Monday, 30 July 2012

The Sun, Knocker Shocker, Love It Or Loathe It

Knocker Shocker Painted By North East Artsit Lizzie Rowe

One cold spring morning in 1995 whilst walking my old English Sheepdog Belle on Nuns Moor, a beautiful green belt in the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne UK,  I got chatting to a very tall, demure lady by the name of Lizzie Rowe. We were both about to leave the moor at the same time through the wooden gate at the edge of the field. when our dogs started barking incessantly at each other.  As most dog owners will tell you, nine out of ten times if you let dogs smell each other, the yapping usually stops.  Luckily, Topper Lizzie's English Bull terrier and Belle had a sniff and then decided they wanted to stay awhile longer and ran off to play.
Lizzie introduced herself as an Artist.  She told me she was at the time, senior lecturer in Fine Art at Northumbria University. She was on the sick from work and deeply depressed, as she had not long undergone gender reassignment surgery.

I told her I was a model and I also had worked for the Fashion Department at Northumbria University, as a fitting model, as well participating in their annual Fashion shows.  I went on to explain to her that I was in the middle of quite a controversial time in my own life. I found myself telling her  I had always felt inadequate about my own body too.  I had been given breast implants on the NHS and after the operation  I had appeared topless on page three of The Sun newspaper. You maybe thinking, "Rather a strange conversation to strike up between two complete strangers".  Lizzie has a warmth, and from the moment you meet her, you know this lady has lived at times a very difficult life. I knew she would not condemn me or judge me in any way. The feeling was mutual for me also, as what she told me about herself I understood completely.

 Lizzie Rowe is a highly intelligent individual, as well as being an exceptional Artist. She told me she had lived most of her life as a man, when she had truly felt she should have been born a woman. She had undergone gender reassignment surgery on the NHS and she was very upset and concerned by the fact she had been denied further treatment of breast implants.  This operation would have ultimately completed her full transformation from a man to a woman.
Can I just add at this point, that patients who are given a sex changes on the NHS have to first live as a woman or a man depending on their true identity. They must live in the role of the chosen gender for many, many years before they are even considered for surgery  this means they have to dress daily as the appropriate sex,  undergo years of psychiatry,  as well as taking copious amount of hormones.  Sadly many individuals don't make it through this gruelling time and suicide statistics are very high.
I was horrified -  how could she have been given a sex change and not breast implants?  I thought this was absolutely ludicrous. I asked her if I could raise her concerns with my own GP, Dr David Moor , who was very sympathetic with regards to body dysmorphia and gender issues. Lizzie agreed and between myself and Dr Moor with the help of the press, Lizzie was given her surgery.
In the years that followed, Lizzie Rowe went from strength to strength.  She met a wonderful devoted partner, she is a highly successful Artist who has exhibited in many different countries throughout Europe. She is often commissioned to paint the portraits of high profile members of society, her attention to detail and likeness is phenomenal. Her still life is poignant, feminine and emotionally charged. 
So when she asked me if she could paint me, how could I refuse, it was such an honour. The end result was the painting above titled "Knocker Shocker". It's an amazing piece of work.  I asked Lizzie if she thought we should contact the press and she agreed. My first call was to The Sun newspaper themselves.  I spoke to Journalist and North East correspondent Robin Perrie. I had met Robin on a few occasions previously, although he wasn't the original journalist who broke my own story unfortunately. I think he would have done a slightly better story if he had. He did write a few of the follow ups and he was also there at the court throughout Dr Moor's trial ( if you are lost here please read my previous blog My Side Of The Story).

I speak as I find where people are concerned,  Robin has always come across as a really decent man, always very professional always polite and fair .  So when I rang him and informed him about the portrait, he said he would come out to Lizzie's house and take a look at it. Lets face it the man works for The Sun he is well used to pretty girls and great boobs, but I don't think he was quite prepared for the painting above. For a start it's very large, approximately 6ft x 7ft,  it was also mounted on an easel which lifted it another couple of feet off the floor.  It's huge, it's a gallery painting, not something I could imagine hanging on the wall in a small house,  "In your face" is an understatement and then there was me, standing at the side of it (fully clothed) proud as punch, eagerly waiting a response from him  "So Robin what do you think of it?", I pressed, he sort of nodded and said "Yer yer" a couple of times. Lizzie was dressed in her black off the shoulder top and gypsy skirt, she's very bohemian, with her silver bangles jangling and her layered skirt swishing, as she swept through into her kitchen she was shouting back to him on her way to put the kettle on "What will you have darling tea, coffee, wine, cider" Don't get me wrong, Robin barely batted an eye lid, although  I'm sure I did see a slight smile and there was definitely a sparkle of humour in his eyes, I think he mumbled something about the painting being a good likeness.  To my surprise The Sun published the story about painting, Lizzi and myself. Lizzie's artistic profile was raised again later when The Guardian and The Observer would take an interest in her work.

I was a bit disappointed The Sun didn't actually show a picture of the painting.  I always felt they should have bought it and hung it in the foyer of their offices.  It would have been fab for boosting staff morale!
I'm not sure where the painting is now, I must pop over and visit Lizzie and ask her, there was talk a few years back of a buyer  - Lizzie has a following of private collectors.
I'm picturing Tony Blair's games room, residing high on the wall above the snooker table (Joke)
Well what can I say, Art says many things to many different people, that's the beauty of it. I asked my now grown up daughter what the painting said to her "It's you sticking your two fingers up at The Sun, basically saying I came out on top" she loves me she is biased. But she was nearly there in her assumption that the Artist wanted to make a strong feminist statement.  My friends laughed at the title "Knocker Shocker" they fell about laughing. I can see all sides of the painting, it has many angles including the red shoes.

What it does says to me personally, is one cold spring morning, two strangers whilst out walking their dogs got chatting and found they shared an understanding of each others' pain and from that mutual ground they became friends. It was both an honour and a privilege to be painted by Lizzie.

If you would like to look at Lizzie Rowe' check out her website.  Quote By Lizzie Rowe

. Under the Northern Stars is a painting I've been wanting to create for a long time.  Returning to the motifs I have drawn and painted through out most of my career they are presented here together on an even more ambitious scale.  The self portrait, the dress, the coat hanger ( question mark), the ironing board, the still life and my passion for warm and cool light sources coexist in an interior.  It is about the place I live and love: Under the Northern Stars"

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