Animal attraction lures stars to Scots sculptor

HIS teachers told him he was a dunce and would achieve nothing in life, while prospective employers were quick to show him the door.

But Mark Stoddart has overcome severe dyslexia to become a successful sculptor and furniture designer.

The once introverted schoolboy has proved his detractors wrong by winning commissions from Sir Elton John, Madonna, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, astronomer Sir Patrick Moore and jockey Frankie Dettori.

Turnberry-based Stoddart's latest project is to complete horse sculptures for Saudi Prince Torki Muhammad Saud Al-Kabir. The prince spotted the Scot's work – which sells for up to 20,000 – during a recent visit to the UK.

Stoddart, 47, revealed that he was bullied by teachers and pupils as a child.

He said: "I was teased and ridiculed for years because of the difficulties I had with reading. In one lesson I was told to read out a passage which contained a double-barrelled name.

"As much as I tried I couldn't put the two names together. The teacher told me I was stupid and made me stand there struggling for 45 minutes. Another pointed me out to the other children and told them I was a dunce."

Stoddart enjoyed a new lease of life after being transferred to a school in Sussex specialising in teaching youngsters with dyslexia. "My headteacher there really encouraged me," he said. "He helped to build up my confidence and opened my eyes to art and the opportunities that were open to me."

Yet after he left school Stoddart's hopes came crashing back to earth when he applied for an office job at a Scottish financial company.

"The manager told me to read the headlines on a newspaper that was on his desk. I managed with some difficulties and he asked if I had dyslexia.

"I told him that I did and was informed in no uncertain terms that he didn't want anyone like that working for him."

Eventually, Stoddart started designing furniture and art for a shop before deciding to strike out on his own.

During a holiday in Africa he became fascinated by hippopotamuses and decided to sculpt one of the creatures. They went on to become his trademark designs.

"I started out at the Ideal Homes Exhibition in London with very modest hopes," added Stoddart. "I ended up doing three times better than my best projection and things have snowballed from there."

The artist was amazed when Elton John called his office to commission a hippo coffee table. "Elton wanted the table as a present for his secretary... It was a huge honour for me."

Soon after, the celebrity endorsements rolled in with Buzz Aldrin and Patrick Moore both becoming the proud owners of tables featuring a model of the Apollo lunar landing module.

Stoddart also raised 19,000 for African orphans with HIV by auctioning a limited edition hippo dining table and was invited to South Africa at the request of Nelson Mandela.

The artist also confirmed that he was asked to design some furniture for Madonna, but is reluctant to go into detail.

As well as being admired by the queen of pop, he revealed he now also has a royal endorsement. "A couple of weeks ago I was at the Royal West Horse Trials and one of the members of the Saudi Arabian royal family ordered three pieces and expressed an interest in having another sculpture of his favourite horse commissioned," said Stoddart, who is sanguine about his lack of recognition at home.

"Sadly, I just don't seem to have much of a profile in Scotland. I don't know why that is. I get recognised far more overseas and get invited to all parts of the world."

Scottish Borders sculptor Charles Poulsen had praise for his fellow artist. "He's done very well to enjoy success while working in a traditional way," he said. "He's remained true to his principles even as the value of his work continues to rise."