BY his own admission, Jim Whitley didn’t get too many marks for artistic impression when he was a midfielder for Manchester City (right), Norwich, Swindon, Northampton and Wrexham.
He’s making up for that now.
Whitley, 42, has such a renowned reputation as a portrait artist that Princess Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell, commissioned him to do a study of her.
Another Whitley piece – of former England captain David Beckham – hangs in the PFA offices in Manchester.
And in the 10 years since injury forced the former Northern Ireland international to hang up his boots, he has also been singing for his supper as a member of a Rat Pack group.
“I do a Sammy Davis Jr routine,” explains Whitley, as though an ex-footballer putting himself into the showbiz spotlight once the floodlights fade is the most normal thing to do.
“It started off as a few corporate gigs, but when we took the show into theatres I had to learn how to tap dance.
“I mean, if you’re going to be Sammy Davis Jr, you have to tap dance, don’t you?
“We are taking the production around the country on tour.
“We’ve already done four or five shows, but we’ve got another 50 or so dates lined up early next year.”
Whitley has always been a natural.
He didn’t kick a football until the age of 10, when his family moved to the UK to settle in Wrexham. Robbie Savage became a close friend and his talent was recognised by Manchester United. Jim and his younger brother Jeff were snapped up by City – and both progressed into the first team at a time when the club was unrecognisable from the giant it is today. “It was a different Manchester City, but they did encourage me to do A-Levels at a local college and so I studied art,” recalled Whitley. “One day, I found a photograph of Tony Book, the club’s former captain and manager who was still on the coaching staff.
“It was quite a dramatic picture that showed all the wrinkles and the character in his face and I took it home and did a portrait, emphasising the light and shadow.
“When I showed it to Booky, he said ‘how much?’ I had sold my first piece of art and a few of the other lads asked me to do them.
“I took up art full-time at one point when I had finished playing but found it to be a really lonely existence. That’s why the