Freud's larger-than-life model cuts ITV's Katie down to size

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The Independent Culture

It's been another big week in the art world, and they don't come much bigger than Big Sue. Just don't call her fat. Lucien Freud, 85, became the most expensive living artist at auction on Tuesday when his Benefits Supervisor Sleeping sold for an eye-watering £17.2m at Christie's in New York.

The life-size painting is also known as "Big Sue" after the model Sue Tilley, 51, right, who spent a couple of days a week over nine months posing for the portrait in 1995 and was paid £20 a day.

Ms Tilley, now a job centre manager, is a larger dress size than average, and the painting, which shows her naked and asleep on a sofa, revels in the ample folds of her flesh.

While she has no objection to being "big", Ms Tilley does , however, object to being called "fat", as the ITV1 newsreader Katie Derham discovered to her cost on Wednesday.

Reporting on the sale, Ms Derham introduced Ms Tilley, who was being interviewed live from her home in London, as "Fat Sue".

"I'm not really happy when you call me Fat Sue, because that is not my name," said Ms Tilley. "And I'd appreciate it if you didn't call me that, thank you."

Ms Derham apologised unreservedly. "We thought it was an affectionate nickname given by you," she said. "But if not then you absolutely have the right to pick us up."

"No, it's not." Ms Tilley said.

It's a good job A N Wilson wasn't in the area. On Thursday, he denounced the painting, described by the auctioneers Christie's as "a bold and imposing example of the stark power of Freud's realism", in his Daily Mail column. "Technically accomplished it may be; a pleasure to look at it certainly is not," he said. "Who among us can honestly say they would like it hanging on their drawing room wall? Freud does not merely depict a fat woman, he dwells with sadistic contempt upon flab and folds, and scrubs of hair which might exist in real life or might just be part of the artist's bleak, dark vision."

However, the writer had the grace to add: "The contrast between the real Sue Tilley and the Freud version is striking. Photographs show she is a person of pleasant appearance, though it is obvious that she has not been on one of the Duchess of York's raw carrot and coleslaw diets."

Ms Tilley has declared herself "thrilled" at the sale. "I never weigh myself. I can't be bothered," she said.