The Sitters Tale: Lord Simon

New faces at the National Portrait Gallery: the ex-chairman of BP fidgets his way through 15 sittings
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The Independent Culture
I received a letter from the director of the National Portrait Gallery, saying that the trustees thought it would be a good idea to have a painting done of me, and would I agree if it was done by James Lloyd, who won the BP Portrait Award in 1997. I agreed, as I thought anyone who wins the prize must have the skills required.

That's how it happened - the initial contact was last year, and the portrait took place over probably 15 sittings. I used to go down to the studio at strange times - James found me pretty hard work as I often went early in the morning. The life of a politician combined with sitting in the House of Lords means I am very busy all day.

I used to go down to his studio just by Southwark Cathedral, next to Borough market - I didn't know the area well, and it was wonderful to discover a new part of London. The train tracks pass right by James's studio, and it was one of those extraordinary London combinations, to see an iron horse passing by the pealing cathedral.

When I was sitting for him I had to be still. It was absolutely terrible for me - I'm always jumping around talking to people, and sitting down for any length of time is not comfortable for me as my knees hurt due to a misspent career in sport. While I was there I developed a karma - I sat and thought about things, and I don't often get time to do that.

He asked me what I wanted to wear, and I chose something as relaxed as possible - a blazer and slacks, and comfortable shoes. I don't like wearing ties, and I got a bit confused each time I was going to sit, trying to remember to wear the same one.

I thought James was absolutely brilliant; he's a very talented painter. In my portrait, it's not the physical features that are so extraordinary but when I look at it I feel my body move, I feel like I'm sitting there again. He's captured how difficult I found it to sit there, and I find this portrait quite uncanny for that reason.

I'm mad keen on sport, and how you move and sit is, I think, more important than your face. Your body is what you live with, and it's wonderful how someone can get hold of how you sit, and how the bits fit together. James has the essence of me.

Lord Simon's 1998 portrait by James Lloyd will be unveiled on 7 June at the National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (0171 306 0055). The 1999 BP Portrait Award exhibition opens on 25 June