Ten years ago Bryan Ellery had the chance to make his fortune in America. The British sculptor had made a portrait of actress Julie Christie, she had loved it and said that she would introduce him to her friends in Hollywood. 'Donald Sutherland, Goldie Hawn . . . big names.' So why didn't he go? 'I was too busy,' Ellery said, wryly. He was too busy bringing up children, enjoying his second marriage, trying to kick-start his new career. And anyway, as Ellery freely admits, 'I'm rotten with money, always in debt: I don't know why, perhaps I chase it too hard or maybe I don't care enough.' When we met in Hong Kong recently, he was busy closing down a show at The Rotunda - delivering bronze heads of business people and their families, and seeing new clients about commissions. So we met, between appointments, at the Mandarin Cafe. It was 11.30am, a ridiculous time to eat on a weekday, we agreed. 'Would you like breakfast or lunch?' the waiter asked. Ellery opted for the former - eggs Benedict ($98) - while I chose the latter - a seafood bento box ($198). The box mixes lobster bisque and salad with two pieces of sushi, seabass in a rich balsamic sauce and egg fried rice. It is an intriguing mix of East and West - like a sophisticated airline lunch tray. Each portion is exquisite, although the whole is not entirely successful. Ellery's choice came with chips and salad which was unexpected and unwanted, but the eggs Benedict themselves were 'wonderful'. The eggs tasted farm-fresh and the bacon reminded him of Welsh mornings - from a time when he was working in the building trade, designing interiors 'for rich people who liked spending a lot of money on kitchens'. Now he is a full-time sculptor but the road from his first encounter with clay at the age of 18 to sculpting the sons of British marquises ('I love that kind of commission - they invite me to stay at their stately homes') or the aristocrats of British writing - including Ben Okri and John Mortimer - has been bumpy. His CV suggests a man who is brimming with ideas yet hates spreadsheets. In the 1970s Ellery started a skateboard company. Then the fad skidded into obscurity leaving him with a bankruptcy and a heap of ball bearings. He also worked as a gardener, and a carnival artist (and dictionary consultant) in Italy - until an affair with a passionate widow ended in violent recriminations and he left the country. Ellery then trained in carpentry when he realised children (he had two then, and four now) cannot be raised on art alone. But one day when he was working on Christie's Welsh farmhouse kitchen he casually mentioned he did portraits. She gave him a commission, liked it, introduced him to friends, and two years later he took the risk and began to sculpt full-time. Through all the jobs that skill has always been there, he said, even if he has not always used it. It had started when he was a student at Exeter University and walked into an evening art class. 'They were making clay portraits: I found it so easy,' he said. Later he went to art school. 'It was the 1960s: I was young and impressionable and taken in by everything I saw,' said Ellery, who describes his style then as 'imitation Paolozzi'. Portraiture was an embarrassment. 'It wasn't fashionable at all: you had to keep it under your hat.' Today his style is more individual although strongly influenced by Jacob Epstein. The clay is slapped on with energy, and then left, unsmoothed, so the face has a mobility and character to it. During the best sittings 'I go into a state of ecstasy - my hands are working with me'. Except on rare occasions - like Brother Joseph McNally in Singapore, who only agreed to sit for a portrait if his art students could watch the process - he insists on being alone with his subject 'so I can know what they are about'. Once, while making a portrait for a Thai TV entertainer, he was amazed to realise gradually that 'she' was a he. He has never done a self-portrait. He laughed when I asked him that question. 'I should do it,' he said. 'But I'm always too busy.' Mandarin Cafe, Mandarin Oriental, Central, Tel: 2522 0111 The Bryan Ellery show runs from December 13 to January 31 at the Galerie Regal, Regal Kowloon Hotel, 71 Mody Road, TST East.