Portrait: George Alagiah OBE
To gather material to portray George Alagiah, who presents BBC News at Six, I returned to BBC Broadcasting House, where I worked as news pr for many years before retraining as a portrait artist. We stepped inside a glass-sided meeting room, in the middle of the busy newsroom, for a fun three-hour session of photographs and oil sketching.
Before going behind the studio desk, George was one of the BBC's leading foreign correspondents, reporting on events ranging from the genocide in Rwanda to the plight of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq to the civil wars in Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. I remember discussing with him his insightful, behind-the-scenes reports for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent, where I began my BBC career as a Production Assistant.
On the day of the sitting, George was his usual affable self and we were chatting so much I had to remind him to keep his mouth closed for the photographs. He held his glasses towards me and hummed with lips closed, “mm mmm, m m m m m mmm” so he could retain his animation for the shots. I was conscious of the BBC Live light behind him, denoting a studio he would soon be back inside and knew I would include that in the portrait. Then we sat down for me to paint a quick sketch of his features, to help me capture his likeness, expression and skin tone.
Stella Tooth's portrait in oils on canvas of George Alagiah.
On 17 April 2014, it was announced that Alagiah was being treated for colorectal cancer, a short while after our sitting.
At 2019’s Borough of Ealing Art Trail, BEAT, a huge fan of George Alagiah visited my open studio and was delighted when I suggested I take a photo of her with his portrait, which I have retained with my other portraits of broadcast news presenters as examples of my work. One of the issues with being a portrait painter is that you don’t have any portraits in the frame to show prospective commissioners.
BEAT visitor to Stella Tooth's open studio with hero George Alagiah.
In June 2020 George said that the cancer had spread to his lungs, liver and lymph nodes, but was not at a "chronic" or "terminal" stage.