Rio Ferdinand Joins Charles II and Lord Nelson as Heroes of National Portrait Gallery Campaign

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Rio Ferdinand Joins Charles II and Lord Nelson as Heroes of National Portrait Gallery Campaign
"King Charles II" by Thomas Hawker, c.1680. ©National Portrait Gallery.

LONDON.- Did you know Rio Ferdinand was a ballet dancer? Or Nelson suffered from sea sickness? Or Mary, Queen of Scots was the first woman golfer?

Mary, Queen of Scots, Lord Nelson, King Charles II, artist L.S. Lowry and new England captain Rio Ferdinand have been chosen as the faces of the National Portrait Gallery's latest marketing campaign, launched on posters, ads and bus shelters from today, which highlights the hidden stories behind its portraits of well known Britons.

The campaign - called Take another look - is designed to encourage more people to explore the wide range of portraits in the Gallery's free-admission permanent Collection and builds on research showing that its visitors enjoyed picking up unexpected facts behind the pictures.

Football defender Rio Ferdinand is revealed as a former dancer of the Central School of Ballet; Scottish ruler and Catholic martyr, Mary, Queen of Scots, was also a talented golfer; visionary artist L.S. Lowry was a rent collector, King Charles II helped put out the flames of the Fire of London and nautical genius Horatio Nelson happened to be a nauseous sailor!

Rio Ferdinand is pictured in the campaign not on the football pitch but sinking into a large, dark orange leather chair with arms outstretched, relaxed but with a fixed gaze. He wears grey trousers, waistcoat and a white shirt with rolled up sleeves and is photographed dramatically from above in a studio by Mark Guthrie. The sitting took place in Manchester on 18 March 2009 and the portrait is on display at the Gallery having been acquired for its permanent Collection. Ferdinand's seated pose is echoed by one of the Gallery's other choices for the campaign, King Charles II, who is pictured on a throne in ceremonial splendour in a painting by Thomas Hawker.

Using works of art in the Gallery's Collection, the campaign shows artist L.S. Lowry not in his well-known 'matchstick men' painting style, but in a startling self-portrait where he stares out disconcertingly at the viewer with large bloodshot eyes. It is one of a series of grief-stricken self-portraits painted while caring for his bed-ridden mother. Mary, Queen of Scots is shown in a magnificent painting by Nicholas Hilliard and Lord Nelson appears in the iconic portrait by Sir William Beechey.

Through its bus shelter posters and print advertisements and large banners outside the Gallery, the campaign, which has been developed for the Gallery by design agency True North, reveals a selection of 'surprising facts' about a cross-section of famous sitters whose portraits are on display in the Gallery.

Take another look uses both 'long story' and 'short fact' versions at appropriately placed poster sites around the capital, together with print and online versions and, for the first time, a media partnership with The History Channel (Nelson, Charles II and Rio Ferdinand will feature on posters.)

Famous subjects featured in the first part of the campaign last June were singer (and florist) Lily Allen, musician (and cheese maker) Alex James, jazz musician (and fisherman) George Melly, statesman (and prisoner) Winston Churchill, nurse (and hotelier) Mary Seacole and war secretary (and knitting pioneer) Lord Kitchener. During the periods that the campaign ran in 2009, visitor figures were up 25%.

Denise Ellitson, Head of Marketing at the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: "Research has shown us that visitors really enjoy the mix of old and new portraiture on display at the Gallery and we hope that this new campaign will encourage those who have not visited before to discover the diversity and relevance of our Collections."

Martin Carr, True North Managing Director, says: "The task of 'opening up' such a well-loved institution has been one we've relished. We've worked hard with Gallery staff to eke out a range of good stories for this campaign - it's been great fun layering on witty and enjoyable stories over all styles of portraits of all kind of famous Britons."

The stories launched today as part of Take another look are:

Central defender, Central to England, Central School of Ballet
Rio Ferdinand plays centre-back for Manchester United Football Club and the England National team and is regarded as one of the finest defenders in world football. Born in Peckham, South London, his sporting career started at the age of ten when he was invited to the Queens Park Rangers Football Academy. However, when he was eleven years old he also won a scholarship to the Central School of Ballet in London. He travelled by bus from his home to central London to attend classes four times a week for four years. The dance lessons improved his natural balance but eventually he chose a career as a footballer and signed his first professional contract in 1995. In 2008 Ferdinand set up the Live The Dream Foundation to provide young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with training and employment opportunities within the sports, arts and cultural sectors.

Scottish ruler, Catholic martyr, Talented golfer
Mary, Queen of Scots is known for her turbulent life and eventual execution for treason in 1587. However, she also had another claim to fame as the first woman to regularly play golf. She learned the game at an early age and played during her childhood in France. As a member of the French royal family, military cadets would have carried her golf clubs. It is possible that Mary brought this practice back with her to Scotland, where the term evolved into the word 'caddy'. Her love of golf also contributed to her downfall. In 1567 her husband, Lord Darnley, was murdered and only months later she married the leading suspect, the Earl of Bothwell. There was much speculation at the time that she was involved in the assassination plot and this was compounded by rumours that she was seen playing golf within days of the murder.

Visionary artist, Devoted son, Rent collector
During his lifetime, L.S. Lowry gained wide public recognition for his paintings of everyday life in the industrial districts around Salford. In 1967 the Post Office issued a stamp reproducing one of his paintings and in the same year he refused a knighthood proposed by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. But alongside his successful career as an artist, he worked full-time for over forty years as a rent collector for the Pall Mall Property Company in Manchester. The job led him to walk all over the city witnessing scenes that he then depicted on canvas. Due to his 'nine-to-five' hours he painted in the evenings, often working until the early hours of the morning. Lowry kept his occupation as a closely guarded secret during his life, as he did not want to be known as a part-time 'Sunday painter'. The truth was not made public until after his death in 1976.

Fugitive, Philanderer, Fireman
Charles II's life was hugely eventful. During the Civil War he saw service at the Battle of Edgehill aged only twelve and he continued to fight until he was sent abroad for safety aged fifteen. When he was twenty-one he launched a daring invasion of England, which ended in defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Charles spent six weeks on the run before he escaped the country disguised as a servant. He was restored to the throne in 1660 but in 1665 was forced to flee from London with his family to avoid the plague. Charles also had a busy private life; his court was notorious for its easy-going morality and he fathered fourteen illegitimate children by seven mistresses. Hardly surprising then that when the Great Fire of London broke out in 1666, this man of action personally directed the fire-fighting effort and worked manually with his brother James to throw water on the flames.

National hero, Nautical genius, Nauseous sailor
Horatio Nelson spent much of his life at sea. He joined the navy aged twelve, became a captain at twenty and was made admiral at thirty-nine. For much of his naval career he was at the front line in the thick of battle. In 1793, he lost his sight in one eye in a successful attack on Corsica and in 1797 he lost his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. During these years at sea Nelson also fought a personal battle with chronic seasickness, a condition which plagued him throughout his life. In a letter to his lover Emma Hamilton in 1851 he wrote: "I am so dreadfully sea-sick, that I cannot hold up my head!" Nevertheless, through his inspirational leadership and audacious tactics, the British fleet won many key victories and his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 enshrined him as a national hero. This final victory is commemorated by Nelson's Column, just a stone's throw from the Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

The National Portrait Gallery in London was founded in 1856 and houses the finest collection of portraits in the world. The Gallery aims to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media, offering a unique and enthralling insight into the men and women who have shaped British history and culture from the Middle Ages to the present day.

With over 1,000 portraits on display across three floors, from Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare to The Beatles and David Beckham, the National Portrait Gallery weaves together 500 years of history, art, biography and fame.

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