The Sitters Tale: Anita Roddick

New faces at the National Portrait Gallery: the creator of The Body Shop says that her family loves seeing her darker side uppermost - for once

The National Portrait Gallery commissioned Sara Rossberg to do my portrait, and I went to London to meet her four years ago. I went to her house, in Notting Hill I think, on Saturdays and Sundays. I am fascinated by people's homes, and she worked from home, and almost every one of her walls was covered in monumental portraits - how do you get them into the house, I thought, and what kind of people commission them when houses are so small and domestic? You would need a huge hall or office to hang them in.

She was an easy artist to be with - very easy to talk to. I brought Miles Davis CDs to listen to, and his soundtrack to the movie Siesta was one she hadn't heard before, so that played while she worked. I'm a curious person, so we talked about lots of things.

I sat for her four times. I think she took some photos, but she's a very quick worker. When you're sitting, you're at your leisure to a degree. How often do you have a chance to sit down? Sitting down and me - it's an oxymoron!

I am ebullient and full of brio, full of enthusiasm - but the portrait is rather melancholy. She has found a darker side to me - I think of myself as more mischievous, a comedian, whereas this is a dark, mysterious pose. But this is how she interpreted me. When I go to the NPG I am always surprised that people recognise it as me. My family love it - they tell me that I don't see myself when I am angry or passionate, so they think this is a totally honest picture.

This is a watercolour and I love the medium. Watercolour is schizophrenic - it makes you think of someone sitting outside painting flowers, but it's so fast and immediate, and doesn't have to be wishy-washy women's institute at all. So I've learnt to respect watercolour - and I love it for its speed.

There's a phrase that says the only two ways you can see in life is if you're an artist or a golfer. There is magic when artists look at you, trying to fix a pose - it's like alchemy - they looking at the light, seeing it as no one else does. I felt almost as if I had no right to say anything when Sara started my portrait. I am quite timid when I'm in the company of artists - I think they have magic in them and I don't know how to interpret it - I'm incredibly respectful of artists.

When someone is painting you it's very intense and intimate. When you know someone is looking at you, it's quite unnerving. But it's also intriguing.

INTERVIEW BY CHARLOTTE MULLINS

Anita Roddick's 1995 portrait by Sara Rossberg hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London, WC2 (0171 306 0055).

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