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My Favourite Portrait by Alan Titchmarsh

Horatio Nelson
by Sir William Beechey
NPG 5798

Alan Titchmarsh


Taken from the Gallery Supporters’ Magazine, Face to Face
Issue 14, [Autumn 2005]
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Horatio Nelson always figures on my guest list whenever I’m asked by a newspaper or magazine to come up with my imagined line-up for a dream dinner party. I mean, who could resist the company of a vain, self-centred clergyman’s son from Norfolk who was small of stature but gigantic of personality?

I’ve never found arrogance or abundant selfconfidence attractive traits, but somehow I think I could forgive Nelson, who was frequently accused of both. He thought he was always right, but then history, in the main, seemed to agree.

He was an adventurer, a romantic, a great strategist or tactician (I’m never sure which) and a man who loved wearing his decorations (clearly the sign of a crushing inferiority complex, say the psychoanalysts).

So why could I possibly think that Nelson would be good company? Because of Sir William Beechey’s portrait of him. Look at the eyes: deep-set and sparkling. The face has sensitivity, vulnerability and implacability in equal measure. I like to think that you can judge people by appearances, and so I’m happy to go along with Beechey’s interpretation of the great Admiral.

Here is a man with an enormous capacity to love – rather too frequently, maybe – and a capacity to inspire affection in others – be they delicate, sensitive women, or tough and brutish sailors aboard the Victory. A man’s man, and a lady’s man.

Should the National Portrait Gallery ever tire of Beechey’s portrait of Nelson, I’d be happy to give it a temporary home over my mantelpiece – this year above all others.

Alan Titchmarsh
Gardener, broadcaster and novelist

Alan Titchmarsh was the main presenter of Gardeners’ World and the hugely popular Ground Force, and has also presented How To Be A Gardener, British Isles – A Natural History and most recently The 20th Century Roadshow. He writes regularly in BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and Radio Times, as well as being gardening correspondent of the Daily Express and Sunday Express. In 2004 he received the
Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest accolade in the British gardening world. He lives in Hampshire with his wife and family in an old farmhouse with a two-acre garden.


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