Sister Wendy Beckett, a Roman Catholic nun who became TV star, dies at 88
Sister Wendy Beckett (Rex:Shutterstock)

Sister Wendy Beckett, the Roman Catholic nun who left her cloistered convent life to launch a television career in later life and became an unlikely small screen star, has died aged 88.

Beckett, who soared to international fame presenting a series of popular and unscripted art programmes for the BBC in the 1990s, died at the Carmelite Monastery in Quidenham in Norfolk on Wednesday.

"Sister Wendy had a unique presentation style, a deep knowledge of and passion for the arts," said Jonty Claypole, the BBC's director of arts.

"She was a hugely popular BBC presenter and will be fondly remembered by us all. We're thinking of her loved ones at this time."

Her popular shows included "Sister Wendy's Odyssey" (1992) and "Sister Wendy's Grand Tour" (1994).

Born in South Africa in 1930, Beckett was still a child when her family moved to Edinburgh, where her father studied medicine.

She joined a convent at the age of 16 and was sent to Oxford University in 1950, where she was awarded a Congratulatory First Class degree in English literature, according to the BBC, before a stint teaching in South Africa.

Beckett began studying fine art in the 1980s and decided to write a book to raise money for her convent.

"Contemporary Women Artists", published in 1988, was the first of many books and articles.

Her solitary existence, living in a caravan in her Norfolk convent, was transformed when the BBC commissioned her to present a television documentary on the National Gallery in London in 1991.

Beckett became well-loved for her unusual presenting style, which saw her discuss featured painting in depth and without an autocue.

"It is very sad news. Many people see her as a religious person and she was far more than that," said Xinran Xue, a close friend, according to Britain's Press Association newswire.

"It's a huge loss for the art world. She was a brilliant art critic."