TV Times talks to Rolf Harris about his encounters with The Queen, his new Diamond Jubilee show and receiving a very special award at this week’s BAFTAs (BBC1, Sunday)…
What is your earliest royal memory?
“The Coronation in 1953. I was in the crowd and started singing Waltzing Matilda at the top of my voice. I remember the BBC radio people came around and they recorded my singing. And my mum and dad, who were thousands of miles away in Perth, came upon this radio broadcast and my mum said, ‘That’s Rolf singing!’
“My dad replied: ‘Don’t be so silly.’ But my mum retorted: ‘“I’d know my son’s voice anywhere.’ And when they later got my letter saying that I’d been recorded, my mum proudly shoved it under my dad’s nose!”
And the actual procession?
“I’ll never forget the coach coming around that curve in Hyde Park and everybody standing up. When I painted the Queen I said to her that when she came around that corner in that gorgeous golden coach it was as if the sun had risen with her. The Queen said: ‘Yes, I remember it was quite cold and drizzling with the rain.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it was!'”
And now you are fronting a special BBC1 one-off, Rolf Paints… The Diamond Jubilee (Tues, June 5, BBC One). What has that been like?
“Anneka Rice and I have been helping 60 artists of all abilities as they try to capture highlights from the Queen’s reign. We’ve got 60 people painting six decades, from the 1950s right through to the present day. I’m going to be with a group of young artists who will be tutored in the art of graffiti. I’ve done a little bit before, but I was not all that good. I must remember not to go too far away from the wall and to not put too much paint on because otherwise it runs down in dribbles.”
And have you painted anything yourself for the show?
“Yes, the Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle. I painted the soldiers marching out with their scarlet coats and all the crowd watching them. It’s a huge painting, 8ft square, but it’s going to be reduced down so it will fit on commemorative dinner plates, which will then be sold in an aid of charity.”
How do you feel about being awarded the BAFTA Fellowship at this week’s ceremony?
“I was over the moon when I found out. It’s thrilling and so humbling when you think about all the other names who’ve been awarded fellowships. My career has been a great pleasure and never a chore. It’s wonderful to do all these diverse things and to try to think of something different to do next time.”
Do you think your 2005 portrait of the Queen has been your most important piece?
“Yeah, I think so. It was a great moment and a great experience. I was worrying beforehand: ‘What happens if I don’t get a good likeness?’ But it just went very well. I was told that the Queen never says whether she likes something or hates something. But, as she went out of the room, she turned to me and said: ‘It’s a very friendly painting.’ It was like a pat on the back, it was wonderful.”