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

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