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Jessica Watson is the youngest person to have sailed solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, returning to Sydney on 15 May 2010, three days before her 17th birthday. She was named the 2011 Young Australian of the Year.
‘Like many thousands of Australians, I followed Jessica’s journey around the world quite closely and was swept up in the moment of her arrival and the patriotism it instilled in us,’ says Tom Macbeth. ‘Such a wonderful achievement for one so young! (I have a daughter the same age).’
When Macbeth first approached Watson’s media manager Andrew Fraser to ask if she would sit for a portrait for the Archibald, the answer was a quick ‘no thanks’. After further discussions, Macbeth put Watson at ease by offering to conduct the sitting on board the yacht of her project manager Bruce Arms at Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where Watson hails from.
An agreement was clinched when Fraser asked Macbeth what he would do with the prize money if he won. ‘That was easy. My wife passed away from cancer seven years ago so I said all the prize money would go to the Cancer Foundation,’ says Macbeth. ‘The last email from Andrew just said, “I think we have a deal”.’
The portrait was painted a few squares centimetres at a time. ‘I paint in very thin layers of oil, finishing small sections of the painting at a time before moving on to the next, but always starting with the eyes,’ says Macbeth. ’I did question whether to include her teeth in the portrait – not something many people would normally do, but I thought that her gapped smile is what many people associate with Jessica and so to capture her completely they had to go in.’