Have you an artistic background?
Not really - although I have an uncle who is artistic and my sister Laureen exhibits and works in community arts in Ulster. My parents were farmers and I even joined the Young Farmers at one point, which was good for socialising, and got the thumbs up from my parents.
How did your parents react when you said you wanted to be an artist?
Well, they knew I was artistic and were encouraging but thought of it as a hobby. For a while I wanted to be a vet but art won out. The deal was that I would do my exams, and I took English, biology and art A levels at Regent House School, Newtownards, and have something to fall back on. Art wasn't known as a stable career. Also, my parents, Archie and Adrienne Magill, were country folk and didn't think I would leave the province.
Was it a shock moving from Ulster to London when you won a place at St Martin's or was it exciting?
I did a year in Liverpool, where everybody was second generation Irish, then went to London. I was 19 and it was great. In fact, I was a bit wide-eyed for a time. I was in halls of residence in Battersea and we worked from 9.20am to 7pm or 8pm at night. As I did illustration and design, I got to do live jobs. We had people from The Face magazine coming in and I produced a boxed set of drawings for the Design Council. I was into reportage and went with Time Out to London clubs. I just did my drawings and didn't take too many free drinks.
What was the social life like?
In Liverpool I was mixing with schoolfriends mainly but in London there was more of a mixture of students. I was more isolated, so had to make more friends.
At college was your enthusiasm for representation art against the conceptual tide?
Yes. The reason I didn't continue at Liverpool was because the head of fine art said I'd be fighting abstract expressionism and conceptual art and wouldn't do well.
You were an illustrator first - when did you move over to painting and why?
In a way, I stumbled into illustration. I illustrated some of John Mortimer's books, did a lot for Penguin for 10 years, but I'd always painted in the evenings, doing my own work. Eventually, the Medici, a London gallery, aked me to put on an exhibition.
Your work has the photo-realistic quality of Edward Hopper, with a bit of Whistler and Monet added. Are they influences?
Absolutely. I'm more interested in atmosphere rather than the specific idea of a person in the landscape. And I am fascinated by the essence of old photos. When I was young we had few photos in the house but I loved the glow of those that were fading, like memories. Sometimes I add the soil of a certain place to the paint and use it in the background.
When did your paintings become known to the Hollywood set?
It started with my first gallery but they never told me who was buying. The owner told me a year later, because I'd noticed my prices had gone up 150%, purely because of sales to celebrities like Russell Crowe (below). He owns 11 of my paintings, on show in his homes in Australia and America. When he first came in to buy my work, he was nearly thrown out because he'd been running and was sweaty and staff thought he was a down and out. But then he said: "I'll have that one and that one and that ...''
Are there benefits of having glitzy clients?
Validation. I've sold to Miranda Richardson who is very enthusiastic. We were talking and I said I didn't like meeting collectors, then she pretended to slap me round the face, and suddenly I was in Blackadder. When Russell Crowe asked to meet me, I bottled it. I felt unconfident and thought he might be disappointed, but I'd be ok now.
Is art a nine to five job for you?
Longer, it's more like 7am to 7pm.
How do you relax?
By running over the Downs when the endorphins kick in.
What will you be doing for Christmas?
My civil partner Pam and I will have a quiet Christmas Day as we're both so tired, then on Boxing Day it'll be busy with friends and family and kiddies. Christmas is about taking stock. At the private view of my exhibition, I had a moment's worry about the paintings not selling in the recession. Then I saw all my friends and thought you could have all the money in the world and be alone, and it wouldn't make any difference. It's trite but true.
Do you miss anything about Northern Ireland?
No but a friend said recently that now we're in our 40s and 50s, all our work is about leaving home and what shaped you up to the age of 18 or 19.