FORMER politician and broadcaster Michael Portillo has enjoyed an exclusive preview of a new attraction dedicated to Spanish heritage.

The former Tory MP, whose father was Spanish, looked around all four floors of the latest destination in The Auckland Project’s plan to revitalise the market town of Bishop Auckland through art, faith and heritage.

The Spanish Gallery focuses on art of the Spanish Golden Age during the 16th and 17th centuries, conceived to contextualise a series of paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán which has hung in Auckland Castle for over 250 years.

Michael Portillo has often delved into his Spanish heritage during his TV career and said he was excited at the prospect of The Spanish Gallery opening in the North East.

He said: “It was a great pleasure and privilege to visit The Auckland Project.

“I am very interested in the Spanish paintings by Zurbarán in the castle, and excited by the Spanish Gallery that will open in Market Square in October.

“Its design and contents vastly exceeded my high expectations.

“I’ll be a frequent visitor.”

The tour was all caught on film by North East film maker Alan Fentiman who was commissioned record the visit to mark the opening of The Spanish Gallery.

Alan added: “It was a pleasure to capture one of the first reactions to The Spanish Gallery and a real honour to be the first to film inside such an exciting addition to the North East’s cultural landscape.

“The day of filming was a very busy one, but it couldn’t have gone better, and it was great to work with Michael who was fantastic, and really brought out a lot of the story behind the Gallery and the artworks in an engaging and entertaining way.”

The Gallery, which is situated in Bishop Auckland’s Market Place, will open to the public on October 15, with tickets set to go on sale in early October.

Jonathan Ruffer, who founded The Auckland Project in 2012, said: “I was absolutely thrilled to welcome Michael to The Spanish Gallery and Auckland Castle and, given his incredibly busy filming schedule, we were very grateful he found time to feature so prominently in our film.

“It was wonderful to see his reaction to paintings and features throughout the Gallery and we look forward to welcoming him back many times.”

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