Did we like it?
Rolf’s enthusiasm for the banal is so infectious and genuine that he could make counting waves on a becalmed ocean fascinating.
What was good about it?
• As Rolf waited nervously for the Queen to enter the chamber where she would sit for his painting, he started doing that distinctly didgeridoo tune under his breath which he once did on kids’ TV.
• As Rolf noted, the Queen’s is the most replicated image in the kingdom, and, as well as being the head of state, she is perhaps the least well-known famous person in the country. This meant that any conversation between the pair had an intriguing curiosity value; sure, the Queen elicited as much information as Prince Harry is sensitive, but it was beguiling to hear her speak nonetheless.
• But the most amusing points in the conversation between the pair came during those excruciating moments of stilted silence, which were more uncomfortable than the time between an executioner lifting his axe above his head and bringing it down on the pliant neck of his victim. The Queen’s strategy was to emit a high-pitched yelp of “heh”, as if she’d spent too much time around her corgis, to act as a full-stop on the topic.
• After the Queen’s initial sitting, Rolf had painted Her Majesty as the spitting image of Alfred Hitchcock at his most lugubrious. As Her Majesty surveyed his efforts, Rolf mumbled apologetically: “It’s a start,” as though he half-expected to be frog-marched to the Tower.
• Rolf needed to take some photographs so he could hone the portrait at home and coaxed the Queen to look at him “as if you’re thrilled to see me”.
• Rolf’s passion for the previous portraits of monarchs at Windsor Castle.
• Rolf singing as he painted sent us spiralling back in a time warp to an early Saturday evening in the mid-80s, mouths salivating at the anticipation of baked-beans on toast and the imminent horror of knowing Noel Edmonds in some grotesque guise would follow soon afterwards.
• The process of Rolf’s painting was illuminating, from how he made the initial background a blur of colours on which to paint the Queen’s image to his anxiety over the texture of her dress and the highlights on her necklace.
• It wasn’t on Channel 4, who over the festive period could teach sloths a thing or two about laziness, as it would have been split into a three-hour programme running from nine ’til midnight called Rolf’s 100 Greatest Brush Strokes during which a cesspool of liquidised celebrities, including John Lydon, Tony Blackburn and Natasha Kaplinsky, would joyously recall Rolf’s best moments each shivering with redolent glee as if they had been hanging precariously off the bristle of the brush as he made the stroke.
What was bad about it?
• The marching band outside Buckingham Palace as Rolf arrived to paint the Queen could have been inserted from a British Tourist Board advert broadcast in America to lure over the Yanks who have such a prosaic perspective on our nation that it consists of royalty, tea, rain, the oh-so-mad John Cleese, “England”, TV presenters who adopt the trite mannerisms of a stereotypical rapper the moment they’re placed within six feet of a black American and the Beatles.
• That the chat between Rolf and the Queen at times seemed to be the main purpose behind the programme. She’s never going to appear on Parky after all; although that’s more because Parky would keel over halfway through asking her about her lovely collection of hats as the toxicity of the Queen’s shoe polish began to take effect after he had spent six minutes obsequiously kissing her feet.
• The only opinion the Queen expressed was disgust at parents who leave their children behind when they go on holiday. If our memory serves us correctly (and please ardent royalists we may be wrong, so kindly don’t send us crude poison emails with a picture of Diana Princess of Wales’s mangled last car journey with a message made up of letters hacked from headlines in Horse & Hound and the Daily Telegraph spelling out “You’re next”*), the Queen once left Charles behind to go on a state visit. The only difference was she has the wealth of the nation to pay for a team of footmen and nursemaids to care for her children.
*You see the Daily Express have decreed, in the absence of facts and with only the fervour of increased circulation driving their crusade, it was a murder.
• The overbearing reverence afforded the Queen. She seems rather bored by the stultifying politeness that surrounds her, well you would too if everyone you met presented you with a false impression, such as when she met Ozzy Osbourne.
• Rolf himself chose the dress the Queen should wear for the portrait. Unfortunately, the dress created the gruesome illusion that Her Majesty’s regal posterior, was it to detach itself from the rest of her body to hurtle around the Solar System and align itself on a collision course with Earth, would be termed by NASA scientists in their blandly forensic vernacular “a mass extinction event”.