Face to face with HEATHER TAMPLIN

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to artist Heather Tamplin who, after steadfastly refusing to tie the knot with partner of 27 years David, last year finally agreed to get married.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to artist Heather Tamplin who, after steadfastly refusing to tie the knot with partner of 27 years David, last year finally agreed to get married. But, while any number of romantic gestures failed to break her resolve, it was a wedding headdress worn by Vicar of Dibley character Alice Tinker that eventually changed Heather's mind . . .

Heather, who hails from Surrey, dreamed of being an artist as a youngster. She enrolled at Wimbledon College of Art after leaving school, but, unable to obtain a grant to complete the second year of her studies, she was forced to leave art school and, in the late 1960s, went to work selling lingerie at a London department store.

She went on to have a series of jobs, including registering fox terriers and Alsations for the Kennel Club, but never lost her love of art and continued to paint in her spare time.

Heather moved to Calthorpe in 1980 and, while she was able to explore her creative side by teaching art to adults and children, it wasn't until she and partner David moved to Aldborough in 1993, that she was able to concentrate on painting full-time.

She also became involved with local art groups and, as well as being one of the original artists working with the North Norfolk Exhibition Project, out of which the annual exhibitions at Salthouse Church were born, Heather became a founder member of the North Norfolk Organisation for Visual Artists.

She also helped found Artstop, a Blickling Hall-based group running art projects and events for children and adults, as well as joining “walkabout” group The Thoroughbreds, who attend music festivals and other events dressed in dinner suits and specially-made horses' heads

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Her paintings have been selected for the East Anglian Open exhibition on a number of occasions, with her work also going on show in New York, at County Hall, Norwich, and, as part of the annual Society of Women Artists exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London.

In 2006, Heather's happiness at being able to paint full-time was dealt a blow when, after suffering from skin rashes for several years, she was diagnosed with the auto-immune disorder primary biliary cirrhosis, a progressive disease which can eventually lead to liver failure.

But, determined to remain positive, she set about finding out as much as possible about her condition.

In the summer, she staged a week-long exhibition at the Forum, Norwich, with around half of the paintings based on Heather's feelings after being diagnosed.

The show was seen by scientists from the microbiology research department at the UEA, and Heather was invited to take 4 of the paintings to Cells Alive, a family science day held at the Forum last month.

Over the years, Heather had refused David's many requests to marry him, but, after watching an episode of the BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley, in which dippy verger Alice Tinker marries the equally dippy Hugo Horton, she decided to set him a challenge.

She told him that she would marry him - if he could make her a wedding headdress similar to the tacky light-up, plastic one worn by Alice Tinker.

At a family barbecue shortly afterwards, David presented Heather, 58, with a headdress complete with windmills, tinsel and 7 dwarfs centrepiece and the couple, who between them have 5 children and 4 grandchildren, finally tied the knot at Norwich registry office last year.

What is the best thing about your job?

Painting is just about the most self-indulgent thing you can do, so everything about it is great.

And the worst?

When I haven't got enough cash to do what I want to do. I am useless at applying for funding for projects, so I usually try to find a way to do it myself. That way, I don't have to report back - life is too short for form-filling!

What is the one thing you would save if your house was on fire?

I couldn't decided between a painting by Jim Jenkins, which I bought at auction at Aylsham 15 years ago, and a very meditative and calming sculpture by Kathleen McFarlane of Stody, who I think is an amazing artist.

Where do you go to unwind?

My studio in our garden - once I start painting, then that is all there is and any problems are completely gone.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

I just love Norfolk's traditional flint cottages.

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

Apart from the obvious - which is not having primary biliary cirrhosis - I wouldn't mind knocking 20 years off my age, so that I could have all the energy I had when I was in my 30s.

What is your proudest moment?

My youngest daughter Elaine doing so well at college makes me feel very proud. She's doing a Btec in photography and, in spite of going through some difficult times, including seriously injuring her hand, she's now really focused and confident.

And your greatest achievement?

I think that would be being involved in the setting up of the Salthouse exhibition, but also the teaching I have done, which has led to students not necessarily being artists, but being able express themselves through art.

Whom do you most admire?

That changes - but at the moment it is Barack Obama who, I think, is someone who could change the world's perception of America which, let's face it, isn't good at the moment.

What makes you angry?

People not doing small things to save the planet.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: Widow For One Year by John Irving, Film: the Japanese animated movie Spirited Away, and TV: CSI - I love it.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a happy, creative person.