In August 2016, Coronation Street legend Denise Welch revealed in an exclusive interview with HELLO! how her husband Lincoln Townley has forged a glittering new career as an artist to the Hollywood A-list. The toast of Tinseltown, whose work commands six figure price tags, Lincoln's clientele includes Mickey Rourke, Al Pacino and Gary Oldman. “He’s a shining light in the art world and I’m thrilled to be along for the ride,” Denise told HELLO! when we joined her and Lincoln for this interview and photoshoot. Lincoln, who had no formal training, has only been painting professionally for five years but already the demand for his work is off the chart.
With critically acclaimed pieces seen at London’s National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Art, Somerset House and the Maddox Gallery in Mayfair, he attracted a high-profile following, leading to his appointment in 2015 as Bafta LA’s official artist in residence, with such honourees as Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford and Orlando Bloom sitting for him.
He was even hailed as the “new Andy Warhol” by Sir Michael Caine, whose portrait by Lincoln was exhibited at Somerset House in June 2016. “To be compared to Warhol is such an honour,” said Lincoln. “When Michael’s wife Shakira told me how much she loved my portrait of Meryl Streep, I painted her portrait, too, as a surprise. She loved it.”
Recalling how the Caines invited them for tea at their London flat, Denise said: “The portrait of Michael was already on the wall but Shakira wanted to place her picture next to his above the fireplace. Watching Lincoln and Michael hanging the two pictures was surreal.”
The Queen was the inspiration for one of his best-regarded portraits, which he unveiled at Brit Week in LA earlier in 2016 to mark her 90th birthday. “I look upon her as the most iconic of all icons,” said Lincoln. “Her energy is extraordinary.”
With a playful wink, Denise quipped: “Maybe you can paint my portrait for my next big birthday? You painted me in the early days of our relationship but I couldn’t afford you now. Mind you, I love these Christian Louboutins you surprised me with on our third anniversary,” she said, showing off her vertiginous heels. “I’ve never had a pair of real ones before so they’ll do me nicely, thank you.”
Lincoln, 45, who has son Lewis, 26, from his first marriage, credited Denise, 60, with motivating him to find his niche in the art world after escaping a destructive spiral of drink and drug addiction. “We encouraged one another to pursue what mattered most,” he said. “Her acting and my art.”
The former Loose Women panellist and star of BBC2 comedy Boy Meets Girl, who has two sons – Matthew, 29, and Louis, 17 – from her 24-year marriage to actor Tim Healy, also praised Lincoln for his part in her challenging her own alcoholism and her 27-year battle with depression. “We were party animals, two people in a mess, when we first met in a nightclub at 6am,” she recalled. “My marriage was in freefall and I was drinking too much. Being with Lincoln could have been the most explosive disaster but it went the opposite way.
“After a year of madness we decided to cut the bad substances out of our lives. Not only is it the best thing we’ve ever done for our relationship and our health, it’s also the best thing we did for our families. Staying sober together made it easier; we’ve been each other’s anchor.”
Denise’s first encounter with Lincoln’s art came when she visited his flat in North London and saw what appeared to be two Hockney masterpieces resting against a wall. “I was stunned,” she recalled. “I had no idea he was into art and asked who they belonged to. He said he’d liked the originals so much that he’d created these copies. It was another layer of Lincoln I had no idea about. His talent blew me away.”
Lincoln’s engineer grandfather taught him to paint as a child but he gave it up when he was 14, after his father died. Years later, he began again, using his experiences with addiction to create a portrait of Russell Brand for drug rehabilitation charity the Abstinence-Based Recovery Trust. An online auction led to commissions from stars including Charlie and Martin Sheen, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke.
Despite such a fan club, success didn't come easily and Lincoln’s work was turned down by more than 90 galleries. “Denise and I understand rejection – we’re in two of the world’s most competitive industries – but as a couple we have positive energy flowing through us. It’s one of the keys to our relationship. Whatever happens, Denise supports me.”
Remembering their wedding in the Algarve, Denise said of her third-time-lucky marriage, which featured exclusively in HELLO!: “It was a special day for me because I knew with all my heart it would be the last time I’d ever do it.” It was an unforgettable day for Lincoln, too. “I didn’t think I’d ever find what I have with Denise,” he said. “I first got married at 19 and, when I approached 40, vowed never to marry again. I had a son but thought there was no way I could enter another relationship with a child. Look where I am now. We’re one big happy family.”
His son Lewis lives in Spain, Denise’s eldest is in the band The 1975 and Louis, an actor who starred in children’s TV drama Hetty Feather, was about to make a short film with his mum about depression, Denise’s first as co-producer. “I’m so proud of them,” she said. “Tim and I share in the successes of our fabulous kids and have a great relationship. He gets on well with Lincoln. Sometimes we visit him and his wife Jo.”
Denise and Lincoln’s home in Cheshire is a domestic haven; Lincoln paints in his studio – a converted garage – while Denise curls up on the sofa watching TV crime documentaries or writing her second novel. “We love staying in,” she said. “We used to suffer from ‘Fomo’ – the fear of missing out. Now we have ‘Jomo’ – the joy of missing out. “What’s great is we don’t squabble. If we have a row, which is rare, it’s a belter but we sort it out and move on. Our house is cluttered with his canvases; there’s even a frame in the bathroom. I just leave him to get on with it. I wouldn’t dream of entering his studio when he’s in the zone."
Their 15-year age-gap, however, has never been an issue. “Lincoln keeps me young and his enthusiasm rubs off into my world,” tells Denise. “Some people joke I’ve married my carer. Who knows what the future holds? Lincoln has always preferred older women, anyway.”
Adds Lincoln: “We share the same sense of humour and have a lot of fun. I’ve never met or loved anyone as much as I love Denise.” “It’s been an amazing five years together,” says Denise. “There’s not a day goes by when we don’t say thank you for every moment.”
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