As Rolf Harris prepares to mark 60 years in television, a BBC documentary follows his efforts to paint a key scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Why paint A Midsummer Night's Dream?
Of all the Shakespeare plays I've heard about, or seen snippets of, or read about, that struck me as the most potential for a painting. It was just fascinating, that image of that stunning-looking fairy queen [Titania] who had the magic potion put in her eyes by Puck, the naughty little sprite, so that whenever she wakes up, the first thing or animal she sees, she'll be instantly head over heels in love with. So she wakes up and the first thing she sees is this bloody guy going off to some fancy-dress ball with a donkey's head on him [Bottom]. And he's a peasant, the lowest of the low. And there's this infatuation. It's a magic juxtaposition of images.
You've got supermodels Lily Cole and Lizzy Jagger among those posing semi-nude for you in the program. Were any of your subjects hesitant in saying yes?
Lily Cole wasn't sure. At one stage she said no, then a week later came back and said yes. She didn't know whether it would portray her in the way she wanted to be seen by the public. She'd just finished an art-history course. I wanted Helen Mirren as well, and she said she'd love to have done it but she was working in America when we were filming. The others were very keen.
In the documentary, you visit Australia and return to Canada, where you're still very popular as well. What was the most precious moment for you, looking back?
Vikram [Jayanti, the director] asked me where I thought was most important in my life, expecting me to say Australia, or my home town [Perth]. But the place that really made me feel secure about who I was was Vancouver. Nobody had ever heard about me, except the fact that I had a hit record in Australia [with Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport]. So I was able to turn up and be who and what I wanted. They accepted me as me, and that changed my whole life, really. It set me up to feel completely self-confident.
When you returned to England, you recorded with the Beatles's producer, George Martin. How did that happen?
When I came back, I approached EMI to put out the recordings I'd made in Australia. And they said [affecting posh English accent] ''Well, it doesn't work like that, old boy; we'll send you to meet George Martin.'' What I didn't realise then was that anyone who was weird was sent to George Martin [laughs]. That was the happiest accident of my life. He talked me into rewriting a song called Sun Arise [another big hit]. I thought it was going to be No.1. But some fellow named Elvis Presley jumped in at the last minute.
You're renowned for your musical noises and instruments - including the legendary wobbleboard and the stylophone. Is the Harris house full of music?
No, I'm a weird fish. I'm forever whistling a tuneless whistle, [it] drives my wife mad. I honestly don't know I'm doing it. My problem is, I'm painting every day. I get up at about six in the morning and start at 10am. Usually, I'm flat out painting every day. And I have to concentrate. My daughter is the complete opposite - she has to have music playing.
How did you become a national treasure in Britain?
I've always been unashamedly Australian: very honest with everybody, always real. I've never made them look stupid, I've always told the truth as I saw it. On top of that, I did interesting things with songs and paintings. Everybody says, ''Oh, I remember those huge paintings you used to do. We were all sitting round with the family, trying to guess what it would be.'' A lot of people have grown up watching everything I've done - all the drawings and the paintings. I've been on the screen since the 1950s. That's a long time.
Rolf Harris Paints his Dream
SBS One, Saturday, 2.50pm