Meet the sculptor behind Leeds United’s Billy Bremner statue

The renovated Billy Bremner statue at Elland Road.
The renovated Billy Bremner statue at Elland Road.
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Frances Segelman is the Leeds sculptor who created the iconic statue of footballer Billy Bremner and has worked with the great and famous, from the Queen to author Barbara Taylor Bradford.

John Fisher talks to her

She has had a brilliant 30-year sculpting career, creating over a hundred amazing lifelike busts of royalty, celebrity icons and household names.

Mention Billy Bremner, the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Bruce Forsyth, Sir David Frost, Sven Goren Eriksson, Jack Rosenthal or Cherie Blair and Leeds-born Frances Segelman has sculpted them all.

And now Frances is returning to the city of her birth on Sunday, to sculpt at the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff community centre in Moortown.

Her most famous Leeds work was created in 1999 when she sculpted the nine-foot statue which captures the fiery energy of soccer legend Billy Bremner, with his arms outstretched and fists clenched, which stands outside Elland Road football ground.

“As a sculptor there can be few things more rewarding than seeing your work in the heart of the community,” Frances said.

It was while she was sculpting the Scottish footballer that Frances received a call from the Duke of Edinburgh’s office at Buckingham Palace asking to see her portfolio, which eventually led to a commission in 2000 to sculpt the Queen’s husband.

So successful was the finished work that Frances was given permission to sculpt the Queen seven years later.

“With the Royal family you go back for different sittings which could be spread over a period of months – they gave me three or four sittings for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh,” Frances said.

“The Duke was very talkative actually and spoke a lot about his own art work, his watercolours and his carriage racing and also his favourite artists,” recalled Frances.

“The Queen was also very chatty – in fact too chatty because when you have only an hour and a half to do the work you savour the time – you know it’s wonderful to be with her but on the other hand you have to produce something.”

There are three busts of the Queen; the first one is at Baden Powell House, the headquarters of the Scouts Association in Kensington.

The second was done for Barnardos and the third was delivered to Buckingham Palace at the end of 2009.

It now stands side by side with the bust of the Duke, which is how Frances originally visualised them.

Frances is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors who now works in London.

But she was born and grew up in Leeds where her paternal family was steeped in the world of film. Her grandfather, Sydney Segelman, was one of four brothers – Jack, Oscar and Gerald – who formed the JOGS circuit, controlling twenty northern cinemas.

She was brought up in a world of make-believe watching the movies from the age of five.

“My grandparents lived close by and I was an only child. I had lots of uncles and aunts and friends who made a fuss of me, which was very nice.”

She was just 14 and a pupil at Gateways school when Frances was spotted by a modelling agency.

“I was married quite young, at seventeen-and-a-half in fact, to Max Goldberg. I absolutely loved modelling and I did that until I left Leeds to live in London when I was 21 but didn’t pursue a career there.

“In London I lived a life of luxury, at first I didn’t do any work, but gradually I turned to my sculpting.

“I’d always loved art and been very passionate about it – sculpture was a hobby… I once did a bust of my father when I was very young.”

Frances didn’t go to art school but went on a sculpture course attending classes once a week.

After that she just “read and read and read” about art and human anatomy until it became a real passion and from then on she “just kept on doing it”.

One day a local vicar, having seen some of her work, enquired if she could teach at his community centre.

“I was reluctant at first but he insisted so I started part time in this little arts centre in a suburb of London and absolutely loved it.

“And from then onwards we started having exhibitions and someone said ‘oh, come on Frances, sculpt something for the class’, so I did – I sculpted the vicar.

“There were crowds and crowds of people there: I realised then that I could do this very fast work in two hours flat – but only in front of a lot of people – and my speed sculpting took off from there.”

When it came to marketing and actually selling her work Frances believed in starting at the top.

So she went to leading London store Harrods to see if they would buy her work.

It was the early Nineties and they had just opened a new space called The Egyptian Room. They were impressed and she was commissioned to do seven bronze groups and even a bust of Sir Francis Drake.

What Frances looks for in a perfect sitter is character.

With just thirty minutes to chat prior to the actual sculpting she manages to scrutinize their personality, study their expressions, and observe how they sit, relax and hold themselves. “People are individual and unique”, she says.

She sculpted disgraced MP John Profumo in 2003, a few years before he died.

“But during our sessions he turned out to be a very naughty boy indeed,” Frances recalled.

“He was a bit of a monkey actually, so we had to have someone sitting in the room with me while I was sculpting him.”

Her workload for this year looks exciting. Currently Frances is sculpting Lord Michael Ashcroft and will begin work on a bust of London Lord Mayor Boris Johnson. And theatre legend Sir Derek Jacobi is also booked in for a sitting.

She is also creating a miniature model of Billy Bremner which is 16 inches height. This will be part of a limited edition and will be completed in early spring.

Frances has two children, John and Victoria. John is married to Josette and they have a son Dillon. Daughter Victoria is married to Justin Harris, from Leeds, and they have a son Charlie. Her mother, Sonia lives in Leeds.