneeling on the floor taking photos under his chin, standing on a chair photographing him from above and all around at 36o degrees and at different levels. Then measuring him with the callipers, making notes and sketches – all whilst he was chatting away. The upshot was I probably got around 30 minutes with him instead of the allocated 15!
I was quite pleased with the results, as the bust turned out to be quite lively instead of the more usual, static posed portrait. Jack has a cast and there is also one in Blackburn Museum & Art Galleries. I still have the terracotta.