The Art of Being Anneka; FEMAIL ON SUNDAY,EXCLUSIVE,How the Action Girl Has Put Her Career on Hold to Study Painting

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THE four small oil paintings of seascapes,together with the work of 16 other students, are on display at the end-of-year show of the Chelsea College of Art.

The canvasses depict sunny Mediterranean-style scenes, and the artist is obviously fascinated with the play of light on clear blue water.

There is no signature, but everyone at Thursday's private viewing of the work of students on the extra-mural Portfolio Preparation Course knew whose paintings they were.

For the artist is the most famous pupil they have ever had on the two-day-a-week course . . . Anneka Rice.

Only 18 months ago Anneka, now 37, was one of the highest paid stars of British television. For seven years she had presented the popular BBC1 show Challenge Anneka, in which she performed impressive acts of charity against the clock. Before that she was the star of Treasure Hunt on Channel 4. Then, suddenly, the merry-go-round seemed to stop. Ratings fell from 7.9 million to 4.5 million.

Anneka, who had endured a messy separation, decided she wanted to take a year or two out of the limelight.

She had always adored art and now she had the money and the time to indulge her passion. She enrolled on the Chelsea course, and is now believed to be considering several offers of foundation courses from art colleges.

`I love painting,' she says. `I am so out of public life now I would die rather than do anything public. I have taken up the paintbrush instead of the microphone and I am adoring it.'

T IS a remarkable shift in priorities for a woman who previously seemed so determined to succeed in her chosen career.

Where once work took her away from her home in Barnes, South-West London, for long stretches, she now seems content to be a housewife, fitting in her art course around caring for her sons, Thomas, six, and Joshua, five.

`Everyone knew I'd been trying to persuade the BBC to let me off the hook. But they kept saying, `Do one more series, do one more series', and last year I said it would definitely be the last.

`I decided the only thing to do was to say to the BBC, `I'm sorry, I'm going to resign' - and cut everything else out.

`I suppose I'm lucky to be able to choose not to work for a while, having worked terribly hard for 15 years.'

Anneka, who left theatre-producer husband Nick Allott in 1988 and now lives with Tom Gutteridge, whose Mentorn Films company produced Challenge Anneka, says art helped to overcome the emotional turmoil. …