George Harrison and Madonna, Kensington 1986.

Friday, 20 May 2011


Recently the actor Hugh Grant has been on the radio and TV speaking in support of High Court 'super' injunctions and moaning about how the British tabloids have tried to “steal the privacy” of famous celebrities like himself.

If he'd decided to do whatever he did that time with Divine Brown in private, instead of in a car parked just off Sunset Boulevard, maybe he'd have a point.

I do happen to think the British tabloids are far too intrusive but, most famously in the case of the late Princess of Wales, there is often a element of covert collusion.

And sometimes it's hard to know exactly what celebrities do really want.

In 1987 I got commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph to take photographs of young people having fun in various London nightclubs.  I walked into Xenon nightclub in Piccadilly (which was a notorious celeb hangout) with a camera over my shoulder and almost as soon as got through the door a guy came running over.  He said he was with "Frida from Abba", he was her manager and she was having a quiet night out with friends.  "Under no circumstances", he told me, should I take her photograph.  He said I should make sure that she wasn't even in the background of any of my photos.

I told him I wasn't a member of the paparazzi and I promised him that he need not worry.  I said I wouldn't come anywhere near either of them.

This seemed to satisfy him but about ten minutes later he came over to me again.  This time he told me that he'd had a word with Frida and that, if I was really quick, she'd consent to having her photograph taken.  "But just the one mind."   I thanked him and again tried to explain that it wasn't the type of photograph I was after anyway and, if he didn't mind, I'd really rather not.  On hearing this he offered to buy me a drink if I came over and took a few photos of her.  I still declined.

I left the club soon after that to avoid being further bothered by the fellow.

I honestly have no idea if it really was Frida or whether the guy really was her manager.  Xenon was an awful nightclub.  I think it was the only time I ever went there.

But it does rather remind one of Oscar Wilde's maxim that "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" - in this case, extrapolating the notion to photography.

I've never been a member of the paparazzi myself but I've known a couple (including Nick Elgar, the grandson of Edward) and they always struck me as decent, hardworking guys just trying to make a crust.  But standing outside in the cold waiting to photograph someone who may or may not want to be photographed never really appealed to me much.

The photograph above is from one of the few times I came closest to acting like a paparazzi.  It's from a photo call in 1986 for the film Shanghai Surprise and it took place in the famous Roof Garden club above Barkers in Kensington.  Afterwards, I ran after Madonna's car as she left and took a few more photos. Trying to avoid being pushed over or attacked by her security guards, which only a few minutes before had been helping me, was a strange but oddly exhilarating experience.  But not one I ever wanted to repeat.

The above photograph isn't very good, I know.  All the rest were even worse.  Maybe it's just as well I never became a member of the paparazzi.  I'm just not an in-your-face type photographer.  I'm sure I'd have been no good at it.