Prior to retraining as a portrait artist, I worked as news pr for BBC News and World Service looking after programmes as diverse as Panorama, Newshour and the Today programme, where I looked after the public image of journalists such as John Humphrys. So it was a joy to return to portray John in this more personal way.
John invited me to paint him at work in the Today studio. As I am a better portraitist than I am a photographer, I asked the BBC’s brilliant stills photographer Jeff Overs, who I knew from my time at the BBC, if he would photograph John for me. This is because the Today studio at work is dark and it’s tricky to capture skin tone without considerable skill. Jeff and I recce-ed the studio a week before, where I explained I was looking to foreground John’s hands, to capture his interviewing technique. We tried out the lighting, sitting in John’s seat and then, on the day, I explained to John what I was looking for, and directed Jeff, as I had so many photographers on photo shoots as a PR. In a matter of minutes, I could see, flicking though the images, that we had him. Working with John in the past, I had noticed that
he sometimes held up his hand as if to prevent the interviewee from looking away during hard questioning. That’s what I was keen to capture.
I then set up my paints a seat away from John and his co-presenter and was delighted when she announced on air that I was in the studio painting John!
Stella Tooth painting study of John Humphrys in BBC R4 Today studio. Photo: Jeff Overs.
BBC's John Humphrys with portrait in oils by Stella Tooth.