Nicola Rose O'Hara enjoyed a relationship with Lucian Freud

The one who DIDN’T sleep with Lucian: Nicola Rose O’Hara enjoyed a passionate relationship with the libidinous Lucian Freud — but despite his best efforts, she never succumbed to his charms

  • Nicola Rose O’Hara began a working relationship with Lucian Freud in July 1999
  • She has penned a book about her time modelling at his studio in Kensington 
  • Their friendship came to an end when Lucian suddenly stopped her from coming



by Nicola Rose O’Hara (Schnoff £15, 356 pp)

At 8.30 every morning (or sometimes 8.27, if Lucian Freud was being particularly pernickety about punctuality), Nicky O’Hara, a young, pretty, slim writer in her early 20s, rang the doorbell of the 77-year-old artist’s studio in Kensington Church Street.

She was Freud’s model of the moment, and they were addicted to each other. Aha, you might think: yet another sexual conquest for that irresistible, promiscuous rogue!

But Nicky was having none of that. She was determined not to fall in love with this delightful, fascinating, quietly powerful, but really quite old, hypochondriacal and wrinkly man.

Nicola Rose O’Hara (pictured), who began a working relationship with Lucian Freud in July 1999, recounts her time modelling at his studio in Kensington Church Street in a new book

Their working relationship began in July 1999. Nicky had met him and his puppy, Pluto, briefly eight years earlier through a friend. Now, after leaving university, Nicky had written to him asking if he was in need of a model.

He was — and was enchanted to meet her again.

He unleashed his usual seductive bag of tricks, driving her to Le Caprice in his Bentley for supper, then taking her to the National Gallery to see the Rembrandt exhibition after hours when the gallery was deserted and magical, then doing footsie under the table with her in Clarke’s restaurant, then holding her face in both his hands and kissing her just above each eye. But, nope, Nicky was not going to fall for it.

When the daily portrait painting started — Nicky standing naked for countless hours in his studio on the charcoal ‘marks’ he had drawn round her feet — the two of them became amazingly close, spending long, happy days cooking, eating, sleeping, holding hands, reading, laughing, having baths (not together), chatting and singing, with Pluto at their feet.

If you’re sceptical that a platonic love affair is even possible, read these wonderfully evocative diaries that Nicky kept over those 18 months, and you’ll see that it is. What was this, if not love? It was like a marriage, if not better. Freud gave up trying to seduce her and they settled into a glorious, trusting, mutually ardent friendship.

Nicky was dazzled by the blissful intensity of it all.

‘Eye to eye, spirit to spirit,’ she wrote. ‘I’m one of the happiest and most privileged people in the world. Lucian is so affirming.’

Having read other biographies of Freud and Celia Paul’s heart-wrenching memoir of her non-platonic love affair with him in the 1980s, I was fascinated to read about this relationship in which the woman kept her distance, under no illusions that what Freud was offering was anything other than temporary.

Nicola continuously reminded herself that she had friends of her own age and a whole future in front of her, while Lucian (pictured) was an old and sometimes rather pathetic man

Yet in spite of Nicky doing all she could to harden her heart and succeeding in resisting him physically, we feel in these diaries her growing emotional dependency on him. She kept reminding herself that she had friends of her own age and a whole future in front of her, and that he was an old and sometimes rather pathetic and self-pitying man.

But everything and everyone else in her life seemed to pale by comparison. When a young and eligible man fell for her, she felt no attraction at all.

Freud had taken over her whole universe: the gentlest, tenderest, most generous, sweetest, funniest, most attentive person imaginable, let alone incredibly famous and an artistic genius. Reading these diaries is an erotic experience, platonic though their relationship was. The emotional chemistry is overwhelming. And Freud spent six whole days painting her right breast.

He seemed just as dependent on her: tetchy if she went away for a weekend, hurt if she didn’t answer the telephone, and utterly reliant on her turning up every morning.

Freud took to ringing her at all hours of the night, so she would answer the telephone in the middle of her sleep. What was that if not love? But he could be moody and secretive. He was a consummate compartmentaliser. Nicky was aware that he had dawn sitters and night sitters. But she was relieved to discover that his other sitters did not have their meals with him. So she was the lucky, chosen one!

Nicky’s descriptions of the meals they enjoyed together in the kitchen above his studio make me long for someone to write The Lucian Freud Cookbook. Hot sauce with fresh tomatoes, vinegar and olive oil. Sausages stuffed with rosemary, blobs of mustard and chanterelles. White chocolate smeared with honey.

GIRL WITH TWO FINGERS by Nicola Rose O’Hara (Schnoff £15, 356 pp)

And a lot of roast woodcock and partridge, food of the aristocracy whom Freud so admired.

Nicky mentions more than once that he had a loathing of ‘new money’, and he was clearly chuffed to be painting a portrait of the Queen, alongside those paintings and etchings of Nicky.

My jaw also dropped at the descriptions of Lucian’s betting addiction. He would suddenly turn ‘from painter to punter’, studying the Racing Post with his glasses on, then going into another room to place a bet by phone.

‘You’re lucky for me,’ he told her, kissing her on the eyes after winning enough to buy a London flat. He promptly lost as much, and more, the following weekend.

‘When you’ve gambled everything,’ he explained to her, ‘you gamble more, and you walk away, not high as air but in the air.’ He couldn’t, he said, explain the high. As fascinating as it is to read this chronicle of an intense friendship between two people who are 50 years apart in age, it’s just as riveting to see it maturing, then turning a tiny bit sour and stale.

Nicky starts to become fed up with being at Lucian’s beck and call, barely allowed a life of her own. But then he enchants her again with small, matchless gestures: one day he brings her ‘a white-flesh peach in a paper bag. An exquisite gift’.

She is by no means ready to leave him but she hears him being disparaging about a previous model and is chilled by his ability to turn against people. ‘I wonder what will happen with me.’

The end does come, and it’s sudden and brutal. One day, Nicky’s about to go back to Lucian’s studio after a few days off, and calls him. His voice is tense. Then he says, ‘I’ve written you a letter, you should get it this afternoon.’

He explains the picture isn’t working and he wants to start some other pictures. Then she asks him, ‘Will I see you?’

‘Not for a bit.’

The sweet, loyal, kind, thoughtful, generous, gentle man turns out to have a heart of tin when it comes to cutting people out of his life. A few weeks later Nicky tries to call him to discuss returning her belongings. ‘He picks up the phone, says he doesn’t want to see me, and slams it down.’

Although Nicky doesn’t mention her, we know that Emily Bearn was the new love just round the corner.

This deeply touching book has brought back the fluid, bustling, pre-Congestion Charge London of 20 years ago, and made me feel as if I’m living inside a Freud painting.

I heartily recommend it.

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