Alison Lapper: You Ask The Questions

Have you lost sleep over the unveiling of a 15ft statue of your naked body? And do you see yourself as a modern-day Venus de Milo?
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The Independent Online

Alison Lapper was born in 1965 with no arms and shortened legs. She was taken away from her mother at birth and lived at Chailey Heritage, a special school in East Sussex, until she was 17. At 26, she graduated from Brighton University with a first in Fine Art. Since then, she has worked as an artist, frequently using herself as her subject. However, she is currently best known as the model for Marc Quinn's sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant, which has been chosen to occupy the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. She and her son, Parys, now four, are also participating in the BBC series Child of Our Time. They live on the Sussex coast.

A 15ft-high statue of your naked body is about to be displayed in public. Surely this is the stuff of nightmares. Have you been losing sleep over it?
Pauline Minns, by e-mail

I hardly think so. I'm absolutely thrilled about it. Seeing myself naked is not a problem for me. I've got artworks of mine in my lounge that show me naked. My friends see them, my son sees them - everyone does. I think it's a great shame that more men and women aren't comfortable with their own bodies because, I can tell you, it's a weight off your shoulders.

Would you consider standing for Parliament?
Ursula Tilley, by e-mail

What on earth for? You can't expect to change the world. I have no desire to be a leader or an icon. I'm too busy.

When and where are you at your happiest?
Melissa Oliver, London

Giving birth to Parys was one of my happiest times. He was born by Caesarean section five-and-a-half weeks early. They laid him on my chest immediately. Having your child put on you for the first time is an incredible feeling. I knew that he was going to be a boy. When I was having a scan, they asked me if I wanted to know what sex he was and I said: "I can see what sex he is. He's playing with himself: he's got to be a boy."

When you were a child, did you hope to become an artist or did you have other plans for the future?
Paul Skidmore, by e-mail

Yes, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was always messing around with paints. And what else what I going to do? I was very lucky, because when I was 16 I was taken on by the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. So I knew that when I finished my degree, I had a job waiting for me.

How do you respond to the charge that the choice of Quinn's statue of you for the fourth plinth is 'political correctness gone mad'?
Sam Wyeth, London

If it were political correctness gone mad, people wouldn't have minded when the statue of me was chosen for the fourth plinth. But they have minded because it's brought up people's prejudices: the fact that we're not comfortable with nudity, disability and pregnancy. So, I think that political correctness is important. Why shouldn't I be proud to be disabled? Why shouldn't I be proud to be a woman?

Is it true that you see yourself as a modern-day Venus de Milo?
Kat Jones, Andover

Absolutely. When I was an art student, I was looking at images of different women and I stumbled across the Venus de Milo. And I thought, "Oh my God, that's me," except for the fact that I'm labelled disabled and the Venus de Milo is seen as beautiful. That set me off on the journey of looking at my own body and at the way that society looks at people's bodies in general.

Weren't you worried about laying your parenting skills open for criticism in Child of Our Time? I certainly wouldn't volunteer!
Haz Lambert, Birmingham

Don't be daft. It was a chance for me to show that I'm actually a very skilled parent. I agreed to take part in the series before Parys was born, but I wasn't worried - I knew I'd be a good parent. I know it sounds pretentious, but I just knew. I wanted Parys so badly. And when you want a child that desperately, you are going to do your best. I treat him as a human being - I think that's very important. We totally underestimate children. If I'm talking to somebody when Parys wants to talk to me, I say, "Excuse me", and listen to him.

Who is the world's most beautiful man?
Jon Donnelly, Dundalk

My son, of course. I don't have icons. I don't have favourites, either. There are many people that I admire and like. David Beckham doesn't do it for me. Jude Law's all right, but I'd rather have John Travolta - even now. He's really grown into himself. But there are many out there that I like.

You're more confident about your body than most women in Britain (few of us would agree to pose naked for a statue). How did you develop such a robust self-image?
Vinnie Hatton, by e-mail

I was very fortunate in that I had a three-year art degree in which to be totally self-indulgent and to do something that everyone should do: look at themselves. The most nerve-wracking process was learning to be naked in front of the camera. Now people think: "She's always taking her kit off." But I've had to learn how to be relaxed about it. At the start, I used to keep my underwear on. It was a slow process, but now you could probably plonk me - never mind my statue - naked on the fourth plinth and I'd sit there quite happily. Of course, it would have to be a warm day.

What is your opinion on Quinn the artist, and Quinn the person?
Ed Furniss, Bristol

He's a lovely man. It's now five years since I met him and he did the statue of me. The first time he called to ask me to take part, I wasn't well. But a year later, he asked me again and I said, "You won't want to do it now because I'm pregnant." But of course he said: "Yes! I'd love to." Since then he's been instrumental in helping me to get myself launched as an artist. I'm the model who came out of her box, really.

You have succeeded as an artist and mother against great odds. Do you believe in fate?
Bea Milward, Barking

Probably. I think Parys happened for a reason. In my twenties, I wasn't ready. I was still a kid. But at 34, I was ready financially and mentally. I don't know if I'm fated to become well-known or a successful artist because I don't think I'm there yet. I'll let you know when I am.

Surely it's time to have a thorough revamp of Trafalgar Square. If you were given the task of replacing the current incumbents - Lord Nelson, General Charles Napier, Major General Sir Henry Havelock and George IV - who would you pick?
Pippa Smith, London

I don't think the statues should be changed. If they were, whatever was put on the fourth plinth wouldn't have the same impact. I don't think it's strange that I'll be among heroes from our history. This is history in the making. People say that I'm not a heroine - and I don't see what I do as particularly heroic - but there are a lot of unsung heroes and heroines in this country who never get recognised. It's not just people who have climbed Everest or won a war that matter.

Your main rival for the plinth was the Queen Mother. How does it feel to knock the monarchy off its perch?
Andy Blake, Leeds

I didn't knock her or Nelson Mandela off their perches. There were lots of suggestions. Whatever you do, you're going to displease some people. And to put the Queen Mother up there, bless her, would have been a very safe choice.

An exhibition of Alison Lapper's photography will be hosted at the Eyestorm gallery, Maddox Street, London W1, 14 May to 12 June 2004

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