Harriet Vyner

Lucian Freud’s muse, author, journalist and curator responds to the Proust Questionnaire in light of the launch of the second edition of Groovy Bob, The Life and Times of Robert Fraser published by HENI Publishing.

Favourite memory of spending time with Robert ?
Eating dinner in a Soho restaurant every Thursday, before going to Gaz’s Rocking Blues club in Meard Street. Sometimes we’d be alone, sometimes with friends. One time Iggy Pop joined us at Chez Victor in Wardour Street. Robert got extremely impatient with him as he kept telling the French waiters trying to take our order that all he wanted to eat was ‘an orange’.

Your favourite poets?
To name a few – Frank O’Hara, Anne Sexton, T.S. Eliot and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

If not yourself, who would you be?
Marianne Faithfull – for not giving a damn.

Your idea of misery?
Waiting at airports – nerve-wracking and boring in equal measure.

Best thing a cabbie told you?
One particular cabbie confided this – that you’d be talking to Mick Jagger at the bar, you’d turn away for a minute and next thing you know, he’d have smashed a glass in your face. I was with a friend, Anne Lambton and we said “Really?” The cabby said. “Yes. I’m telling you.” Why did he suddenly come up with this unlikely scenario? It never fails to amuse us and we re-enact it all the time.

Who are your heroes?
Dr. Karma Nabulsi, for all her work on behalf of Palestinian refugees. And at the moment – Bernie Sanders – could he possibly win…?

Your favourite virtue?
Genuine modesty – (as opposed to the sort used to make oneself seem safely beyond criticism.).

Secret places in London?
Camera Café, in Museum Street. It’s always quite buzzing, so perhaps not that secret – but I always feel that my partner Garry Cooper and I have discovered it. It has a great atmosphere and delicious noodles.

The Phoenix Garden off Shaftesbury Avenue – my favourite garden in the world, given that it is in the heart of the dirty old West End. It’sdelightfully scruffy and crowded with plants, frogs and birds, so amusing and magical.

And Bookmarks the socialist bookshop in Bloomsbury street. Again – not secret but new to me. I am often buying excellent things there and the guys are always helpful and never mind my ignorance. I had to ask them who was wearing the Santa hat on the Christmas card and they were able to tell me it was Karl Marx. I was wondering whether to ask if they might take Groovy Bob – if nothing else, a lesson in the perils of large inheritance and capitalism generally?

Your favourite painters?
In this and the last century – Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Colin Self. And for the old timers – God, too many. Rembrandt, Velasquez, Piero della Francesca – the list goes on and on.

Favourite David Bowie song?
It changes all the time – but at the moment, Station to Station. I was in Fopp in Shaftesbury Avenue recently, and that was playing. I hadn’t heard it for a while and it suddenly sounded like the most glamorous songin the world.

Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Olivia Curtis in Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann, for hersocial awkwardness, I recognise every moment of her time at the danceand empathise. Mr Pooter in the Grossmiths’ The Diary of a Nobody forthe fact that his life and his ambitions are always so much at odds.

Whenever I suffer some embarrassing defeat, I think of him and am amused. And Mary Jocelyn in F.M. Mayor’s The Rectors Daughter -she’s nothing like me as she has an out-dated acceptance of whatever is thrown at her – but every time I read it, I admire her courage (and cry).

If Groovy Bob was adapted to the big screen, who should play Robert?
Ben Wishaw – or perhaps Neil Maskell – since he does silent and inexplicable fury so well.

What do you collect?
I don’t. I have a slight horror of it. That’s not to say that our Yorkshire sheds aren’t filled with books and objects unsorted since our last move and no doubt being chewed up by mice at this very moment. I can’t help hoping that if we leave it a few more years, the mice will finish the job.

Next projects?
Once work around the re-publication of Groovy Bob has finished, I am starting on a joint project with artist Brian Clarke. We are curating a Francis Bacon exhibition, using paintings from the Francis Bacon estate and the Sainsbury Centre for the visual arts in Norwich. Called Cheerio – Francis Bacon’s England, we also plan to create a sense of the England experienced by Bacon, his friends, lovers and circle of fellow artists. We plan to use a variety of means – ranging from sets, films, letters, music and elements of theatre. The exhibition will travel from the Far East and finish at the Sainsbury Centre – in 2018/19.




Images: Harriet Vyner as the Sleeping Girl, by Lucian Freud, 1979-1980. Copyright Lucian Freud.