A Thousand Lenny Henrys?
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A Thousand Lenny Henrys?

Sir Lenny Henry was part of a new World Record over the weekend

As World Record attempts go, we think this one is pretty creative. Last weekend (28–29 October 2023), over a thousand artists gathered to immortalise Sir Lenny Henry in paint, all in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the nation’s favourite art competition, Portrait Artist of the Year.

Sir Lenny Henry Helped Break A Painting World Record

Sir Lenny Henry amongst some of the 200 portraits

© Mikael Buck / Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

With 200 people gathering in person and an additional 1,150 painters tuning in to a livestream, Sir Lenny Henry was the subject of a huge group painting event over the weekend, held at Lindley Hall in London and hosted by Sky Arts to celebrate a decade of the nation’s favourite art competition, Portrait Artist of the Year. Each painter had just 60 minutes to complete their portrait, using acrylic paints and an A3 canvas.

The event set a new official GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the most people painting online and in a single venue simultaneously. ‘The record attempt was amazing and surpassed all my expectations,’ Lenny said. ‘It was inspiring to see so many artists of all abilities and ages come together.

‘Seeing 200 portraits of me in person was quite a moment,’ he added. ‘They were so varied, and I loved chatting to the artists about their work. What a great way to celebrate Portrait Artist of the Year’s tenth anniversary.’

Artists painting Lenny Henry

© Mikael Buck / Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

The artists painting in person travelled to Lindley Hall from across the UK to play their part, from as far as Glasgow and Yorkshire. Artists from across the globe joined via livestream – from Norway to Canada, Portugal to the US – broadcast on Facebook and TikTok and hosted by presenter Yinka Bokinni. Renowned Portrait Artist of the Decade, Gareth Reid, was also on hand to offer his expert advice, helping people of all ages and abilities try their hand at painting; many Lennys were the artists’ first attempt at painting a portrait.

‘I really enjoyed myself!’ says Miriam Amankwa, one of the artists who took part in person. ‘My favourite part was getting to know the other artists, seeing their work at the end and how people translated their art styles through their paintings.’

Sir Lenny Henry having his portrait painted

© Mikael Buck / Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year
Photographer’s name must remain as part of credit metadata when distributed by third parties

Over its 10 years on TV, Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year has led the hunt for the UK’s best portrait artists with the help of judges Kate Bryan, Kathleen Soriano and Tai Shan Schierenberg.

‘It was lovely to welcome so many fans and aspiring artists down to Lindley Hall this weekend to celebrate the tenth series of Portrait Artist of the Year,’ says Phil Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts. ‘It was fantastic to have Sir Lenny back sitting for us, and to see how much the artists accomplished in an hour. We definitely had some stars of the future in the room.’

The Paintings

Portraits painted as part of the record attempt can be viewed at #PAOTYWorldRecord on social media. Here are our favourites.


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Portrait Artist Of The Year

This year’s series of Portrait Artist of the Year is now underway, with aspiring artists competing to win the 2023 title, and an array of celebrity sitters from the worlds of stage, screen, sport, literature and politics sitting for portraits. With seven heats, the artists are battling it out once again to impress the judges, with each heat winner painting British pop icon Emma Bunton in the semi-final, and the three finalists painting broadcasting legend and Portrait Artist of the Year royalty, Dame Joan Bakewell, hoping to take home the 2023 title.

Other celebs taking the sitter’s chair this year are:

  • Emma Freud (Broadcaster)
  • Richard Curtis (Screenwriter)
  • Fleur East (Singer)
  • Ainsley Harriott (Chef/television personality)
  • Rory Stewart (President of “Give Directly” and author)
  • Rob Delaney (Comedian)
  • Jay Rayner (Critic)
  • Nihal Arthanyake (Presenter)
  • Susanna Reid (Presenter)
  • Phillipa Perry (Author)
  • Alan Titchmarsh (Presenter)
  • Sue Barker (Sports personality/presenter)
  • Josh Widdecombe (Comedian)
  • Nicky Spence (Opera Singer)
  • Shirley Ballas (Dancer)
  • Vanessa Kingori (Conde Nast Chief Business Officer)
  • Mishal Hussain (Presenter)
  • Nigel Havers (Actor)
  • Lenny Rush (Actor)
  • Joe Sugg (writer and YouTube personality)
  • Daryl McCormack (Actor)

This year’s winner will receive a £10,000 commission to create a portrait of world-renowned conservationist Dr Jane Morris Goodall DBE, which will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in December.


Portrait Artist of the Year airs weekly on Sky Arts, Freeview and NOW.