TV Times talks to star of stage and screen Sheila Hancock about her passion for watercolours and why painting is good for us…

So are you a painter yourself?
“No, I have tried. I went on a painting holiday to France and I gave up on the first day I realised I’m not very good at being mediocre at things.”

But you are travelling from Europe to India for your new show?
“It was hard work. We were on a low budget so we were working frantically and travelling madly. We went from the freezing cold of the Alps to boiling hot Calcutta. I had to climb up an elephant via its bottom and ride a donkey. It certainly wasn’t romantic.”

Where does your passion for watercolours come from?
“From a series of watercolours by my father Enrico Cameron Hancock, in particular one of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the first and only painting I knew until I was considerably older. I’m sure a lot of people will think: ‘Why the hell is she doing something about watercolours?’ The fact is, I want to be Joe Public… looking at and discovering new things.”

What makes watercolours so wonderful?
“They are so immediate and they are very portable, more so than oils, and they capture the moment and the emotions you are feeling at that time. It’s an incredibly tricky medium. Turner did all sorts of weird and wonderful things with watercolours. He spat on the paintings and scratched them with his nail to get the effects he wanted. But at one point he was laughed at and ridiculed for his watercolours. Then in 2006, The Blue Rigi, his painting of a mountain in Switzerland, set the record at auction for a British watercolour, fetching £5.8 million. Who’s laughing now?”

What makes painting so special?
“It’s sad we look at everything through a camera. We visit the Taj Mahal in the programme which is unbelievably beautiful but people were looking at it through a lens. The few people painting it were taking in the atmosphere and the light and really seeing it.”

Sheila Hancock Brushes Up: The Art of Watercolours stars on Sunday February 20 at 6pm on BBC1