Single mum Shany Hagan was devastated when as a young student she had to give up a foundation art course because of her failing eyesight.
Having been born with cataracts – the clouding of the lens of the eye – she found it more and more difficult to cope with the demands of the course at Grimsby School of Art.
In the years that followed she could have had an operation to correct the condition, but she was always nervous that something could go wrong.
That feeling was compounded when she gave birth to her son Tom, and later had to bring him up alone.
“I previously ruled out surgery because I knew any operation carried risks and I couldn’t leave Tom with a blind mum,” she explains.
But as her son, now 20, grew older, she decided to take the risk when her eyesight started to impact on her balance.
And within weeks of her operation at York Hospital in January last year, she picked up her paintbrushes again after three decades.
She rediscovered her artistic flair, and her work is so well thought of that she now paints for numerous A-list celebrities.
When she was furloughed from her job selling electronic components for the Ministry of Defence at the start of the pandemic, she began posting her work on Facebook.
She soon picked up an array of famous fans, including Mike Read, Sir Cliff Richard, Mel B, Ricky Tomlinson, Bob Champion, Frank Bruno and Eddie Kidd, who all started commissioning her work.
Shany, 52, of York, says: “I have to pinch myself that this is real. I’m finally living the life I always dreamed of.
“Until the pandemic, I was stuck in a sales job I hated, staring at a screen, but look at me now.”
Recalling her eyesight problems, she says: “I didn’t really know how bad my eyes were getting until my balance started going because it was such a gradual deterioration.
“Being able to see clearly after that operation was a complete epiphany – it didn’t just give me vision, it gave my life a new purpose; one I’ll forever be grateful for.
“It was like I’d had curtains over my eyes and finally I could see – no wonder my paintings as a student in my 20s weren’t very good! Suddenly, everything was so vivid – like I was in a different world.”
Her talent was first spotted by veteran DJ Mike Read, who commissioned her to do a piece of art on the back of a leather jacket. He then asked her to do another jacket for Cliff Richard’s birthday last November, with the singer’s greatest hits on the back.
Mike, the presenter of the That Was Then, This is Now hits show, then commissioned a jacket to wear throughout the series.
At the end, it was signed by more than 40 stars – including Paul Young, Toyah Wilcox, Kim Wilde and Right Said Fred. It is now due to be auctioned, and it is hoped it will raise over £20,000 for Parkinson’s UK.
Shany, who regularly paints for up to 18 hours a day, is “giving back to society” in a big way – raising a huge £250,000 for charity.
Just days after Captain Sir Tom Moore passed away in February, she produced her own tribute to the nation’s hero – a painting which is being raffled online next month with ticket sales currently totalling £30,000.
All the proceeds will go to Military Versus Cancer.
Shany says: “Captain Tom was a massive inspiration to me, having raised over £30m to help the NHS. He epitomises so much that’s great about this country, and I wanted to pay tribute to him.
“Every single day now I open my emails and find people from all over the world wanting me to paint for them. I’ve just taken on a commission to do a portrait of a Buddhist monk in Texas for his 70th. I’ve got a US baseball team wanting me to work for them – the list goes on and on!”
Her commissions now amount to more than 400 pieces, including a painting of Ricky Tomlinson’s dog, a portrait of the Royle Family actor playing the banjo, and a painting of Frank Bruno lifting his WBC belt – which raised £4,000 at his mental health charity auction last month.
Shany has also been asked to do a painting of Freddy Mercury and Rick Parfitt together for Rick’s widow Patty Parfitt; one of Bucks Fizz for Cheryl Baker, Jay Aston and Mike Nolan; jackets for Donny Osmond and his brother Meryl, and jackets for Angel and Dick from Escape from the Château.
The celebs have heaped praise on Shany, with jockey Bob Champion describing her as an “amazing talent” after she painted a piece featuring him with winning horse Aldaniti.
Mel B says: “I was so flattered that Shany did this portrait (above) – she’s extremely talented and I have it hanging in my house.”
Frank Bruno says: “Shany did an excellent image of me that looks so lifelike people thought it was a photo. I have had many people do paintings of me, but Shany’s one was a bit special.”
Patty Parfitt says her work is “fabulous”, while Eddie Kidd says: “I’m over the moon with the wicked painting I got… she is a brilliant artist.”
And Mike Reid says it was a “privilege to see her talent.”
She has even had thanks from Buckingham Palace after painting one of the Queen’s horses for her. It is all a far cry from her early heartbreak. After studying art all those years ago, she went into fashion design at York Technical college, briefly enjoying success designing men’s suits.
She loved it, but says: “There simply wasn’t enough work around to pay the bills. My husband and I broke up, leaving me a single mum, so I had to prioritise supporting my son over my passion for art, and took a job in sales.
“It was my own version of hell, and every Sunday night I’d cry at the prospect of having to go back to work and stare at spreadsheets, speaking to clients about products I had zero interest in.”
She is still taken aback by her celebrity fanbase, and says: “It’s just so surreal.”
See Shany work on instagram here