The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse is the publishing sensation of the year.
Charlie Mackesy’s illustrated book has sold more than half a million copies, been translated into 17 languages and attracted a legion of celebrity fans.
This success is all the more extraordinary given that the book is just 128 pages long.
Its secret lies in its combination of delightful pen-and-ink drawings and heartwarming words of wisdom. They seem to offer comfort in uncertain times and their themes of hope, kindness and friendship resonate with people around the world.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse is the publishing sensation of the year
Mackesy’s drawings — reminiscent of E.H. Shepard’s for Winnie The Pooh — initially amassed a huge following on social media: 210,000 followers on Instagram alone.
They came to the attention of an editor at publishing house Ebury, who saw the potential for a book. Published in October, it became an instant bestseller.
Mackesy, a wild-haired, middle-aged artist with a crumpled shirt, based in Brixton, South London, has found himself globally famous, something which seems to have slightly startled him.
Mackesy, (pictured) a wild-haired, middle-aged artist with a crumpled shirt, based in Brixton, South London, has found himself globally famous, something which seems to have slightly startled him
Announcing a new exhibition of his work this week, he warned Instagram followers: ‘I may well be hiding in the loo. Sorry in advance.’
So what are the origins of these charming and uplifting drawings, and their creator?
Charlie was brought up on a farm in Northumberland, surrounded by dogs, horses, foxes and rabbits, which nurtured his love of landscapes and animals.
He was sent to Radley public school, but always preferred sketching and ferreting to studying, drawing cartoons of his teachers to amuse his friends.
When he was 18 his best friend was killed in a car accident, and Charlie began drawing obsessively to express his grief.
This led on to him painting and drawing cartoons and illustrations for books and magazines, as well as advertisements and posters.
His art has celebrity devotees — Whoopi Goldberg, Sting and Harry Enfield collect his work — and he has painted director Richard Curtis and actor Liam Neeson on film sets. Amanda Holden is also among his fans.
When his friend, actress Carey Mulligan, began getting panic attacks before her one-woman show opened, he drew her a series of encouraging sketches for her dressing room wall.
Its secret lies in its combination of delightful pen-and-ink drawings and heartwarming words of wisdom
They seem to offer comfort in uncertain times and their themes of hope, kindness and friendship resonate with people around the world
But it is the sketches of the Boy and his companions that have struck a chord across the world and catapulted Mackesy to worldwide fame. These drawings sprung from his conversations with friends: thoughtful, searching discussions, about what life means.
Final cover – The Boy The Mole The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
The first arose from a chat with adventurer Bear Grylls, one of his oldest friends. Grylls’s young son was sitting on a branch of a tree one day and Charlie started sketching him.
‘We were asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and I was thinking about the idea of kindness, so I just wrote ‘Kind’,’ he told an interviewer.
But it was the ‘Help’ drawing that sparked a massive response, the Boy asking: ‘What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ and the Horse replying simply: ‘Help.’
It was inspired by another conversation with Grylls, about courage.
For Charlie, courage was asking for help at a time in life when he was struggling.
He posted the drawing on Instagram and, he said: ‘The next thing I knew was that hospitals and institutions had been using it, and the Army had been using it for PTSD, it went crazy.’
It is the sketches of the Boy and his companions that have struck a chord across the world and catapulted Mackesy to worldwide fame
In a world rife with criticism and cruelty, particularly on social media — and the proliferation of sentimental sayings — it is the genuine compassion of Charlie’s drawings that shines through, perhaps because they are informed by empathy.
He has talked of struggling with anxiety and depression, and finds the isolation of an artist’s life ‘horrible’.
Now, thanks to The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse, he has emerged from his artist’s garret, with his message of love, kindness and hope. It could not be more timely.
- The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse by Charlie Mackesy is published by Ebury, £16.99. © Charlie Mackesy 2019. To order a copy for £13.60 P&P free, call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk. Offer valid until Thursday.