When Karl Ellis gave his photo to artist Tom Croft to paint, little did he imagine his portrait would eventually adorn the cover of Portraits for NHS Heroes and hang in a gallery at Fitzrovia Chapel, now online at the Net Gallery. But there it is, and since the publication of the book, it’s been all over national news, too.

Portraits for NHS Heroes is an initiative by Oxford-based portrait artist Tom Croft, who got the idea when the country went into the first lockdown in March. On his website Tom writes about how he started thinking about the nature of a portrait:

“A portrait is a permanent physical record of someone’s existence. It also immortalises people, as the portraits are likely to last far longer than the subjects.

“So who should be immortalised today? Who should line the walls of galleries and have future generations look back on as the people who really made a difference and stepped up, in our latest darkest hour. The people who put self- interest and self-preservation to one side and literally risked their lives knowingly on a daily basis for our well being. The NHS workers. Absolutely.”

He posted a video on Instagram saying he would like to paint a free portrait to the first NHS Key Worker to contact him and suggested that other portrait artists might like to offer one too. And the response was overwhelming. Take a look on Instagram with a hashtag #postraitsfornhsheroes and read Tom’s astonishing story on his website.

Karl Ellis took part simply because he thought it would be nice to have a painting. His portrait was painted by Tim Benson who says at the Net Gallery:

“It was a real pleasure and honour to paint Karl Ellis for #portraitsfornhsheroes. I felt that it was extremely important to recognise the crucial and often dangerous work that NHS workers are undertaking on our behalf. Painting Karl’s portrait was my way of saying thank you.”

Karl says now: “Then I just kept seeing my picture everywhere!”

Karl works as a health care assistant at the medium secure Evenlode inpatient unit which supports men with learning disabilities. Originally from Jamaica, Karl has been working at Evenlode for eleven years and loves it.

“I like helping people, not only my clients but colleagues, too. It is in my nature,” he says.

No wonder he was just voted the Employee of the Month at Forensic Services.

The proud father of three boys – 10, 11 and 14 year-olds – concedes that working at the forensic services has it challenges, especially now making sure his family is safe from coronavirus. The portrait and the book will remain as a poignant testimony of this time.

“I’ve got the book and if anyone else has one, I’ll be happy to sign it!” he jokes.

As for the portrait, it is still waiting to be framed.

Karl is not the only Oxford Health NHS Hero that has been immortalised: in the summer we about health visitor Karen Bisp whose friend Sally Bannister painted her portrait. See the story here.