My Secret Life: Jonathan Yeo, artist, 40


My parents were... Dad worked in the city and later ran [disability charity] Scope before getting addicted to politics. Mum was a producer for BBC radio who went on to run several charities. She stuck at it.

The household I grew up in... I grew up in a little terraced house in Islington. We played in the street and knew all our neighbours.

When I was a child I wanted to... be a film director. Actually, I think I still do.

If I could change one thing about myself...I would speak more languages. It's ridiculous that I can muster only a few phrases in most places I visit.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at... remembering dates. I can pinpoint almost any occasion in my life to the day.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... remembering almost anything else. Facts, names, conversations just evaporate.

I wish I'd never worn... out my lucky underpants.

What I see when I look in the mirror... My dad, mostly. But that's normal... right?

My favourite item of clothing... The ones I work in. I'm far more comfortable in clothes that are already messy as I don't have to worry about splashing paint on them.

It's not fashionable but I like... quiet nights in with my wife, Shebah. We love to cook, plus I'm a bit of a wine geek, so it feels like we consume better things than if we go out.

My house is... very pretty looking but badly laid out. Fabulous garden and masses of space for entertaining, but tiny bedrooms and no cupboards. Chosen with our hearts rather than our heads.

A book that changed me... was Vasari's Lives of the Artists. I was studying something else but suddenly saw myself as one of them. Which was kind of ridiculous in retrospect given that I was a totally amateur and rubbish painter at that time.

My favourite work of art... changes all the time. But I remember actually wanting to steal the early self-portrait of Stanley Spencer in Tate Britain once.

My favourite building... would still be the Chrysler Building in New York City. I fell in love with its perfect brushed-metal art deco roof the first time I saw it as a schoolkid and I feel exactly the same. I even tried to design Shebah's engagement ring loosely on that.

The last album I bought... was by Sixto Rodriguez. Sounds like Bob Dylan doing an impersonation of Gil Scott-Heron.

My secret crush is... Professor AC Grayling. Please don't tell him.

My real-life villain... is advertising. Most of it plays on people's insecurities and deludes them into thinking life's problems can be fixed by buying things they don't need.

The last time I cried... When I heard Dennis Hopper died. It was Dennis who suggested doing an exhibition on the West Coast, which ended up being the biggest thing I've ever done. Although I knew he was ill, I had somehow assumed he'd be around to see it, but I heard the news on the radio while I was sitting alone in the studio finishing one of the final pieces for the exhibition.

My life in six words... Incredibly fortunate with job, family, friends.

A life in brief

Jonathan Yeo was born in London in 1970; his father was the Conservative MP, Tim Yeo. After recovering from Hodgkin's disease in his twenties, Yeo took up art. He has painted portraits of everyone from Tony Blair to Erin O'Connor to Prince Philip. In 2007, he famously made a collage of George Bush using pornographic magazines. Yeo recently donated an artwork to the Macmillan De'Longhi auction for Macmillan Cancer Support. He lives in London with his wife, Shebah Ronay, and their two daughters

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