Monday, April 30, 2007

Beauty Through Strength

Blue Mood
What is beauty anyway?

When the MS Society asked me to pose naked for Melissa Mailer-Yates I didn't know what to say.

I'm 36.

I'm not pretty.

I'm not tall.

I'm certainly not slim.

I don't have good skin.

I always look tired (I always am tired).

For about three seconds I panicked.

I wanted to say 'yes'.... I know a once-in-lifetime opportunity when it presents itself.

But me? Naked?? Couldn't the MS Society ask me to do something a little less... challenging?

There are some opportunities you know you should grasp with both hands before they get away from you.
So I said 'yes' before I could say 'no'.
And here we are, four months later. Naked before the world.

I knew this project was going to be an emotional roller coaster ride. It hasn't disappointed.

Thanks to the support and encouragement of the amazing group of people whom I count as my close friends, I have managed to keep my head up and have made it to launch day, this blog and my chance to share this experience with you.

This blog includes video interviews with a number of my friends and footage from the day I first saw the paintings in real life and from the opening night of the exhibition.

I would love to know what you think about this exhibition, about the paintings and about what you think about what I've done here. Please post comments. I will try to respond to them all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Now the show is over...

...but the publicity machine rumbles on

I gave a live radio interview to InSight Radio this morning. Hello to any listeners who tuned in!

InSight Radio is broadcast in the Glasgow (Scotland) area on 101.0 FM. It is Europe's only radio station dedicated exclusively to blind and partially sighted people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Woman's Hour

A piece about the exhibition has aired on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

The programme was broadcast on Wednesday 28 March at 10am.

If you miss the live broadcast, don't worry - you can hear the piece on the Woman's Hour website.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Great coverage

... in the Peterborough Evening Telegraph.

I live in Peterborough in the county of Cambridgeshire in the UK. Peterborough is approximately 80 miles to the north of London, in a region known as the 'East' also known as the 'East Midlands'.

I moved to Peterborough in June 2002 and I have to say, I love it here. I settled really quickly and have come to love this city in the countryside.

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph is published daily and is read by thousands of people in the region.

I contacted the paper's newsdesk with information about the exhibition and they dropped me an email to say they were very interested in covering 'my story'. I was delighted. I was even more delighted when I read the results.

I won't reproduce the entire article here (I don't own the copyright for one thing) because much of what's covered reflects the essence of what's right here in this blog. But you can read the full article, entitled 'The sensual way to deal with MS' on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph website.

The piece takes a really interesting angle on women, MS and sexuality. This is due entirely to the feature's writer, Jemma Walton, who read the blog from start to end and interviewed me for two hours to get a better, fuller sense of why I became involved in this project.
Our conversation was really interesting for me. Jemma asked me a number of challenging questions about my relationship with my body.

As a result, the piece that was published in the paper is a celebration of femininity and strength, which is exactly what this blog and Melissa's paintings are all about.

The feature is spread over two pages, making it really eye-catching. I hope that people who don't have MS and don't know anything about it will read the piece and find it thought-provoking. I also hope that women with MS in the Peterborough area, who maybe haven't met other women with MS before, will take some comfort in reading my story.
Although MS affects us all differently, there is always some common ground and I know that hearing about the lives of other women like me has often given me encouragement as well as new ideas.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Very 'Blue Mood'

Big women of the world take comfort from my tale...

This is a difficult one to share. And it seems really odd now.

When I first saw 'Classicism' I really struggled with it. Really struggled. To the point of not being able to sleep for several days and feeling like I should pull out of the project (I am so very glad that I didn't!).

I could keep the following to myself. But in the spirit of openness perhaps it's better to share.

I wrote the following on 9 February, long before this blog began, but with a view to including it in the blog at some point. My feelings on that day were extremely intense. I share this with you now to show that this project has not always been easy for me. That said, it has been through overcoming my personal distress that I have reaped huge rewards and I don't regret a second of any of it, including the bad stuff I went through.

I hope other women who feel uneasy about showing others their naked (or even their clothed) body get some comfort from this...

Please note: this is how I felt THEN. It is not how I feel NOW.

9 Feb 2007

We’ve had a bit of a hiccup. In fact, it’s a double-hiccup.

I took the day off work to travel to Northampton for a photo shoot with Melissa and the other models for an exclusive feature in the Daily Mail newspaper
[Note: the DM decided not to cover the story in the end - their loss!].

Unfortunately, heavy snow in some parts of the country means half the party are snow-bound, so the shoot has been postponed until the end of the month.

This was particularly disappointing as today was supposed to be THE day. The day I saw my painting for the first time.

I was always anxious about the prospect of seeing the painting for the first time in front of Melissa, so I was half-pleased to be spared that ordeal.

However, I did get to see a scan of the picture (sent to me by email) later in the day – and for the first time in my life I was actually glad that snow had interfered with my plans.

I have the greatest respect for Melissa and her work. But I was absolutely gutted when I saw the picture. Even more so when I saw it along side Alice’s and Tracey’s.

I fully accept that I’m not the most beautiful subject and I don’t mind coming third in the beauty stakes. But I am bitterly disappointed at the dark nature and starkness of the image. You can’t see my face and, in my opinion, the subject could be anyone.

I just don’t get it. Why Melissa would portray me this way? I really want to love it, but I don’t.

I resolved that if a friend reacted positively to it then I would put up and shut up. Unfortunately, two of my friends had even stronger negative reactions to it than I did.

So my mind was made up. This painting should not see the light of day. And it if did, then it would be without my endorsement.

I didn’t know what to do for the best. I didn’t want to be precious about the artist’s work and I wanted to accept her interpretation of me, however uncomfortable it made me feel. But I cannot. So I called a contact at the MS Society and expressed my dismay. This turned out to be the right thing to do. She was extremely sympathetic and understanding and has promised to approach Melissa to see if she will be prepared to ‘try again’.

I didn’t sleep a wink, that night, I was so upset and disappointed.

'Distraught' is the only word to describe how I felt that day.

But how you feel isn't the entire world and everything in it. It's just emotions. And emotions and feelings can - and invariably do - change.

That all seems like such a long time ago now.

I've actually come to LOVE 'Classicism'. It just took me a bit to time to get to the point of acceptance.

Conversations with Melissa helped me to see things very differently.

Of course, it also helped to see 'Blue Mood' (I hadn't seen this second picture at the time I wrote the original blog entry). Once I'd seen 'Blue Mood' I found I could live with 'Classicism'.

However, once other people starting seeing both pictures in the context of the exhibition, I actually began to love 'Classicism' and now prefer it over 'Blue Mood'.

Although I'm 'in a good place' emotionally with regard to both paintings now, I am certain that I had to go through that pain to get here.

Here's the thing: posing for Melissa was easy, but surrendering control of your image to someone is difficult. It is hard to let go of control. It hurts and it hurt me. But having done it, my relationship with my body is so much the better. I think Melissa always knew this. I also think she tried to tell me. But I couldn't hear it from Melissa. I had to get there by myself.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Buy a print, support the MS Society

Own this iconic image of MS beauty and help people with MS at the same time.

See Me
This powerful portrait of Tracey Kirkman by Melissa Mailer-Yates can be yours to own.

It is entitled 'See Me'.

The original oil portrait has already been sold.

However, a very limited run of 300 prints are available to buy at £295.00 each. All proceeds from the sale of these prints will be donated to the MS Society. The prints are numbered and signed by the artist Melissa Mailer-Yates.

If you would like to purchase a signed limited edition print of 'See Me', please contact Lee at Number Nine The Gallery at or call +44(0)121 643 9099.

Ad infinitum

...or should that be ad nauseam?

I can talk for Britain.

I wasn't going to broadcast this particular video, but it contains nothing dodgy so you may as well have a look if you're interested.

It's the Beauty Through Strength 'pilot'.

Way back at the start of this project it was my intention to record many 'pieces to camera' like this one. However, on reviewing the pilot tape I decided that me droning on for minutes on end was boring, so I decided to stay behind the camera for the majority of the other films.

And yes. I know my roots needed doing. They have been!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Material Girl

Julie on the catwalk

And you thought I was new to modelling...

You may be wondering how I - out of the many thousands of women with MS in the UK - came to be chosen for this project.

You must be thinking that (at the not-so-tender age of 36) I'm a bit of a late-comer to the world of modelling.

But you see, you're wrong. My modelling career had already commenced at the tender age of 35...

In April 2006, the MS Society held a huge convention for people with MS in Manchester, UK. It was called MS Life.

I had a really busy time at MS Life.

For one thing, I staffed a Jooly's Joint exhibition stand for three days, with the help of my lovely friends Jon and Anne-Marie.

Jooly's Joint stand at MS Life
On the Saturday evening, my friend Piero (he also has MS) and I hosted a party for about 200 people with MS.

Julie and Piero

On the Sunday evening, I took part in a special fashion show, called Material Girls, at Harvey Nichols store in Manchester. All 30 models had MS.

This was an amazing experience for me. Incredibly emotional.

It was such a busy weekend. Although I was holding up physically, by the time Sunday rolled around I was emotionally exhausted and tearful. I wasn't 'upset' by anything as such. I was just 'emotionally spent'.

In the hours that led up to the big catwalk moment I felt miserable. Most of the other models were younger than me (by as much as 15 years in some cases). They couldn't understand why I seemed to be distressed. Was it nerves? Of course not... I 'don't do' nervousness!

As the time drew near, I downed a couple of glasses of medicinal champagne and pulled myself together. As we lined up to do our thing, I felt great. Confident. Happy.

But here's a funny thing. Several of the other models, who had been happy and excited during the day, were overtaken by their emotions as their big moment approached. Suddenly, they too seemed overwhelmed by the emotional weight of the occasion. I have to admit that I smiled a broad, wry smile. That's one of the benefits of being a bit older: you have the wisdom to cry your tears BEFORE getting your makeup done!!

I can't tell you what it felt like to step out onto that catwalk. Literally, I can't. Even though it was 11 months ago, I still can't talk about that experience without feeling overwhelmed. To be part of something so joyful, to celebrate the great joy of just being, and to look out into the audience of 200 people and see everyone (including all the men) in tears... it was one of the most emotional-charged and glorious experiences of my life. I now know what people mean when they say 'the atmosphere was electric'.

Julie does her thing on the catwalk
A number of members of Jooly's Joint were in the audience that evening and took pictures of me prancing about. Many thanks to them for these extremely sympathetic snaps!

It was this experience that led to the call I received from the MS Society last November, inviting me to model for Melissa.

Who knows what the future holds. I wonder...

Friday, March 9, 2007

We have lift off!

"See me... then see Me" by Melissa Mailer-Yates
Number Nine The Gallery, Birmingham, UK
8 March - 1 April 2007


This continues to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and it just keeps on giving.

On 8 March, the exhibition launched to the public. The show contains 30 pieces. All are for sale. Some of the models have MS. Some do not. And that's really the point - you can't tell who has MS just by looking at these pictures.

Melissa's talent is breath-taking.

Watch the video (above) and you'll know I'm no art critic, so I'm not even going to try.

Please, if you get the opportunity, go and see the exhibition for yourself. It's at Number Nine The Gallery, 9 Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2JA until 1 April 2007 (excluding 14 March).

The chap in the film is my friend Grant (who fortunately can pronounce 'Classicism' correctly).

And there are lots of photos from the night too!

Julie and Melissa at the launch

Both paintings of me and many others from this collection are for sale. The two pieces in which I appear are entitled Classicism and Blue Mood. If you are interested in purchasing either picture please contact Lee at Number Nine the Gallery at

Taking prisoners: Jon

Why should I be the only one to bare all?

I wanted this blog to be a snapshot of a period of time in my life.

There is nothing more important to me than my friends. So it made perfect sense to video some of my closest friends for this blog. I thought they shouldn't mind. After all, it's not like I'm asking them to pose naked.

I would like to introduce you to Jon, Roo and Chris. Hugh gets a blog entry all of his own. And Anne-Marie should be here but for a cock up with the sound on her interview tape that has rendered her interview silent (I was gutted about this until I discovered some very amusing footage of her Germaine Greer and Sister Wendy Beckett impersonations - proof, as if it were needed, that it's very dangerous to mix vodka with video).

Jon and I have been friends for an astonishing 20 years. We met at school, when we were 15. As I recall, we were introduced through mutual friends and got to know each other better (that is not a euphemism, by the way) during our time in the Sixth Form at Collingwood School in Camberley, Surrey.

Somehow, we've remained friends and stayed in touch throughout all this time.

You might well ask how come Jon is so posh (particularly in comparison with me) considering that we went to the same school. We have no idea. I think he must have attended posh school in the evenings or taken elocution lessons over the summer holidays.

These days, Jon's in publishing and is Director of Reed Media. He is my personal cultural advisor as well as my #1 GBF (gay best friend). As most of my male friends are gay (apart from the straight ones), that's a title worth having (but please don't tell the others that I have a favourite as it'll only lead to 'bitch slapping', me being the bitch that'll get slapped).

Taking prisoners: Chris

Chris is the Conference Manager at the MS Society.

He's also my friend.

On the whole, I enjoy a positive and productive relationship with the MS Society. That things run as smoothly as they do is largely down to particular individuals, primarily the superlative Chris.

It's thanks to Chris that I've been able to hold two parties for member of Jooly's Joint.

It's thanks to Chris that that I was a catwalk model at a special fashion show at Harvey Nichols in Manchester last year.

And it's thanks to Chris (and Diana Gornall) that I have posed nude for this exhibition.

Chris doesn't have MS himself, yet he appears to completely understand where I'm coming from every time. Even when we all know I'm being a royal pain in the arse about something. Chris is supportive and encouraging and always manages to bring me 'back to the table'. He understands the importance of involving people with MS in everything the MS Society does and if they are ever foolish enough to let him go it'll be a sad day indeed.

I count Chris as a good friend and he's more than earned his say on this project (though it's not like I gave him a choice!).

Taking prisoners: Roo

I first met Roo the day after the Sept 11 bombings in 2001.

I don't think this is simple co-incidence.

I don't think it's fate either.

Roo is one of those people that you'd be stupid to let go once you've found him. So I never have, despite his various attempts at getting away from me, that have included temporary emigration to Italy for 18 months (the swine!).

Were it not for Roo, then the world would be without my infamous drinking story (often re-told when I'm drunk as a reminder to myself never to get that drunk again). To sum up a horrible tale of regret in as few words as possible, Roo got me very drunk, took me back to his house and watched me vomit in his wok. I could dress the story up in fancy language, but those are the bare facts.

Roo is a journalist. He knows about art. And unlike Jon, he genuinely is posh (he even had a double-barrelled surname til one half of it dropped off a couple of years ago).

I have to thank Roo in particular for his patience as the sound failed on our first recording so we had to do it all over again.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


A page from New Media Age
I should think a few people in the digital design industry choked on their cornflakes this morning...

I know the nude paintings will attract attention. In the age of the Internet it is inevitable that a lot of people will come to see them.

This is why I started this blog, so that everyone will understand why I became involved in this project.

The chaps at my industry's top weekly title New Media Age has been in on the secret for a very long time, and kindly agreed to cover the exhibition in the magazine to help me get the right messages out to those I work with and for.

I have a very special relationship with New Media Age. In 2005/6 I received a prestigious NMA Excellence Award, 'Greatest Individual Contribution to New Media'. This was for the work that I do to make businesses aware of the needs of disabled customers.

This blog is mentioned inside the back cover of today's issue, in a column called 'Gadfly' that is dedicated to industry gossip.

They have take the brave editorial decision to print my portrait in full. But then, this is art, it's not some seedy photograph.

Thank you to Michael Nutley and his team for helping me to get the right messages out there. The entire point of this project is to improve public understanding of MS, and this exposure will really help.

The piece reads: "...Fortune Cookie's very own Julie Howell is now the subject of not one but two nude portraits by artist Melissa Mailer-Yates. As she explains on her videoblog, Howell was persuaded to take the plunge by the MS Society. Sadly, Gadders won't be able to make the show's opening in Birmingham this week, but he salutes Howell's undoubted bravery."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Publicity shots

...they're back from the lab and looking fab!

Last week, Melissa, the other models and I met up at the Northampton Saints Rugby Stadium for a publicity photo shoot.

I got first sight of the pictures today and they look wonderful.

Here's one:Julie's publicity shotI've posted the rest on Flickr.

All credit to out photographer Barry from Bread & Shutter.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Beautiful women with MS

Tracey's painting is called See Me
...this goes out to you.

(The image shown above is Tracey Kirkman. Tracey also has MS. She is another of the models painted by Melissa and is the inspiration behind this project.)

You've now seen the two portraits that Melissa painted of me. Perhaps that's all you came here to see. Maybe you read about the exhibition in the press. Perhaps you know me, either through my work (Fortune Cookie or RNIB) or through Jooly's Joint, the online community of people with MS.

I've written this blog for women with MS everywhere. The point of almost everything I do is an attempt to promote understanding of what it's like to live with MS.

When the MS Society approached me with the offer of being painted by Melissa we talked about a title for the project. 'Strength Through Beauty' was suggested. I found this title difficult to relate to. I don't want to get into a debate about what makes a person physically beautiful, but I do believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A person can be physically beautiful but behave in an ugly way, and plenty of beautiful people have walked the earth who have been perceived as beautiful through what they did, not how they looked.

I don't consider my body a friend. At 19 it turned against me, it let MS take it over. My body has always been prone to being overweight. My face is not pretty. I've always felt 'attractive enough', but I do not feel strength through beauty.

But turn the words in that phrase around, 'Beauty Through Strength' and I think we get a bit closer to the way that a woman with MS experiences life, her sensuality and herself.

I've met very many women with MS in my life. Some show no outward sign of the condition. Others are - in the most extreme sense of the word - physically crippled by it. But what is moving about these women isn't the sorrow or pity that you feel for them, trapped in bodies they can't control.

Spend some moments talking to any woman with MS and whatever physical disability they might be contending with that day will fade into the background until you forget you're talking to a women with MS and realised you're simply talking to a woman.

When the physical is gone you're face-to-face with a woman who is embracing life, who is not beaten, who has all the sensuality that everyone woman has. Our bodies are just a shell. Our bodies are not who we are. For me, it's our strength as women that makes us beautiful. Beauty Through Strength.

Bluffer's Guide to MS

Here comes the science...

MRI scan of a brain

MS is a degenerative condition of the central nervous system.

The white blobs you see on the brain scan (MRI) above indicate de-myelination that is typical of MS (note: this is not my brain. The NHS lost my MRI results (and just about every other set of test results I've ever had) years ago).

The cause isn't known, and while there are treatments that can slow the progress of MS and ease some of the symptoms, there is no known cure.

There are around 85,000 people with MS in the UK, and no two of us are exactly alike.

MS comes in four varieties:

  • Benign

  • Relapsing remitting

  • Secondary progressive

  • Primary progressive

I've known I have MS for nearly 16 years now.

I was diagnosed when I was 20, after 18 months of unexplained symptoms.

Prior to my diagnosis I had a test called a vision evoked potential that measures the speed of communication between the eye and the brain. The results strongly indicated MS and with my family history of MS (my paternal grandmother had MS) and my history of symptoms MS was diagnosed.

Shortly after diagnosis, I had a horrid test called a spinal tap (or lumbar puncture). The results were negative, throwing my diagnosis into doubt once more. The neurologist suggested that what I had could develop into MS but that the next five years would be critical (if I did not become significantly disabled over the following five years then the prognosis would remain good).

Six years after diagnosis I finally had an MRI test. You may wonder why I had to wait so long to have what is now considered to be the most important diagnostic test for conditions of the central nervous system. Quite simply, the equipment was available in very few hospitals back then. It was only when I moved to London that I could visit a neurology department that had an MRI machine.

The MRI showed scarring on my brain consistent with MS. My diagnosis was finally certain.

Apart from the odd bout of this and that, to this day I remain virtually symptom-free. Clearly, this is good news.

But MS isn't just about your physical body. Knowing that you have a condition that might get much worse over time, and knowing that the choices you make in life might impact on your future well-being has a profound effect on you emotionally. On the one hand, you feel inclined to just forget about MS when its symptoms aren't in evidence. On the other hand you are a person with MS. That is your identity.

Isn't it better for your mental health to be realistic about what the future might hold and to keep MS in mind as you make important life decisions?

I was only 20 when I was diagnosed. On the one hand this may seem 'tragic' and unfair. However, I feel grateful that I at least know how important is to look after myself and my future self now. My careful treatment of myself over the past 16 years might be why I'm doing so well physically today. Who can say? But I am absolutely positive that knowing I had MS early on has helped me to remain well emotionally and psychologically.

I do not want to have MS. But as I do, I'm grateful that I know it. Because knowing it means I have the best possible chance of making the best of life and making good decisions. In its own funny way, that's a gift.

Find out more about MS on the MS Society website.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Jooly's Joint

Jooly's Joint
Squeezing the MS lemon...

During those six uncertain years, when my diagnosis hung in the balance, I started an online community for people like me.

I first started using the Internet in 1995. I quickly discovered that it was a great way to make contact with other people with MS.

At that time there wasn't a website that could put you in touch with people who shared your symptoms or interests. So I decided to start a website myself. I called it Jooly's Joint.

Jooly's Joint is almost 12 years old now and has tens of thousands of members from all over the world. It is a huge blessing in my life, an enormous responsiblity and a privilege to be a part of.

Had I not gone through those miserable years of uncertainty about my diagnosis, then Jooly's Joint might never have been created.

I'm still not glad that I have MS. But I feel incredibly blessed to have been driven by MS to create Jooly's Joint.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

My authentic voice

Will the real Julie Howell please... sit down and explain herself.

From the moment that I agreed to be part of this project I was concerned that everyone who got to hear about it understood that I'd taken part 'for the right reasons'.

For me, these are the right reasons:

  • The MS Society asked me to do it and I like to do things that help the MS Society promote greater understanding of MS;
  • These paintings are an exploration of the sensuality of women with MS. The experience of MS can be very degrading at times. This is an opportunity to remind everyone - especially other women with MS - that we remain sensual beings no matter what MS does to us;
  • The project will promote public understanding of MS;
  • The project might raise the esteem of other women with MS.

These are the other reasons (also known as the 'less politically correct' reasons):

  • I knew that if I didn't do it I'd regret it and not forgive myself;
  • I knew that if I didn't do it I'd be jealous of the women that did and I'd kick myself for my cowardice.

Those are the reasons, the only reasons, I decided to become involved in this project.

As I said in an earlier post, I'm pretty indifferent to my own physical form. I don't participate in sports and I'm not a model (ha, well, I am a model). Sometimes I might try to control my weight and my shape through diet and exercise. Most of the time, I don't bother.

I like myself enough as I am. I have enough of the right kind of attention and not too much of the wrong kind. I'm pragmatic about my appearance and not unhappy with it most of the time. It just is. I like to wear flattering clothes, and when I was a teenager I most definitely used my appearance to express who I was. These days, I dress much the same way most of the time. I don't look too different when I'm at work from when I'm at home. I wear make-up all of the time (except when I'm sleeping, obviously), mainly because if I don't people comment on how tired I look and it gets on my nerves.

Possibly the only times I'm really aware of how I present my body shape are when I'm trying to trap a man (cupboard under the stairs over-flowing with them now) and when I'm public speaking (I do a lot of this in my job, public speaking I mean, not trapping men - ho ho). As a public speaker, you contrive a stance that projects your voice most effectively and seek to 'own the space' around you. (I'll write more about this in my other blog some time.)

However, through discussion with Melissa (the artist) I've come to see my body in a different light. Parts of it that I didn't really think about before, particularly the curved parts, are of much greater significance somehow.


The best way to hear 'my authentic voice' is to actually hear it...

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Ready for my close-up

Saints Rugby Stadium, Wednesday 28th February 2007

We're keen to get as much publicity for the exhibition as possible, so we all got together - the models, the artist, the MS Society, the sponsors - for a photo shoot at the rugby stadium in Northampton.

This was the first time I met the other models, Tracey (39) and Alice (24).

MS affects everyone very differently. Alice and Tracey will tell their own stories in their own way.

Alice was diagnosed at 18. She's a statuesque beauty at 6 feet tall. She was runner-up in this year's Miss Wales competition, and winner in the 'best legs' category (Alice admits the irony of this, considering the way MS affect her legs at times - there's triumph over this stupid condition for you!).

Tracey is married with two young children. Like me, MS is 'in her family'. It is thanks to Tracey (and her husband Greg) that I got the opportunity to be painted by Melissa. Greg commissioned Melissa to produce the paintings after admiring her work. He had long wanted a portrait of Tracey, and thanks to his generous nature Alice and I were also invited to be involved.

Melissa's portrait of Tracey holding her legs with forehead touching her knees is the focal point of the exhibition. It's a beautiful, empowering image as you will see, and I know that Tracey and Greg are thrilled with it.

Alice's picture is also absolutely gorgeous.

There are two paintings of me. One of my face in repose, and a full-length portrait from behind. Both paintings provoke strong emotional reactions from the people I've shown them too so far. I love this... it's precisely why I became involved in this project.

So on 28th February, we all met up and had our pictures taken, together and individually, along with our paintings.

It was lovely to see Melissa again. She took time to explain to me the different treatments and techniques used to create the two portraits of me and I was reminded again of how very lucky I am to have been painted by Melissa.

Our fabulous photographer was Barry from Bread & Shutter.

We shot some video at the photo shoot and set it to music. The track is 'Sungrazer' by Thirsty, a band that features my friend Roo on guitar and vocals. Many thanks to Thirsty for their kind permission to use the track! If you'd like to get in touch with Roo and the band you can reach them at

Friday, March 2, 2007

Aphrodite Kallipygos

Julie's painting is called Classicism

The Goddess of the Beautiful Buttocks.

My bum gets me in trouble. It's size and shape are inherited. My contribution is to stick to a strict diet of chocolate and cakes to ensure its natural beauty is maintained for as long as possible.

Seriously though, like most women, I'm quite happy that my bum is behind me (so I don't have to look at it all the time), and if I could walk with my back pressed against a wall at all times so no-one could see it I'd be very happy.

So imagine how I felt when Melissa revealed that she had painted a portrait of me that was no face and all arse (to be fair, those weren't her exact words... more my interpretation).

I struggled to accept this painting. What woman wouldn't? I have absolutely no argument with the artistic qualities of the piece. I know it is an extremely emotive and sensual image. I'm just a bit uneasy that it's a great big picture of my great big bottom.

When I met up with Melissa at the promotional photo shoot we had a chat about this particular picture.

Melissa told me that she was overjoyed when she met me as it was the first time she'd had a subject to paint who had a curvaceous bum. In the past, she'd had to 'artistically enhance' the bottoms of her slender models as they didn't have the natural, sensuous curves that she was hoping for.

I have to admit that hearing this cheered me up. I'm pleased by the thought that my bum could enjoy a solo career as a 'stunt bottom' for painfully thin supermodel types. Art teachers will encourage the study of my bottom as an example of classically beautiful curves that students should strive to emulate in their own work (I may be getting carried away here).

Melissa told me about Aphrodite Kallipygos, a temple in ancient Greece dedicated to the Greek Goddess of Beauty, Aprhrodite, also known as the Goddess of the Beautiful Buttocks.

According to Psychologist Galdino Pranzarone, Aphrodite Kallipygos "...was probably the only religious building in the world that was dedicated to buttock worship."

Professor Pranzarone also believes that, "the heart symbol that we associate with love is actually based on the shape of female buttocks."

Fancy that.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seeing without sight

Pecerception isn't just about seeing.

I've known Hugh for around six years.

We worked together at RNIB. Initially, we were colleagues. Later, I was his manager.

Hugh is blind.

He wasn't born blind. Hugh has retinitis pigmentosa (RP). (And we thought 'multiple sclerosis' was difficult to spell).

Hugh is the same age as me - 36 (in fact I'm older than him by just six days).

Over the course of his 20s, Hugh gradually lost his sight through RP.

As we both have degenerative conditions, Hugh and I have a lot in common.

Hugh has done a lot with his life already. He's a British Gold Medallist in Adaptive Rowing. He's run the London Marathon. He's worked with me and lived to tell the tale.

Hugh is a sonic artist. He creates installations (works of art) in sound.

Although Hugh is unable to see my portraits, I asked him to tell me what he thought about them. In a sense, Hugh's perception of the paintings is more profound than that of anyone else who will see them. Not just because he is blind, but because he knows the subject (me) really well and has had the opportunity to question me about the paintings.

Here are highlights from Hugh's interview:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Friends like these

Well if you didn't want the world to see it, you shouldn't have done it!

I'm not referring to my paintings. I'm referring to a little spoof art documentary, filmed by some of my friends after a few pints (of vodka) on my birthday.

I was completely unaware that this little cultural gem existed until I reviewed the interview tapes and found it tagged on the end.

I am visible in this film - talking to my friend Steve in the background - but was completely unaware of what was going on mere inches away from me.

This short masterpiece features Anne-Marie, Roo, Jon and David (with a few innocent by-drinkers in the background, including my brother Calum, Paul, Jonathan, Leen, Graeme, Justin, Catherine H, Charlotte, Catherine WB and Grant).

Highlights include:

Anne-Marie's impersonation of art critic Sister Wendy Beckett.

Jon's revelation that seeing me nude served only to confirm his sexuality.

And who shall forget (and who might regret), "I'm reviewing her arse in a very positive light... it's post-modern, it's provocative, it's naked, it's out there!"

Monday, February 26, 2007

Thank you

Melissa Mailer-Yates

Greg and Tracey Kirkman

Claire Wingate, EnSafe

Diana Gornall, Matt Trainer and Chris Bray of the MS Society

Lee Benson, Number Nine The Gallery

Barry, Bread and Shutter

Iain Lee

Hugh Huddy, Jon Reed, Anne-Marie Alonso, Rupert White

Michael Nutley, New Media Age

Victoria Brignell & Angela Robson, Woman's Hour, BBC Radio 4

Jemma Walton, Peterborough Evening Telegraph

John Lamb, Ability

Damon Rose, BBC Ouch

Graeme Aymer

David Stevenson

The members of Jooly's Joint and people with MS everywhere xxx


Please note the following with regard to copyright:

Out takes

Here are some sneaky out takes from interviews with Hugh and Roo (Shhh! Don't tell them!)

Hugh shall have the last word...