Tucker has shattered another of my illusions
Robbie Savage on the money here.
Mark has it bad. It’s only a film.
An ode to celluloid
Fierce bang of insularity off that, “mcdonagh isn’t really Irish and doesn’t understand Ireland”.
Well known the missing 30 mins of the watergate tapes recordings were discussions on the jfk assassination
Heard a bit of that last night sounded good,must listen to it all today
He done a very good podcast on the second captains too a few months ago. Seems a very decent man.
That was a brilliant segment, he’s a fascinating character to listen to.
What a wonderful article. Worth reading the whole thing.
This is a lovely article if anyone could do the needful
Hello, I’m hiding in the loo again at the Oscars, Charlie Mackesy scrawled on a napkin to his 1.7 million Instagram followers. Fifteen minutes later the artist and author won best animated short film with his friend the PR guru Matthew Freud for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.
“It was terrifying,” says Mackesy who hadn’t been on a plane for 18 years. “The cameras were on my face, all the nominees were in a line. I thought I heard someone else’s name announced but Matthew was suddenly grinning. I felt elated but I also just wanted to lie on the floor. I didn’t think I could go on stage. My mind went to mush, I felt shocked and emotional and grateful all at once.”
It is rather extraordinary that this self-deprecating man — whose most famous line is “‘What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ asked the boy. ‘Help,’ said the horse” — has been awarded the two highest accolades in the film world, a Bafta and now an Oscar. His beautiful book of ink drawings and sayings, published just before the pandemic, is already the biggest-selling UK hardback this century, recommended by everyone from the Queen to Oprah Winfrey. His words resonated with many who were feeling fragile in a volatile world, yet he appears easily overwhelmed by life and underwhelmed by the trappings of success.
Forty-eight hours later, Mackesy, 60, is back at his house in Brixton, south London. He greets me in his muddy garden holding a can of dog food, with holes in his jumper. Barney the dachshund is yapping at his feet and the rain is pouring down. We retreat inside and I sit on an ancient sofa under a dusty chandelier. I’m surrounded by thousands of sketches scattered across the paint-splattered floorboards as Mackesy fails to find any milk or mug for the tea. It’s easy to overlook the Oscar gleaming on the mantelpiece in the comfortable chaos. Charlie hands it to me and it’s surprisingly heavy. “I brought it back wrapped in an old T-shirt,” he says.
He eventually puts a mug down on a sketch that is probably worth hundreds of pounds. “Don’t worry,” he reassures me, “they fall out from me like rain from clouds, all the time.”
The book began with sketches he would send to cheer up friends. The animation required thousands more drawings. “It was a huge task. The producer, Cara Speller, steered 120 animators and artists, we did 3,000 hours of Zoom calls, four hours most days, for two years. There were 24 frames per second and all of them were hand-drawn. People told us we were mad but we wanted to keep the handmade element, the accidental splotches of ink. I didn’t want it to look sterilised and alienating. For me the book and then the film were all about connection and imperfection.”
Mackesy seems so unassuming and gentle, with his halo of curly hair, it’s hard to see him putting his foot down as co-director with Peter Baynton. “I’d had two years of letters and emails from readers and I knew how the book had affected their lives. It’s been overwhelming. I met a film producer at the Oscars and she was in tears, she told me my book had saved her life and she’d bought 1,000 copies. I never engineered a book to do that, it just spilled out and it triggered something at a difficult time. People would tell me they read the book to their mum when she was dying; bus drivers, teachers and nurses shared their grief. It was a unique privilege.”
The book and film may appear naive but they are nurturing, giving advice when, like the boy, you might feel lost or overwhelmed. They are about taking it one step at a time, finding solace in companionship and nature and the value of kindness.
“I wanted people to know it wasn’t a failing to show your feelings,” he says. “We are all brought up to fight on and be strong. We don’t have a simple language for frailty.”
Mackesy doesn’t know exactly why the four characters resonate with so many people. “There was a polar bear, a penguin and a koala but I eventually left them out. The four remaining characters represent parts of me. The mole defaults to cake for comfort. Mine is crisps and hot chocolate. Today I went to my local café and I was feeling jet-lagged and jaded and I had three hot chocolates. The boy is the bit in me that still questions himself — why I was even at the Oscars. The fox is the anxious part of me, the bit that goes round and round in survival mode, and is a bit more prickly, less likely to trust. I find the foxes in my garden fascinating; they are wild and untamed and unpredictable. Then there is the horse, which is the deepest part of us, the soul, which hasn’t changed since we were tiny. It’s calm and wise. It quietly stands within us all our lives.”
The book and film feel very much of our time as we struggle to come out of the pandemic. “We talk about post-pandemic, but we aren’t post-anything,” Mackesy says. “The repercussions are so present, especially in kids. I meet people who had a fantastic lockdown and other friends who were stuck in a tiny flat for two years and are now deeply anxious. We were not all in the same boat, just the same sea, and some boats had holes in them. Yet we’re all supposed to have reached the shore and be getting on with it. It used to make me cry when I realised that NHS acute wards had my drawings as screensavers.”
He understands the desire to “delete” the pandemic but feels “it’s still in us” and has seeped into our psyche. “There’s perhaps a collective, national PTSD that is not being addressed. We are all bravely getting on with it, meanwhile we are dragging behind us two years of devastation and disconnect.” Mackesy spent much of the pandemic with his family in Suffolk, including his mother, who has mild dementia. “I gave her my book and she would run her hands over the cover and her fingers over the letters until the pages were worn through.”
This mild-mannered man appears to have become a sage for our anxious age. When he talks about his childhood, it’s clear that these aren’t just trivial platitudes to sell posters. They have profound meaning to Mackesy, who has struggled to find life bearable at times. “I had an amazing childhood, brought up in a tiny village in Northumberland. There were geese and cattle and I was always out on the hill with the dogs, chatting to the farmers,” he says. “My parents were funny and loving. They thought aged seven that boarding school was the best opportunity for me, but it was difficult. I pretended my dog was with me and that I had a kestrel coming through the window at night in my dormitory. My sanctuary was the art room.”
Mackesy felt even more discombobulated as a teenager. “I went to work on my best friend’s farm but then he was killed in a car crash. It affected me deeply, I spiralled inwards and all that comforted me was drawing. So, I went to London to stay with my sister Sara and spent three years sitting on the streets drawing buildings, listening to my Walkman, and eventually people started buying them . . . I just thought if I could make enough I could keep going. Money has never been a thing for me. I like people and friends, understanding and being understood. I dread feeling lonely.”
Although he’s not married, he says he has been in love. “It’s just never worked out because the girl didn’t want to marry me or vice versa. Having spent a lot of my life single, my friendships have a profound importance, I want to be there for them and support them. I’ve lost too many brilliant friends and I miss them all painfully. I find life difficult.”
He doesn’t allow social media to overwhelm him, however. “I love Instagram but social media can be very shouty, with people flinging accusations at each other. It’s a pity. I get abuse but I leave them to it. If people don’t like my book or ridicule it, that’s fine. I know some people said they were sick of what one called ‘this childish crap’ about the film and preferred another contender, My Year of Dicks, but I didn’t mind. We have lost the art of disagreeing well and still being affable.”
So will there be a sequel? “I’m pretty tired. But I don’t want to go back to being on my own again. I like what the book and film have done to people’s lives, including mine. I was in a restaurant last night and people were stroking the Oscar. But it’s the connections and conversations for which I am grateful. And that’s what the book and the film are ultimately about, friendship getting you through life.”
Born December 11, 1962
Educated Radley College; Queen Elizabeth High School, Hexham; dropped out of university twice.
Career Cartoonist for The Spectator, then a book illustrator for Oxford University Press. Worked with Richard Curtis on the set of Love Actually, drawing pictures that were auctioned off for Comic Relief. Also drew images for Nelson Mandela’s Unity Series. Published The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse in October 2019. Awarded the Maddox Gallery Artist of the Year prize in 2020 and named Illustrator of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2021. Co-directed and co-wrote the animated short film adaptation of his book, for which he won an Oscar.
Family Splits his time between Brixton, south London, and Suffolk with his dog, Barney.