How to measure the Queen

It's a daunting task, but sculptress Frances Segelman is accustomed to measuring the nation's great and good
Eminent sculptress Frances Segelman is no stranger to sizing up the rich and famous. But she was wary of wielding her calipers around Her Majesty’s visage. ‘I was so nervous,’ she admits. ‘I thought, I can’t drive her mad with the calipers, so I’ll measure and then write the measurements down, but I didn’t actually get them right.’

Frances, who is one of the world’s leading bust sculptors, found herself in Buckingham Palace in 2007 preparing to create a likeness of the Queen for the Scout Association. ‘It’s just so awe-inspiring going to the palace. You have to go through so many formalities – learn how to address the Royals, how to be around them – so when you’re alone in a room with them it’s a very strange feeling.’

It is a feeling that Frances is slowly getting used to. She was previously commissioned to create a bust of the Duke of Edinburgh in 2000, and is currently working on one of Prince Charles. ‘They are people, but they are special,’ she smiles. ‘They are very disciplined, very calm, and they just sit beautifully.’

In order to create an accurate likeness of a subject, Frances requires three hour-long sittings, and takes photos from every conceivable angle.

Seated in the dining room of her studio-cum-home in east London, she opens an enormous ring binder to show me her candid photographs of the Queen. There is Her Majesty, as dignified as ever, with images honing in on her hairline, the shape of her eyes, the proportions of her nostrils... Meanwhile, the background of ornate wallpaper and gilded furniture gives away the location of the photoshoot.


‘I didn’t expect the Queen to be as lovely as she was,’ says Frances. ‘Both she and Prince Philip chat a lot. They do it to make you feel relaxed. The Queen is my role model now; I have a picture of her on my mantelpiece.’

As you would imagine, Frances’s home is filled with art. There are busts of a host of recognisable faces: Her Majesty and Prince Philip welcome you in the hall, Linford Christie looks over the dining-room table and Dame Edna Everage is not too far from the whisky. In her studio is the sculpture of Prince Charles. It is still a work in progress, the clay concealed by a black bin bag with a note taped on top saying, ‘Do not move.’

Frances has spent decades building her career. An undeniably elegant woman herself, she was spotted by a scout for a modelling agency at a young age in her home town of Leeds, and worked as a model there for several years. Having always loved art, when she moved to London aged 20 she decided to forgo modelling to focus on her creative flair. She attended a part-time sculpting course (fi tting it around looking after two young children) and quickly discovered she had a talent for creating a ‘perfect likeness’. Now she is in a position to command at least £20,000 for a commission.

It is both the artistic process and her subjects themselves that fuel her passion. ‘I get a buzz from doing people who are well known,’ she admits. ‘It sounds awful, but there’s something special about people who are successful. Everybody is interesting, but all the successful people I’ve done – businessmen, actors, actresses, politicians – have got this positive attitude to life. You don’t actually hear them say anything negative.’


Spending time with her subjects during sittings, Frances has also discovered how paradoxically normal many famous people are. ‘When I went to see Cherie Blair [whose bust she did in 2004] I had to go to 10 Downing Street. I was in her kitchen and she came down in her dressing gown. Her little boy was running around and Tony Blair came in with his gym things on. It was funny because it’s just everyday life.’

Such is the demand for Frances’s work that she now has to turn requests down, but she makes a point of devoting time to charity. Her partner is East End entrepreneur turned philanthropist Jack Petchey (the mul-timillionaire founder of the Jack Petchey Foundation), so whenever Frances is requested to do a piece for a children’s charity, ‘he pays for the bust to be sculpted and cast’.

Working with bronze is a process that has changed very little since the Bronze Age, and it is expensive. Like her many successful subjects, Frances credits her partner as being ‘the most positive human being in the world. I have learnt a lot from him.’

She may have achieved her goal of working with the Queen (‘my ultimate’), but Frances’s passion for her profession shows no sign of abating. ‘It is such an exciting career. As an artist, you need to do your art. I think you would probably get ill if you didn’t. You need to create.’

The bust of Her Majesty, looking on benevolently, seems to agree.

Frances is donating a piece to the Be Inspired Contemporary Art Auction in aid of The Prince’s Foundation For Children & The Arts, at the Saatchi Gallery on 1 October. To register your interest, email