You are currently viewing Meet Paul Colsell, the 82-year-old hero behind the Exeter Kindness Mural

Meet Paul Colsell, the 82-year-old hero behind the Exeter Kindness Mural

Veteran artist, Paul Colsell, has painted many large-scale murals over the years. He now wants to conclude his career by reproducing the largest Charlie Mackesy illustration ever, in a high-traffic part of Exeter city centre to share a message of kindness. Local business journalist, Al Gibson, spoke to him about this exciting project.

‘This is my way of giving Back’ – Paul Colsell

Al Gibson: Paul, I’m intrigued by your creativity which continues to flourish in retirement! Plus, I admire your bravery to climb onto scaffolding spanning three storeys to create a mural as a gift to the city. Can you tell us a bit about your career and some of the murals have you done?

Paul Colsell: After studying at Reading University School of Art I pursued a career in graphic design in London for many years. Some of the highlights of my career included murals simply because they are such large-scale projects. One of my biggest challenges was the landscape of a Canadian lake in colour. I had to reproduce a photograph across the entire wall of a large room. That was easy enough because it was internal although it took ages to paint with so much detail. I also remember climbing high scaffolding to produce an outdoor mural of a dragon in Putney. That was an adventure in itself…

Al Gibson: I guess you project the image onto a wall and then paint it?

Paul Colsell: No. I create my murals in the traditional way, through squaring up. I divide the image into metre squares and draw a grid on the wall. Then it’s a case of copying the visual square by square!

Al Gibson: That is quite a feat to achieve especially when you are working on scaffolding several metres in the air. Don’t you have any fear of heights?

Paul Colsell: The secret is not to look down! It’s actually not that scary given all the safety devices in place today. You just have to keep within the guard rails.

PHOTOS: Gwenllian Riall, White Linen Photography

Al Gibson: So tell us about the Exeter Kindness project, how did that happen?

Paul Colsell: I met Sue Burbage who worked in the building at the time and she was telling me how she’d love to have a mural on the Crossline Building. I simply volunteered that murals are my speciality! That got the ball rolling and Sue’s vision of having a mural on the building will now be realised, thanks to the generosity of the local community.

I thought long and hard about what the mural would comprise and it soon became obvious to me that it should be an illustration from Charlie Mackesy’s lovely book which has become increasingly popular over the past few years. I chose one about kindness. It seemed fitting given the way so many people have gone the extra mile in the past few years, including our doctors and nurses in Lockdown. I also wanted something that would inspire others to, well, be kind!

Al Gibson: So how did you get permission from Charlie Mackesy to use one of his illustrations?

Paul Colsell: I contacted him through his website and sent him a picture of what I wanted to accomplish and he thought it was a great idea! He’s that kind of a person, very kind. I hear he is completely overwhelmed by the success of his books and often gives them away. ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ is a lovely story and I am delighted Exeter will have the biggest Charlie Mackesy illustration ever to be produced.

Al Gibson: That’s fantastic, and what about building regs, especially seeing the property is a listed building?

Paul Colsell: We had to submit a 14-page application to the Exeter City Council which was granted. The Crossline building is a listed property, so we have to work within strict perameters.

We have all the permissions in place. It’s now just a case of raising the funds to pay for the project.

Al Gibson: You will also need to resurface the wall?

Paul Colsell: Yes it’s a bit of a mess. There are cracks and it needs repainting to cover previous graffiti properly. So the costs will include redoing the wall, then adding the graphic and sealing it. We estimate the project will cost about £5000.

Al Gibson: You also want to raise funds for the charities in the building as well as give a gift to orphaned children in Africa?

Paul Colsell: Yes. Part of the proceeds will go towards the charities in the building including the Exeter Soup Kitchen. There are five local organisations who show ongoing kindness to hungry people in our city, each taking a weekday to run the soup kitchen. We are also partnering with Kondanani UK to administer the project including GiftAid. They support orphaned children in Africa as well as a paediatric hospital for children under five.

Al Gibson: That’s amazing. So the Exeter Kindness project is about celebrating generosity in the city, supporting local causes as well as extending kindness far beyond our city. When do you hope to get started? And how long will the project take?

Paul Colsell: Now that our Crowdfunding page is up and running, thanks to Kondanani UK, we can start fundraising. I am pleased to say that every donation will go that much further as we will be able to claim GiftAid, meaning the government will add 25% to each tax payer’s gift.

The mural itself will probably take about a month to complete and we hope to get started in early summer. Once it’s complete we hope to invite Charlie Mackesy to Exeter for an official opening!

Al Gibson: This sounds like a huge undertaking, especially considering you are in. your 80s. Where do you get the energy?

Paul Colsell: I am in good health plus there is longevity in my family. Both my parents lived well into their 90s. However, I did have a mild stroke some years ago which was frightening. I spent a couple of nights in the RD&E with a note beside my bed saying ‘Nil by mouth’ which is probably the worse thing that could happen to someone who likes their food!

Al Gibson: Finally, Paul tell us a bit about your relationship with Exeter..

Paul Colsell: Well, I only came to live in Exeter about eight years ago. Before that I was in Old Windsor for 25 years where I raised my children. My wife Betty is an American who was living in Exeter. We met on the Internet. She used to travel via London to see her mother and I suggested we meet up at the airport for coffee. Our first date was at Heathrow Bus Station! To cut a long story short, we got married and she moved to Old Windsor for about five years while I cared for my elderly parents. We were able to move to Exeter in 2015 where we live off Topsham Road. It’s a beautiful city where I have experienced a great deal of kindness. The Exeter Kindness Project is my way of giving back!

Paul Colsell is available for media interviews. Please email him at

Al Gibson

Al GIbson is an Exeter based businessman who runs Countdown Creative Ltd, offering copywriting and PR services including SEO content creation. Al is also a trustee of Kondanani UK a local charity that exists to alleviate poverty, especially in Malawi.

Leave a Reply