The baker who comforted a queen
For the funeral of her mother in 2002, Queen Elizabeth II selected a poem attributed to that prolific scribe "Anon":
Do not shed tears when I have gone but smile instead because I have lived.
Do not shut your eyes and pray to God that I'll come back but open your eyes and see all that I have left behind...
The author turned out to be David Harkins, a writer and painter from Cumbria, England, who had lived an unacknowledged life for many years. He had written "Remember Me" (later to be known as "She is Gone") in 1980 or 1981 for a girl he loved unrequitedly, and submitted it unsuccessfully to a number of publishers, but by some circuitous route and without his name or title, it came to Her Majesty who saw in it an expression of her grief.
In the past few years, Harkins has begun to make a living through his paintings, but for many years he worked hard at mundane jobs: twelve hours a day, six days a week in a bakery, or as a cleaner or factory worker. He lived with his parents and wrote in his spare time, dreaming of success. Too shy to ask girls out, he put his feelings into his writing, and on his days off from the bakery he travelled to London to visit the art galleries and ballet.
Speaking of his fantasies of fame, Harkins said, "I used to watch the South Bank Show and imagine myself being interviewed by Melvyn Bragg... I wanted to be the next Harold Pinter. But I never got beyond Act 1, Scene 1." He wrote and submitted poems to many magazines, but apart from a piece in the Sunday Times, he went unpublished and for two years in the mid 1980s unemployed.
Until "Remember Me" was used as part of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, his greatest success had been the one-act play "Pam". This was performed at Currock House Community Centre in Carlisle by Harkins and an actress, Anne-Marie Smythe, for one night only, August 16th 1987. There were sixteen people in the audience, mostly members of his family.
The day after, he started work at Cavanagh and Gray's chilled food factory, where he met Jayne, who he married soon after. Harkins gave up writing just after the wedding, having found something else to focus his efforts and affections upon: "when I found what I was really looking for", he said. Three years later, they had a son, Jonathan.
He started painting in 1997, and in 2001 had a show at the library in Carlisle. His paintings depict his wife, often nude. They are simple in style, with strong lines and blocks of colour giving them a bold graphic quality, and he sells them through his website, enjoying the ability to make a living and be recognised as an artist at last.
- Mark Seaton, "The Accidental Laureate", The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,792762,00.html September 16, 2002.
- David Harkins Art, http://www.davidharkinsart.co.uk/index2.html, last updated September 14, 2002.