Jack Vettriano, 60, left school at 16 to become a mining engineer. He took up painting as a hobby and is now one of the most popular British artists; in 2004, “The Singing Butler”, one of his best-known works, sold at Sotheby’s for nearly £750,000. He was appointed OBE in 2003.
What was your childhood ambition?
I’m not sure I had one, to be honest. I can remember being impressed by anyone wearing a uniform and thinking how smart and proper they looked, but that was it.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
State school and straight into work.
Who was your mentor?
Mentor is probably not the most accurate description of the role he played, but it would have to be the art critic (the late) W. Gordon Smith. When my career as an artist was just starting he gave me encouragement to stay true to myself and to keep working on my style.
How physically fit are you?
Most would say I’m not fit at all, but for my age I’m not doing that badly.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
A bit of both, but a good dose of luck too. I have never been that ambitious and was very lucky that my hobby turned into a career. I am grateful for all the luck that has headed my way over the years.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
Once, but it was ages ago and I can’t remember the score. It wasn’t that shabby; I remember being surprised.
How politically committed are you?
I’m not – I try to keep my opinions to myself.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I know I should, but I don’t.
Do you have more than one home?
I’m lucky to have apartments in Nice, Kirkcaldy (Scotland) and London. I consider my home to be the apartment I have in Kirkcaldy.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A Francis Bacon triptych. He’s one of my heroes. If that wasn’t possible, I reckon a 1950s Mercedes 300SL would keep me quiet for a while.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
I live frugally (probably the Scot in me coming through), so I suppose it would be the odd antique from auctions and fairs. I get obsessed with certain things and need to track them down – previously it’s been Dunhill lighters and at the moment it’s art deco lamps.
In what place are you happiest?
It changes constantly, but Scotland is the most beautiful place to be.
What ambitions do you still have?
To keep painting and enjoy my work.
What drives you on?
The thought that the story isn’t over yet. I like to think I could still paint a few more pieces that will please people.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Taking my parents to Buckingham Palace when I received my OBE.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
I try not to get disappointed but often when I am it’s of my own making, so I shouldn’t complain.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
He would be astonished. When I was 20, I barely had a backside to my trousers, so I reckon he would be gobsmacked. Although he’ll have another 20 years of hard graft before he can consider himself a professional artist – I was nearly 40 before I started selling my paintings.
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I’d like to say pick up the paintbrush and keep going, but I’m not sure I’d have the strength to do that.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Do you believe in an afterlife?
No, but I admire anyone who does.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Jack Vettriano has donated an artwork to the Macmillan De’Longhi Art Auction on September 25 at The Royal College of Art, London, raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. For tickets email: email@example.com