Artist Helen Riddle: I’d take James Willstrop out for lunch and Dame Judi Dench for dinner

Artist Helen Riddle. Picture by Simon Hulme
Artist Helen Riddle. Picture by Simon Hulme

Artist and felt-maker Helen Riddle works from her studio at The Art House in Wakefield. Helen set up her own creative business in 2008 and is a patron of the Hepworth Gallery. She is married to Jonathan, and they have two daughters. She reveals her Yorkshire favourites.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Helen is a big fan of The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for The Hepworth Wakefield

Helen is a big fan of The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for The Hepworth Wakefield

I was born in Cheshire, so it would be coming over from the Wirral as a small child to stay with my aunty in Kilham, near Driffield. I remember visiting Beverley Minster with her and still have the postcard I bought there in the mid-1960s. I remember the odd taste of boiled eggs for breakfast – I now realise it was just because they were so fresh from the farm next door!

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

Wakefield, where I live. We moved here in 1985 for work – I came to teach, firstly at what was Normanton High, and Jon is an accountant – and I never thought we’d stay this long. I had to look at where Wakefield was on a map (no Google back then) to find out where it was. But for an artist and art lover, it’s an amazing place to be.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

Helen would take James Willstrop out for lunch. Photo:  Martin Rickett/ PA Wire.

Helen would take James Willstrop out for lunch. Photo: Martin Rickett/ PA Wire.

I’d probably start with a coffee and pastry at Laura’s – a brilliant little Italian cafe at the Art House where I have my studio. Then I’d head for the Hepworth to wander around the exhibitions and then off to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for a long walk and more inspiration.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view?

There’s a perfect circular walk around Langsett Reservoir, near Stocksbridge. There are stunning views over the lake and moorland.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

The very talented squash player James Willstrop. He was lovely and delightful as a young man when I taught him at Ackworth School and it would be great to catch up with him.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

Dame Judi Dench – she would be warm, funny and thoughtful company. I’d like to ask her about how Quakerism has guided her life, because Ackworth was founded on its principles.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?

Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills. For a textile mill that was once the largest in the world, it’s incredibly well tucked away.

If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be?

Probably Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure from the Wakefield Permanent Art Collection. It’s a beautiful piece carved in elm wood.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Pride. I’ve never lived anywhere else where people were so proud of their county. It’s infectious too. Even after 33 years here I can’t claim to be a native, but I’m very proud and pleased to be Yorkshire by adoption.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

Iris is a favourite – the food is imaginative, beautiful and absolutely delicious. But I also love Corarima with its Abyssinian spices and style. Lovely people at both, great service too.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

There’s a fantastic little micro bakery in Agbrigg called the Crow’s Rest Bakehouse. We order from a different online selection each weekend and pick up the freshly baked loaves on Thursday evenings.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

Art wise, Wakefield has gone from strength to strength. Two world-class galleries in the Hepworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and a really vibrant life at more grassroots level. It’s been great having the first Yorkshire Sculpture International Festival in Leeds and Wakefield this summer. I’m delighted that my exhibition is part of Index, the fringe festival.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be?

I’d make Bettys’ Fat Rascals more widely available – I sometimes have to travel quite a few miles to pick up a couple of packets.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Linda Fielding who runs Wakefield City of Sanctuary and works tirelessly to help displaced people who arrive in Wakefield. She’s inspirational, amazing, a truly compassionate and selfless woman.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

At every level, yes. I love my studio and the sense of community at the Art House. For materials, Yorkshire has great local fleece and felt-making suppliers.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer?

It has to be Alan Bennett. My children grew up loving his rendition of Winnie the Pooh. The History Boys is one of my favourite films (it really tells a lot of truths about the education system), and we’ve spent many evenings at the West Yorkshire Playhouse enjoying his witty but thought-provoking plays.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

Oxley Bank at the Sculpture Park at bluebell time. It takes my breath away every year. The place means so much to me that it’s where I want my family to remember me when I die.