Tony Forrest on board Queen Mary 2
with Clarendon Fine Art
A week on the southern seas with Clarendon Fine Art on board Cunard's Queen Mary 2
Shortly before the end of 2017 I had a phone call from DeMontfort head office asking if I'd be interested in doing a promotion with Clarendon Gallery. When I learned that it involved a lot of travel I wasn't too keen as I'm not a lover of long haul flights. When they said it is a cruise from Cape Town to Mauritius on the Queen Mary 2 for a week, I thought I'd better go along with it!
There was some apprehension as I don't usually do events like this (I would if I was asked...) and I didn't know what to expect. The basic plan was to fly from London to Cape Town, board the ship, then sail to Mauritius, stopping at Port Elizabeth and Reunion Island. Once in Mauritius, I would leave the ship and fly back to London.
The Queen Mary 2 is huge and I will admit to being lost most of the time, even after a week on board I still couldn't find the gallery! We left Cape Town on Sunday 28th January for Port Elizabeth. Once we were docked at Port Elizabeth there were many coach excursions to different safari parks. I went to a private game reserve called Kwantu. The safaris were short - around three hours - and I wasn't expecting much. The trip out was very pleasant and on arrival at Kwantu I was surprised and excited to get some very nice photos of lions, zebras, giraffe, even two white rhino and - a tiger! The idea now was to use one of these photos as my reference for the painting demonstration I was going to do on Wednesday.
So it was a very successful mini safari in a new park I have not been to before. Back on the ship, I now had to prepare my canvas with one of these new shots and went ahead with the single lioness as I felt it wouldn't be too challenging from a time point of view. I only had 45 minutes to produce something worth while and felt the lion would be easier to do.
Live painting demonstration in the Grand Lobby
Wednesday 31st January was my main event - a live demo of painting in the ship's very posh Grand Lobby. What a stage! By now I had already met many people in the gallery and was feeling more relaxed than I thought I would. I have only ever painted in front of a crowd once in my life, many years ago for an amateur art group in Bournemouth. This was different. There were about one hundred people; sitting in the allocated chairs, all up the surrounding stair case and all along the balcony over head. Yes, I was well and truly thrown in the spotlight! But I loved every minute of it. I knew what I was doing and, having a head radio microphone on, I was able to chat as I painted.
The demo painting was sold before I had even begun to paint it. I told the audience first that I was going to show them the first stage of a painting but that it would normally take an entire day. I was trying to set myself up for less pressure! In the event, it went very well and I was delighted to have been able to do this in such a glorious setting. How often do you get the chance to paint live in front of people on such a prestigious ocean liner? I just wish my dear Mum could have been there to see it. By the end of my allotted time, I was pleased with my achievement; I will complete the painting at home where I can concentrate properly. But this was a tremendous chance to try something in front of a live audience. I'd like to do it again one day.
The pressure was released after the success of the painting demonstration. Straight afterwards we met in the gallery for drinks and a chat with everybody. This was a nice relaxed event where I could talk to people with a glass of champagne. I wanted to meet every one but I had lots of people wanting to talk to me at once. It was very special being able to meet people and chat about my work and what inspires me. I am very sorry if any of you didn't get to chat and I was acutely aware that some of you were waiting to talk to me but didn't get the chance. My apologies.
Question and Answer session in Clarendon Gallery.
I cried thinking of my first tiger sighting - in front of a crowd!
Thursday 1st February saw us somewhere south of the island of Madagascar. There were some very strong winds during my part of the voyage but the QM2 is very stable. After the painting demonstration I was in the gallery again taking part in a question and answer session with Drew Pyper from Clarendon and Taja McIntosh going round with the microphone. I felt at ease with this but nobody knew that I had already been reading my notes prior to this event, which brought back memories of my first tiger sighting in India. I asked Drew to enquire about that at the end of the session as I was likely to be very emotional. The Q&A went well and then, sure enough, Drew asked me about my first tiger sighting. I totally lost it and cried my eyes out in front of about 50 people! But I had already warned them that I was going to be upset so at least they could all see how passionate I am about tigers. I felt everybody was with me and one lady said she felt the same when she saw wild tigers. I enjoyed chatting about my work and what inspires me. When you know your subject it isn't too daunting - even when you cry your eyes out!
Smoking cocktails in the Commodore Club
By now much of my work on board had been sold so I spent the evenings just trying to relax either eating or drinking - mainly both at once! I am not really a fan of cocktails but one evening Drew and Taja took me to the Commodore Club cocktail bar at the front of the ship. It was like a scene from Star Trek! Slick cool lighting and very swish decor - and then there were the cocktails....
I don't smoke, but my cocktail was.... I didn't have a clue what to order so I asked the waiter for his recommendation. He suggested I try a coffee thingymajig! After a few anxious minutes a dinner plate arrived with an opaque white dome placed on top. The waiter ceremoniously removed the dome from the plate and I promptly disappeared in a cloud of smoke! The cocktail was in a cup but had white "smoke" billowing out all over the place, like a scene from a Jekyll and Hyde movie. It was served with a pipe (the type you use to smoke tobacco) with chocolate chips in the end. To complete this ensemble of delectable cuisine there was a small piece of cake soaked in some kind of liqueur. Was I impressed? Yes. Did I like it? No!!
It was an experience I won't forget but most of all it was just nice to relax with Drew and Taja. It was a lovely evening and I just sat there feeling ever so slightly important, as if I knew all about smoking cocktails - like I have them every night! I loved the crazy world of the QM2 with all it had to offer. I felt like I was in some kind of period drama, a world away from reality.
Farewell drinks and dedications
On the Friday 2nd February, I was back in the gallery for the final time to say good-bye to people and sign and dedicate paintings. This was another very nice time meeting people and having photos taken with anybody who wanted one. I must admit at times I felt like some kind of film star with lots of cameras clicking in my direction all at once. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who was there. It was the people I met on this cruise who made it so special. I hope you don't mind your photo appearing on this website. Please let me know if you would rather not appear in these photos and I will edit them. But I hope you are happy to be along for the ride. Click on the photos below to open.
Captain's cocktail party
Cocktail parties are not my thing; but there are times when I can make an exception and being invited to the Captain's party on one of the finest ocean liners in the world is one such exception! This particular night saw quite a rough sea and I could feel the ship moving up and down. But I was delighted to meet Captain Christopher Wells and have my photo taken with him. Once again, I felt I was in some period movie surrounded by people wearing posh frocks and suits - and I was one of them. I didn't really know cocktail party etiquette but was soon chatting away to people who already knew who I was. Another lovely experience and I'd say the most formal one of the week. It felt very strange being on a dance floor with a glass of champagne and just standing in a circle staring across the room at other people doing the same. Then the penny dropped - you are supposed to actually talk to each other - not just stand there!
Dinner at the Captain's Table
On the evening after the dedications, I was invited to dine at the Captain's table by the Environmental Officer Alexander Benton. (The Captain himself was unable to dine with us on this particular evening.) This was another very pleasant time and, again, I met lots of very nice people. It is surprising how many people I met who live near me in Cornwall or Devon. The evening was a definite highlight of the whole cruise and once again I felt like I was in some kind of glossy period drama. Just looking around the huge dining room and musing to myself how my art career has brought me to this lovely place. We had an official photo taken and were all asked to stand behind Officer Benton. I felt very privileged and honoured to have been there. Thank you.
I had no idea what to expect and certainly had no idea how successful this cruise with Clarendon would turn out to be. Thank you to Drew and Taja for looking after me and helping to make the trip such a success. Nearly the entire exhibition on board was sold during the week and I hope it is the first of many events. I had a lovely time and brought home many special memories. The main one being how nice everybody on board was.
Very special thanks to all the people I met on board. Especially during my wildlife painting demonstration and the other events including my sobbing whilst trying to tell my tiger story - thank you for being with me. I hope to meet you all again one day.