Editor-At-Large: Bravo! Go hang the Prince of Misery

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The Independent Online

My idea of hell? Being stuck in a room with Prince Philip. He's right up there with Anne Robinson when it comes to winning the lack-of-small-talk and charisma-free awards. But when portrait painter Stuart Pearson Wright had to endure this thankless task he not only went about it willingly, but turned in a jolly fine picture of the Prince of Misery at the end of it. Commissioned by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts to depict their president, Mr Wright more than rose to the occasion. The result - an arresting piece of work which depicts the sitter gazing wistfully into the distance from a scrawny neck up. The picture's power is such that for a moment I wistfully imagined Prince Philip is capable of feeling remorse and regret, possessing a hidden vulnerability few have encountered but this genius of an artist has managed to suggest. Magic. Then there's the obvious fact that Prince Philip clearly regards sitting for a portrait painter as unpleasant as a trip to the dentist, and granted Mr Wright just four hours of his time - and so photographs had to be used as references to finish the job. Given those constraints, this portrait is a triumph. Forget Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks - it is contemporary work like this that the Heritage Lottery Fund ought to be funding. This is art that engages with the viewer on a far more spiritual level than a petite rendition of a teenager and her baby.

Far from establishing any rapport, this pair clearly hated each other, and Pearson Wright has kept another full-length version (probably even more subversive) of the Duke he intends to reveal at a later date. Nevertheless, portraits like this one reveal far more about their subject than any newsreel footage or moving image ever could. Leave aside the extraordinary fact that a society dedicated to promoting the arts, rather than shooting or carriage racing should choose a high profile philistine not noted for his weekly visits to galleries as their president, I have some sympathy with HRH's lack of enthusiasm for the process of portraiture. Having your image recorded in any form is fraught with potential embarrassment, even more so when the man you have chosen for the job prefers to paint his subjects stark naked.

The National Portrait Gallery is enjoying a huge success under its new director Sandy Nairne because we live in an age when portraiture is beamed at us 24/7. It is the visual shorthand of our time. Whether on the cover of a glossy magazine or on a billboard promoting new cars, we are surrounded by vacuous, limpid, pouting faces whose job is extracting money from us in pursuit of a dream. It seems centuries ago that "snaps" existed as harmless records of family occasions, births and weddings. Now you can make portraits on your telephone and with your lap top. You can manipulate how you present yourself and (if you are Kate Winslet or any other GQ model) have any little blimpy bumpy bits digitally removed so that fantasy femininity prevails and sales soar to sad men chasing a dream.

But placing yourself in the hands of an intelligent photographer or painter when you are not a pop star with an album to sell means that they, not you, control the result. Last year Helmut Newton exhibited a set of unpublished pictures of women he found attractive, complete with straggling pubic hairs, bulging cellulite and smudgy lipstick. These intimate images spoke volumes about the superficial world Newton worked in for ad agencies and glossy magazines throughout the Seventies and Eighties.

Years ago David Bailey took my portrait for the cover of his long-defunct gossip magazine Ritz. The previous best-selling cover had been that of Guy the Gorilla - how would I rise to the challenge? In Bailey's studio my hair was teased into bristling spikes and he shouted abuse along the lines of "Come on, project. Look like you want to fuck, bitch" at me for 20 minutes. His technique took me somewhat aback - maybe it was a winner with Catherine Deneuve and Marie Helvin, but I found him unattractive and slightly repulsive. I could have burst into tears, and stormed off, but instead I rose to the challenge, bared my gnashers, and the resulting image was a triumph. Liking or loathing him wasn't the issue. The man clearly knew how to get results. I have been photographed by a whole heap of talented people, from Mr Newton through to Rankin, Lord Lichfield and the late Terence Donovan, and stylish though the results are (and a real triumph given the unprepossessing raw material), they don't scratch the surface of the inner JSP. Only an oil painting can do that. Prince Philip emerges as an unlikely (and somewhat unwilling) champion of an art form that, even in the high-tech world of 2003, packs a real punch.

He is said to loathe the end result - but isn't that the point? Campaign now for the full-length version to be saved for the nation and exhibited for everyone, not just members of the RSA, to enjoy.

Departures

August means that "essential" road works will be in full swing, and as you read this I guarantee that cones are being placed on motorways all over the country, with the resultant lane closures leading to the inevitable tailbacks stretching mile after mile. Not to be outdone, Gatwick Express has promised to run half as many trains even though there are twice as many passengers, because of "essential" engineering work being carried out by Network Rail. And when you've fought your way through the traffic or the crowds on the platform to the airport - you are guaranteed several more hours of hell trying to get on any flight operated by British Airways, run by the world's least favourite bosses.

What we need is a survival strategy, not for a holiday with our partners, friends and families, but a modus operandi to get through any form of travelling in the four weeks ahead. By the time you get to your destination you will be too tired to fight about where to eat, or who gets the double bed. You will be grateful to doss down on a sofa and eat food that isn't in a packet. If your villa is situated on a hairpin bend with lorries thundering past all night, that's still going to be more restful than snoozing on the floor of the departure lounge at Heathrow. Pack a yoga mat or thin rug in your rucksack, plus a lightweight sheet. Make yourself two day's worth of designer picnics, add two packets of Wet Wipes, a dozen mini bottles of bubbly, a large packet of Nurofen Plus, an eye mask, ear plugs, a personal stereo with a tape or CD of softly crashing waves or a sleep-inducing bubbling stream, flip-flops, and a loose-fitting old track suit you can throw in a bin on arrival. This kit should get you through a couple of days at the airport. It's best not to take any luggage at all: it's one thing less to get lost.

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