My Secret Life: Rob Ryan, artist, 47

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The Independent Online

My parents were ... straightforward, fairly no-nonsense Paddies.

The house/flat I grew up in ... My dad was in the RAF, so we lived in a variety of boring married quarters attached to a number of airbases in anonymous parts of the world. It was kind of like living on an estate where everyone worked for the same company.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... someone who drew pictures though I didn't actually know what an artist was.

If I could change one thing about myself ... Let's just say, if I was a house and you bought me, you'd probably knock me down and start again.

You wouldn't know it but I'm no good at ... talking to strangers. I'm terribly self-conscious and shy.

You may not know it but I'm very good at ... dancing in a Northern Soul style, with confidence. I learnt at the clubs and the Wigan Casino at an early age.

At night I dream of ... I never remember but whatever can go wrong will go wrong in my dreams. Being asleep is a very stressful time.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... is a hairy bald guy: I don't know who he is.

My favourite item of clothing ... is a luxurious pair of chestnut-brown corduroy trousers from a brilliant clothing company called Old Town.

I drive ... a little red VW Lupo. I also ride a racing bike.

My flat is ... on the seventh floor and rented from Westminster Council. It's officially in Belgravia but I like to say it's in Victoria to keep my street credentials high.

My favourite work of art ... is a painting by Titian called 'The Death of Actaeon', which is held in the National Gallery. It's a thrilling, moody piece set on a dark autumnal afternoon. There are lots of stories going on at the same time, including a murder; just looking at the picture it feels like you're a bystander witnessing the whole thing.

My favourite building ... I like the V&A Museum, from the inside, with all its corridors, balconies, levels and layers.

A book that changed me ... When I was 17 years old, I read 'Borstal Boy' by Brendan Behan. The narrator is such a wonderful boy, someone with such an incredible largeness of spirit that he inspired me to be better.

Movie heaven ... At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'm a big fan of the Italian neo-realist movement. My favourite is 'Miracle in Milan'. Watching that on a black-and-white TV in the afternoon would be heaven.

The last album I bought ... was Marvin Gaye's 'I Want You', the deluxe edition.

My secret crush ... I don't go for the predictable handsome stereotypes. I like funny Jewish women.

My greatest regret ... I can't go down that road. If I were to be completely honest in my answer to that I would break down right now.

My real-life villain ... Margaret Thatcher is still hanging in there at No 1.

The person who really makes me laugh ... Whatever Marc Wootton says reduces me to pieces. He's a comic genius.

The last time I cried ... was a couple of days ago while I was listening to a song that reminded me of something sad.

My five-year plan ... My grandmother died aged 52 and my mother died aged 52. I'm now aged 47, so I'm thinking it would be nice to match them, if not go a bit further.

What's the point? You tell me.

My life in six words ... You just keep on keeping on.

A life in brief

Rob Ryan was born on an RAF base in Cyprus on 5 November 1962. He is best known for his romantic paper-cuts, on which he has collaborated with Paul Smith, Liberty and Vogue among others. He is designing the cover image for The Independent's Green Awards, to be published next week, and his work can be seen at the London Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy of Arts, from 29 April to 3 May; see