Geordie Greig looks to Freud amidst Daily Mail’s Miliband storm
- Credit: Archant
As confidant of the notoriously private portrait painter, the Mail on Sunday’s editor came to know the real Lucian Freud
It was not quite the media-massaging, signature-scribbling fortnight that Geordie Greig might have anticipated, as his colourful memoir of the reformist portrait painter Lucian Freud slipped slightly unassumingly onto the shelves last month.
Somewhat snookered by his role as editor of the Mail on Sunday – sister title of the Daily Mail – and, ostensibly, right-hand man to its overseer Paul Dacre, the newspaper mogul found himself unable to return to his west London home amid the paparazzi pandemic caused by the alleged smear of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s father.
Nevertheless, it was an unexpected convergence of events which would have surely been welcomed by the late Freud, who is exposed as a remarkably enigmatic maverick by his 10-year confidant and former editor of high-society Tatler magazine.
“Lucian was one of the most private, secretive men in London,” Greig says with a clipped exactitude, speaking before the Ralph Miliband row. “He never gave interviews, was rarely photographed and barely seen at openings of his own shows.”
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There is little doubt that his biographer is an editor in every sense; he scrutinises and spontaneously redrafts his own discourse in plum, unequivocal voice, ultimately contriving to pinpoint the real appeal of the publication in a single sound bite.
Greig has drawn on interviews with those who knew Freud intimately – comprising countless girlfriends, models, dealers and bookmakers – to piece together the previously inexplicable existence of a man who compartmentalised all avenues of his life, as well as his anecdotes ranging from sleeping with horses to painting the Queen.
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“You always felt better having seen him because he was incredible company. Lucian was truly the most riveting conversationalist I had ever met,” he says, when I ask about their notorious breakfast encounters at Clarke’s restaurant in Kensington.
Thoughtfully, he compares Freud to a cultural Forrest Gump of the 20th century, or an artistic incarnation of influential English rock band The Sex Pistols: “Every interesting and extraordinary person of the cultural and social world seemed to pass before him, yet at the same time he was this incredibly hardworking, obsessive painter.”
He was, in fact, besotted by the portraitist’s brilliance at the vanguard of the punk era when taken on a school trip to one of his characteristically striking exhibitions – despite the giddy adolescent unfamiliarity of his classmates at Eton College.
Greig meticulously describes the inscrutable personality and memorable drawings by Freud which greatly appealed to him as a precocious 17-year-old, together with the litany of letters and “real stalking exercise” that precipitated their friendship.
“I was completely mesmerised. They were the most exciting, dangerous, exotic and extraordinary things I had ever seen,” he gushes. “I wrote to him several times asking for an interview; he mostly ignored the messages, although he did actually reply to one postcard saying ‘the idea of giving you an interview makes me feel sick’”.
It would be verging on a quarter of a century before they finally met, when, by now an established journalist Greig asked Freud to pose for a photograph with his fellow painter Frank Auerbach, which finally earned him entry to Freud’s inner circle.
However Greig may have to wait longer for some to grant this biography a nonpartisan response. Should the present vituperation surrounding his newspaper group ultimately melt away, however, many might be tempted to look more fondly upon this revelatory glimpse behind the veneers of two of Britain’s most venerated and best-connected men.
“I have always been fascinated by people’s lives – whether it may be that of a taxi driver, an artist, a poet or a politician – and there was no life more fascinating. His was one of the most magical and mesmerising of the last century,” Greig professes.
“Lucian was an extraordinary artist and incredibly passionate friend. He changed the way we look at the nude figure, and he wanted to break through barriers to create images which stayed in our mind and changed the vocabulary and the mood of art.”
n Breakfast With Lucian: A Portrait Of The Artist by Geordie Greig is published by Jonathan Cape priced £25.