I was a fledgling photographer, just starting out in London in 1967. The Observer called and asked me if I’d like to shoot the Queen. The thought of it really scared the pants off me, so I said: “I don’t think I can.” I’m not going to tell you what my wife said to me when I told her.
So I had second thoughts and I phoned them back. They said: “We want to show people that the Queen is a real living person, that she can do everyday things.”
We went to Balmoral and were shown into a living room that was so big you could park an aeroplane in there. The Queen came in and she was very sweet. At that point there were just three of us: the Queen, myself and my assistant. The dogs were there, four or five of those, but no other people, no guards, nothing.
“Where do you normally sit when you’re here?” I asked. And the next thing I knew, she was on the floor, in front of the fire. I thought, I don’t believe this.
Her skin was almost perfect. It’s white without a flaw in it. It was like crushed pearl shells. I took 200 pictures of her by the fireplace. When she started to stand up I went over to help. She smiled and said: “I’m not that old yet.”
I asked if we could take some pictures outside. She said: “I’m going to go upstairs and change my clothes and you just wait by the door.” All of a sudden, I saw her going up the stairs two at a time. I had my camera around my neck and I got a few snaps of her that are slightly blurred, but you can tell it’s her.
She reappeared in a kilt and we went outside. Suddenly she whistled and about 20 Highland ponies came running. That was amazing.
I was told I would be lucky if I had about six minutes, and I’d already used 20 at this point, so I took the photographs of her and I didn’t push it any further. We said our goodbyes in the giant entrance of Balmoral. I was very polite. I was taken with her as a genuine human being. You wanted to give her a hug, as if she were your aunt who you hadn’t seen for 20 years.
I was the first American ever to shoot her. At the time, there were not many people like her. People you just did not come by easily. There was the Pope, General Franco…
After that shoot I would never be frightened again because I burned out my nervous system that day. I’ve shot five prime ministers since then and I’ve been in 10 Downing Street several times – no problem.
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