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An only child gets more attention
Paula Rego Artist
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Did they want to have other children? Or did they... did your mother have miscarriages or did she try to have other children or... do you know?

She... she tried but she had to... she had to abort it because she couldn’t have it. She wasn’t allowed to have any more children, yeah. No more. I was an only child, which I’ve always liked being an only child; I quite like that. You got much more attention that way. And also good and bad because of course everything... we went to live in Estoril in this big house and coming from Lisbon and going to live in the country... Estoril is by the sea but there’s a lot of pine trees, it was very countrified with forests and stuff. And we had a large garden. And I remember being very frightened of outdoors; I’d... I hated being outdoors. I was always being told: ‘Go outside and play, go outside and play’. And I’d always stay near the door and I was afraid of flies and everything, she... my mother said, ‘God, she’s... you’re afraid of everything’. I said I was afraid of everything. I wasn't used to it. And so I always tried to get indoors as quickly as possible to go into my playroom, you see, because in my playroom is where everything I liked existed, my dolls, my books, my... I mean, I was even doing little drawings and things then, although I was very little. And they made me come outside, they made me play with other children. We had a neighbour called Toni... Tony... and he... he’d... he always wanted to play with me and I used to hide. And my mother said, ’Bring her out, bring her out’, so I’d have to go and play. Toni... Toni used to do dreadful things like get a tin of tomatoes and then cook them over the fire he made in the garden and it was disgusting and tried... and then we’d have to eat it. Oh, I hated playing with Toni. Anyway, he was a nice boy.

And then of course this was the war, this was the beginning of the war, and refugees began to arrive from Europe. Estoril was the centre of espionage, German, Italian, English, they all joined up there. And they met in the casino. The casino was actually 50yds, 100yds, from my house and they had a place called the Wonder Bar where they drank and they, I suppose, exchanged information etc. People would arrive from all over the place; I remember once, a family arrived in a big car from Belgium and the lady — the mother — had travelled in the back seat with typhoid fever. And there was a little girl in the family and a little boy, and the husband driving. And they got there to... to Estoril and somehow they became friendly with my parents, for some reason. And I was obliged to play with the little girl and my mother said, ’Oh, go and play with...’ I can’t remember her name, she was Belgian. And this little girl... well, we used to play up in the playroom and all she did was sit me up against the wall and say: ’Now, I am going to take out your eyes’. So she’d have a pair of scissors pointing at my eyes and I had to stand very, very still, just in case and I didn’t like this game at all. I remember her as if it was yesterday. She had very short hair. She was... she was very bright, but pretty scary. I said to my mother, ‘I don’t want to play with her’; I never told her why, I never told her she was trying to take out my eyes because I’d never say anything to my mother. And this went on until they went away, thank God. And so... so we went then... they used to go to... then we built a house, we built a house next door, which is the house I still have today.

Portuguese painter Paula Rego, became part of the London Group in 1965, was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1989 and became the first Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London in 1990. Her work is strongly influenced by folk and fairy tales, especially those of her homeland.

Listeners: Catherine Lampert

Catherine Lampert is an independent curator, art historian and Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts. She was director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1988-2001) and has been a model for Frank Auerbach since 1978. Her recent projects include exhibitions of Rodin (Royal Academy 2006) and Lucian Freud (Dublin, Denmark and The Hague 2007-2008) as well as a book on Francis Alys (Turner Libros) and a catalogue raisonné of Euan Uglow's paintings (Yale University Press 2007).

Duration: 4 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2007

Date story went live: 17 July 2008