Mrs Craddock dons Britannia's robes

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The Independent Online
IN FRANCE they have had Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and the former Chanel model Ines de la Fressange. In Britain we have Karin Craddock.

The French superstars have been used as models for Marianne, the national symbol who has adorned their country's currency and stamps on and off since the revolution in 1789. Mrs Craddock is the model for the latest representation of our own national symbol, Britannia, who will appear on the first pounds 10 stamp, being introduced on Tuesday.

Mrs Craddock spent six weeks sitting propped up by a pile of books, draped in a sheet, clutching a branch of a tree in one hand and a garden rake in the other while she was drawn by her husband, Barry, an illustrator from Deptford, south London. Balanced against her right hip was an upturned table top.

'One of the most heated debates was over Britannia's bust size,' said Mike Denny, of the Roundel Design Group, which designed the stamp for the Royal Mail. 'Britannia must look powerful and imperial, but she also has to be feminine.'

The initial images used were classical, drawn from ancient coins and sculptures. 'When we started out her chest was almost flat, which looked ridiculous,' Mr Denny said. 'Then we went to the other extreme. Eventually we settled for a 36B size.'

That is fitting for a national symbol - Britannia's cup size exactly matches that of today's average female Briton. The underwear manufacturer Gossard says that women's bust sizes have increased steadily in recent years. 'Seven years ago the average was around 34B. Today, as a result of the Pill and better nutrition, the size is 36B - and we appear to be creeping up towards a 36C.'

But while Mrs Craddock's bust is close to the national average, her 5ft 3in frame was subjected to various contortions. 'The shape of the stamp dictated a reclining pose,' her husband said, 'but we had to be wary of making Britannia look slumped and too laid-back. That's when the piles of books were brought in to support her back. Her feet came and went several times. Because the helmet is so huge, I had to shrink Karin's head. Britannia in my drawing is probably not far short of 6ft 5in.'

While Mrs Craddock's name may not be a match for France's Mariannes, she follows in a distinguished line. When Britannia's image was reintroduced on coins in 1672, Charles II chose his mistress, Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, as the model. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary for 25 February 1667: 'Did observe the King's new medal, where in little there is Mistress Stuart's face as well done as ever I saw anything in my whole life, and a pretty thing it is that he should choose her face to represent Britannia by.'

The style for Britannia has remained virtually unchanged for 300 years since. It was the Roman Emperor Hadrian who first put her on coins, in about AD120. The coinage was struck to mark his subjugation of southern Britain, so Britannia was shown as a captive.

Not until the coins of Antonius Pius (AD138-161) did she first appear as a seated warrior, complete with her spiked shield.

When the Romans left Britain, so did Britannia. She was not revived until the 16th century when her image appeared in a navigation document by John Dee, Elizabeth I's court magician.

Since then she has turned to both left and right in her appearance on coins, banknotes, postage and National Savings stamps, and medals. She swapped her spear for a trident in the reign of George III, and was given a helmet for the farthing coin in 1821.

An exhibition, Britannia Depicta - Quality, Value & Security, sponsored by the Royal Mail and illustrating the evolution of Britannia on coins, banknotes and stamps, is on show at the National Postal Museum, King Edward Street, London EC1, until 28 May.

(Photograph omitted)