“Hever is a little pocket of history”

RADA-trained actor and presenter Stephen Mangan is known for his work on stage and screen, from appearing in Green Wing and Episodes to I’m Alan Partridge, Silks and Watershed Down, he’s one of our most popular TV stars. From this January, he returns to front popular Sky Arts show Landscape Artist of the Year. Vikki Rimmer met him while he was filming at Hever Castle & Gardens last summer to talk art and how he juggles his busy life…

So Stephen, given you’re constantly busy presenting, acting and writing how do you fit it all in?

I’m exhausted! But, if it’s a challenge or project that interests me then I find it hard to say no. 

There’s such a diversity to what do, so how would you describe your work?

I still think of myself primarily as an actor but I’ve started writing a lot more. I wrote my fourth children’s novel last summer. It’s a Christmas book which was fun to write in the heat of summer! 

Tell us a little about the book – you have three sons so do they feature in this book?

My boys are in the first three books but this one is about a reindeer called ‘Dave’, Blitzen has retired and slightly mucks things up. So he and a young girl called Holly have to save Christmas by finding all the reindeer who have been scattered to the four corners of the earth.

This is your fifth season of Landscape Artist of the Year, what keeps you coming back?

It’s a joy to watch talented artists doing their thing – especially as it’s something I don’t do. When you’re engaging with art it makes you look at the world in a different way – or feel it in a different way.  It’s just inspiring to watch people who are good at stuff.  I love the fact that on our show we strive to be encouraging and enthusiastic and we want people to succeed. It’s not a show that trips people up or makes them look daft, it’s very much a show where we look to discover eight fantastic paintings every day.

Do you find it personally inspiring?

It never ceases to amaze me how people see, feel and think about the world in different ways.

Everyone has had that feeling of coming out after seeing a film and suddenly they’re seeing the world in a different way because they’ve been so moved or tickled by what they’ve seen – the world feels different – and that’s what all art is about.  Art makes you feel things you wouldn’t normally feel or see the world in the way you wouldn’t normally see and think about your story, and the stories of others in a different way.

You’re not a trained artist, does this help as the presenter of a show that’s essentially about people?

The show is very cleverly put together, and because I’m not an artist or profess to know anything about art particularly, it gives me license to ask the basic questions and to understand who we’ve got painting.  No one is chosen for their wacky backstory or their eccentric personality.  They’re chosen because the judges like their art.  So we get a whole range of people from all backgrounds, different personality types, some shy and retiring, some very exuberant and funny – it’s such a joy and a treat to talk to people and to get to know a bit about them.

Do you find yourself looking forward to seeing the artists when they return for the semi-finals and finals?

Yes, I look forward to seeing what they’re going to do, how they’re going to react.  It’s an intense process.  The show is becoming more and more popular and the crowds larger and it can be quite intimidating for people.

Is there an element of performance to being a participant in the show?

It can be intimidating, as I said, particularly at the beginning of the day, but once they get into their art, and are absorbed by it, they get lost in the artwork. It’s all-encompassing and the nerves fade away. We’re not watching machines in a car-making factory, as impressive as that can be, there is that element of unpredictability and that’s what makes it so exciting to watch.

Landscape of an Artist is a feel-good show, which is good for the darker days of January wouldn’t you agree?

I genuinely think everyone comes away having had a kick out of the day. Sometimes they may be disappointed they didn’t do as well as they hoped, or feel they could have done better, but the process is a fun one in an encouraging atmosphere.

You worked with Matt LeBlanc on the TV show ‘Episodes’, were people’s reactions to him different because he’s so well-known from his role
in Friends?

It was odd to meet someone you’re that familiar with through TV shows. When you first meet them it’s odd to be in the same room, but he’s a very down-to-earth guy so it quickly didn’t feel hard at all. It’s nice to work with people who you respect and admire and if you’re lucky in this business you do have those odd moments where you go from watching someone when you were a kid and admiring them and suddenly finding yourself in a scene with them.

How have you found your visit to Hever Castle & Gardens where you filmed some episodes of Landscape of an Artist?

It’s a stunning place and the countryside around here is so beautiful.  It’s a little pocket of history, I mean it’s a gorgeous castle – not too big or intimidating and it feels quite manageable. I’m hoping to move in!

At the time of SO going to press the new series of Landscape Artist of the Year is due to air on Sky Arts on Wednesday January 10 at 8pm. There were two episodes filmed at Hever Castle and the first will feature on January 24.

Hever Castle & Gardens re-opens for the 2024 season on Wednesday February 7 when it will be hosting its famous Snowdrop Walks.


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