Andrew Marr has spent the past 20 years successfully climbing the media ladder; starting out as a trainee reporter at The Scotsman, before becoming political correspondent and subsequently the editor of The Independent.
Marr’s political commentary could be found in The Daily Express and The Observer, while his broadcast career has reached its zenith with The Andrew Marr Show. As one of the most recognisable voices covering UK politics, Marr has become a household name, but few people are aware of his secondary love: art. When the TV journalist suffered a debilitating stroke to the left side of his brain in January 2013, he returned to drawing to aid his recovery.
“To draw something is a way of meditating in front of reality, and I find it a very important way of expressing the way I’m alive,” says Marr. “I’ve loved it all my life. It’s almost spiritual for me.”
These days, Marr has reduced his media commitments, giving him time to draw at least once a week.
“Sometimes I draw every day, it’s something I do and it connects me to the world around me,” he explains.
Marr has joined up with other artists, including illustrators Quentin Blake and Posy Simmonds, to promote The Big Draw; a UK wide campaign which encourages people to take up drawing.
“It’s a campaign for what I’d call the primal way humans have communicated with each other, even before language - think of cave paintings and so forth - and yet it’s falling out of our culture because of photography and reproductions of different kinds,” says Marr, speaking about his involvement with The Big Draw.
Marr’s art therapist at Charing Cross Hospital, London, was integral to his recovery as he channelled his creativity in new ways. “Painting was an even bigger thing in my life before the stroke, in fact I’d say the biggest problem of the stroke is that I can no longer go outside and paint with oils as I used to do, because I can’t manage the easel and setting up the canvas,” he says.
“However, my hope is that I’ll find a place where I can paint inside; I want to make big abstract pictures next, I’ve got them in my head, I just need to find a place to go and do them.”
According to Marr, “You need something creative in life to express yourself, and the great thing about drawing for those who have spent their time in a literary profession like me is that it’s non verbal, it uses a different part of the brain; it is simply colour and line. It’s like diving into a warm bath and seeing the world in a different way around you...”
He may be using the other half of his brain for his nine-to-five, but perhaps Marr has found his two occupations overlap. Did he ever catch himself doodling to pass the time in the House of Commons?
“When I was sitting above them in the press gallery in the old days, I did a detailed drawing of Tony Blair on the day he resigned. I do draw politicians, or family and friends sometimes.”
He explains that while the majority of his work is landscapes, “I really like drawing caricatures, I think I’m quite good at that.”
With cartoonists from The Guardian and Private Eye battling it out to create huge satirical banners as part of The Campaign for Drawing in late November, Marr is in good company.
His health issues have made for an incredibly difficult few years for the political journalist. Taking a pragmatic approach to his stroke, Marr says: “I haven’t made a full recovery and the reality is that I won’t. I’ll be up to 80 per cent if I’m lucky. I won’t be 100 per cent ever, and I had to accept that a long time ago, even if you do all the physiotherapy, with a stroke as bad as mine you won’t make a full recovery, but you have to find ways of coping with that.”
For Marr, art is not only a coping mechanism, but a way of life. And while the effects of his stroke may be an ongoing battle, Marr is looking upwards and onwards.
“It makes you appreciate and reconsider life, and suck the juice out of the moment, more than I ever did before. I was always a very hurried and rushed person, rushing through life, and I have to move a lot more slowly now, and that’s a good thing in itself.”
Andrew Marr is a patron The Big Draw, the world’s largest drawing festival www.thebigdraw.org