Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The paparazzi and the royals

On a hot August day in 1992 a well-known paparazzo approached me and said.
“What would you say if I told you I could get pictures of Fergie having her toes sucked by Johnny Bryan?”
I was Picture Editor of the TODAY newspaper then and the scandalous pictures had been on the grapevine. I was desperate for them. I said.
“The Mirror’s got them for 75 grand. I can’t afford that.”
His eyes twinkled.
“No probs. I’ll get them for a quarter of that. I’ll have them here by midnight.”
With that he grinned – and so did I. Every red top in the world wanted those snaps. I feared a caning by my Editor if we appeared without them. On such things tabloid picture editors’ jobs depend.

A call on the stroke of twelve saw me in a darkened Wapping car park for the ‘meet.’ A touch of ‘deep throat’ about it all, especially under the very windows of our owner and deadly rival the SUN. Sure enough he had the scandalous snaps. He had done a deal with a print worker in Italy and he clutched a still warm copy of Oggi magazine, straight off the presses and flown to London within hours.

The deal done I sliced them up and slapped them into that night’s first edition of Today, only hours after the Mirror. At twenty grand they were a bargain.

That’s how the paps operate. Smart, solo units, thinking on their feet. Some deride them but are they any different from Francis Drake raiding the Spanish ships for gold, or the Merchant Adventurers of old? The readers wanted to be titillated by scandal amongst the privileged classes. It was supply and demand.

Earlier, the pap who took the Fergie pics discovered where the Pope went swimming in his red socks. He rigged the Holy Father’s holiday villa with CCTV cameras and the pictures went round the world.

His forerunners were equally adept sharks in the pap pool. The UK’s first, Ray Bellisario, climbed a tree in the dead of night in Windsor Great Park, overlooking the lake and waited. A day later Princess Margaret went water skiing in a wetsuit. He was nick-named, ‘the Peeping Tom’ and telefoto lenses in those days were called ‘long toms.’

He would walk the Mall pushing a pram, his long lens snuggling where the baby should be. He plagued the royal family for a decade. Prince Philip finally asked the Queen,
“Can’t we bloody have him put in the Tower!”
She replied.
“Not these days, dear.”
It was said Philip walked the corridors flipping open the visors of the suits of armour in case Bellisario was inside.
The paps didn’t always get their way. In the late sixties ‘Peeping Tom’ pictured the Queen walking in the grounds of the Palace with the Duke of Windsor, then shunned and outlawed by ‘the Firm.’ The royals were furious and denied it ever happened. No UK editor would dare call the Queen a liar, and the picture didn’t appear in print until thirty years later, in 1998.

In the late fifties a picture was taken by an ‘insider’ of the Queen and Philip in bed, eating breakfast from a tray. The Express, terrified to use it, gave it to French magazine, Paris Match, hoping to report the ‘scurrilous’ use by the foreign press and thereby, use it themselves. But all parties got cold feet and it ‘disappeared.’

It was a reporter who took the picture that finally outed Princess Margaret’s affair with Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior. Ross Waby of the Daily Mail visited Mustique, Margaret’s hideaway island, as a rich tourist. He posed his wife for a picture and caught the two lovers in the background. The pics caused a sensation.

Later the Express planted cameraman, Stanley Meagher, in the rafters of Streatham Ice Rink. He stayed for six weeks to capture the first skating lessons for the young Princess Anne.

Diana’s charisma and the availability of miniature cameras made her pursuit a money-maker for the new breed of ‘stop at nothing’ paparazzi of the 90’s. She was stalked and an industry grew up around her. Millions of pounds were made from her pictures. Because she lived in Kensington it wasn’t hard to guess her movements.

I was now Daily Mirror Picture Editor. Every day ten paps offered me her picture. I only covered diary events with my royal photographer, Kent Gavin. I didn’t need him to chase her. The paps filled the blanks.

By now TV had joined the chase. The picture of the decade was a video grab. Martin Bashir’s BBC Panorama interview, in which she admitted adultery with James Hewitt and revealed the role of Camilla in the marriage, depicted a Princess in anguish, and the stills showed it.

The beginning of the end for the Princess came when Diana insisted the Queen withdraw her Royal Protection Officers. She was doing 'deals' with the pressmen, tipping them off where she would be, scoring points against her husband in their battle and the S.O.14 officers were in her way. But they had kept her safe on the streets. By shunning them she was literally alone, thrown to the wolves. The fringe paps could now get at her and made her life hell, insulting her, screaming at her. They were not proper cameramen, just chancers who bought a camera to make money from her. She turned to Mohamed Fayed for protection.

In doing so she lost her trusted Royal Protection Officer, Inspector Ken Wharfe, of the elite S.O.14 bureau at New Scotland Yard. He was with her for ten years until he resigned, frustrated by her machinations with the royal press pack.

He says tellingly in his book:

* “Diana’s death, I kept thinking, was senseless because it could so easily have been prevented, but it was not photographers and journalists who killed her. My department had had the care of her for some fifteen years: Mohamed Fayed’s team of ‘bodyguards’ had had charge of her security for eight weeks, and now she was dead. They failed in their task and it angered me beyond words.”

A sentiment with which I could only agree.

* “Closely Guarded Secret” by Ken Wharfe. (Michael O’Mara Books.)

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