It’s not about be­ing the world’s great­est pho­tog­ra­pher, which I’m not. It’s about your per­son­al­ity

Celebrity pho­tog­ra­pher Richard Young has walked more red car­pets than most A-lis­ters. He tells Keith Wil­son how it all be­gan with a bor­rowed Nikon…

NPhoto - - Front Page - Richard Young, Celebrity pho­tog­ra­pher

Wichard Young starts his day at 6.30pm, but he isn’t com­plain­ing. Af­ter night­fall the A-list celebri­ties come out to play, and it is at red car­pet pre­mieres and af­ter-show par­ties that Richard finds his pic­tures. He may now be as recog­nis­able as his stel­lar sub­jects, but Richard knows bet­ter than any­one that his early suc­cess was down more to luck than skill…

So 40 years ago you picked up a Nikon…

The funny thing is, I never picked it up. I was work­ing in a book­shop in Re­gent Street, the Vil­lage Book­shop, and the owner Jef­frey Kwin­ter asked me to take some pho­to­graphs for a book he wanted to il­lus­trate. He asked me if I knew any­thing about cam­eras. So I lied and said, ‘I know ev­ery­thing about pho­tog­ra­phy’, not know­ing any­thing at all! He threw into my hands a Nikon FTn Pho­tomic cam­era with a 35mm lens and sent me off to the West Coun­try to pho­to­graph the coun­try of Thomas Hardy. He gave me three rolls of black and white film, Tri-X, and said: “Let’s see what you can do with that!”

So how did it go?

I got back to Lon­don, pro­cessed the film, and there wasn’t one im­age that came out! I didn’t know any­thing about pho­tog­ra­phy.

Was it a com­plete fail­ure?

Mr Kwin­ter was quite dis­ap­pointed, but be­ing the kind of per­son he was, he let me keep the cam­era on per­ma­nent loan and told me to go out and teach my­self how to use it. So I did, with the help of var­i­ous cam­era stores around the West End. I’d go in and ask ques­tions like, ‘What does aper­ture mean? What is ASA?’ The time from when it all went wrong to learn­ing how to use a cam­era was about six weeks, and that’s when I got my first world exclusive.

What was the photo?

It was a pic­ture of Paul Getty, 16 years old. He had just been re­leased by the Mafia in Italy af­ter be­ing kid­napped. He had his ear chopped off, and his grand­fa­ther, John Paul Getty, paid a £2 mil­lion ran­som. He came to Lon­don to spend the weekend with some friends about three doors down from where

I lived. They were my friends and asked if I wanted to have lunch on this par­tic­u­lar Satur­day, in July 1974, and told me to bring my cam­era. I took pic­tures of Paul Getty, they got pub­lished in the Evening Stan­dard, and af­ter that the Stan­dard would ring me two or three times a week and ask if I would do a job for them in the evening.

Did all that change when you pho­tographed Tay­lor and Bur­ton?

One night in Novem­ber 1975 the Stan­dard asked me to pho­to­graph El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Richard Bur­ton at The Dorch­ester ho­tel for Bur­ton’s 50th birth­day party. I got to the Dorch­ester and ev­ery­one was be­ing ush­ered into the foyer, so I fol­lowed this PR girl through some doors and ended up in a room set up for a party that hadn’t started yet. The only per­son in the room was the DJ, set­ting up his equip­ment. I went and squared up to him and said, ‘Don’t split on me please mate. I won’t spoil the party.’ He said, ‘Fine, let me teach you how to use the turntable!’ So now I’m the as­sis­tant DJ and I’m help­ing him.

What hap­pened next?

Well, ev­ery­one comes in for din­ner, they sit down, they have din­ner. I didn’t take any pic­tures un­til the cake came in. Bur­ton and Tay­lor then got up in the mid­dle of the

dance floor and blew out the can­dles – kiss, kiss, kiss – by which time I’m tak­ing all these pic­tures. Ev­ery time my flash went off, she looked up. Even­tu­ally Bur­ton and Tay­lor hit the dance floor. I went and pho­tographed them re­ally close-up. She then went up to me, and her nose nearly touched mine, and she said, “I think you’d bet­ter leave. Now!”

Yet you re­mained on good terms with Tay­lor. Do you make friends with most celebri­ties you pho­to­graph?

It was al­ways my be­lief that, if I was go­ing to do this job, there was no need to be on bad terms with any­one. I want to be friends with ev­ery­body. Not ev­ery­one is go­ing to like you, but I be­lieve you should al­ways have a good at­ti­tude to­wards the job and

to make friends and talk to these people. Once you show them they can trust you, you can’t fail to be on a win­ner. I re­mained on very good terms with El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor right up un­til she passed away. We be­came friends. All those early pic­tures of Paul Getty and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Richard Bur­ton were taken on the Nikon FTn cam­era, which didn’t ac­tu­ally be­long to me!

Have you still got it?

No. I gave it back to Mr Kwin­ter. The same week I did the El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor pic­tures I re­signed from the book­shop. I knew my life was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent af­ter that. I was go­ing to be a pho­tog­ra­pher. Now I re­alise that was the break­through shot that made the world aware there was this pho­tog­ra­pher called Richard Young. That was an im­por­tant mo­ment in my life.

Have you al­ways been free­lance, or have you been em­ployed by a news­pa­per?

I’ve never been em­ployed full-time by a news­pa­per in the 40 years I’ve been do­ing this. I have been on re­tain­ers with pub­li­ca­tions, based on ‘let us have the first look’. Even from the first pho­tos with the

Evening Stan­dard, they have al­ways put me on a re­tainer, which meant if they didn’t need the shots I could give them to any­body else who wanted them. I had the same ar­range­ment with the Daily Ex­press, which lasted a long time. The news­pa­per never made me a staff pho­tog­ra­pher be­cause I was too much of a free spirit to be locked down.

How does it feel when a celebrity you have got to know well passes away?

I think the sad­dest one was Queen singer Fred­die Mer­cury, who I worked with for about 10 years. I went to all of his shows, all of Fred­die’s birth­day par­ties. That was very sad. An­other sad one was Bea­tle Ge­orge Har­ri­son, who I was re­ally friendly with. I used to get in­vited down to his home to take pic­tures of his friends and fam­ily. I’d have to pinch my­self on the arm and say that was Ge­orge Har­ri­son on the phone invit­ing me down to his house. Why? Why me?

Good ques­tion, why you?

It’s not about be­ing the world’s great­est pho­tog­ra­pher, which cer­tainly I’m not. It goes back to be­ing about your per­son­al­ity and how you are with all these people. We did a lot of work with Nel­son Man­dela over the years, es­pe­cially for his char­ity, 46664, his prison cell num­ber. We did a lot of work in Jo­han­nes­burg and Cape Town on all the con­certs and be­came very close to Man­dela. I had some great times with all of these people, on a more per­sonal level than most people would have in a life­time. Es­pe­cially Man­dela, Fred­die Mer­cury and Ge­orge Har­ri­son. They were all very spe­cial to me. They want you to be close to them be­cause it brings a bit of nor­mal­ity to their lives.

What other Nikons have you used?

The FTn was like a tank, it was a very heavy cam­era and I used ei­ther a 50mm or a 35mm lens, par­tic­u­larly the 35mm. For

I’ve never been em­ployed full-time by a news­pa­per or mag­a­zine in the 40 years I’ve been do­ing this

Richard Young Celebrity pho­tog­ra­pher

All those pic­tures of El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Richard Bur­ton were taken on a Nikon FTn cam­era, which didn’t ac­tu­ally be­long to me!

Richard Young Celebrity pho­tog­ra­pher

par­ties or pho­tograph­ing fa­mous people com­ing out of restaurants, the 35mm was the best lens. It meant you could keep a safe dis­tance from people with­out ag­i­tat­ing any­body, whereas with a 24mm or 28mm you’d have to move in a lot closer to get what you need. Af­ter the FTn, it was FM cam­eras, then I used the F2. Then came the big F3. That was a game changer. And aut­o­fo­cus came in with the F4.

What’s your desert is­land lens?

It’s the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 zoom. It cov­ers the whole span of my life. When I go some­where I’ll also take my 80-200mm f/2.8, but the 24-120mm is the one that’s at­tached to my D4 down­stairs now and will come with me tonight, along with the Nikon SB-910 flash.

When did you make the switch to us­ing dig­i­tal cam­eras?

With the Nikon D1 – I’ve still got two or three. I went full pelt into dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy. The Daily Ex­press gave me a prim­i­tive Ap­ple com­puter in 1991 and a scan­ner. I took it home in a big case and showed it to my wife, and she said, “Oh, it will never catch on!” The rest is his­tory.

Do you still re­mind her of that quote?

Yeah, I do, and she went out and bought her­self a nice iPad the other week.

When did you first use a dig­i­tal cam­era?

Around 1999 Nikon threw the com­bi­na­tion of a Nikon body with a Ko­dak bot­tom at me, which was the first prim­i­tive dig­i­tal cam­era. It didn’t have a screen on it, so as with film you didn’t know what you were get­ting. Then this other body came out which had a lit­tle screen on the back and the big­gest im­age you could have was a 5Mb pic­ture. We used that for a while, but now we re­ally can’t do very much with them be­cause the file size is so small.

Were you us­ing both film and dig­i­tal, or did you switch over en­tirely?

I didn’t switch over en­tirely at all, it was too dan­ger­ous! In the year 2000, I was sent to Los Angeles to cover the Os­cars. It was my first year of do­ing the Van­ity Fair Os­car night par­ties. When I checked into the ho­tel, I went to this one-hour pro­cess­ing place and made a deal with the guy to come in at 2am to process all the film for me, put it through the scan­ner, onto my com­puter and use a phone line in my ho­tel to send the pic­tures back to Lon­don. I wouldn’t rec­om­mend it. I got back to the ho­tel at 5am to scan maybe 20 pic­tures to send back to Lon­don. At 3pm I’m still try­ing to do it be­cause us­ing a phone line meant there were all these in­ter­rup­tions in the switch­board, which meant I had to start the process all over again. The phone bill was $7000!

BEatle­ma­nia Ringo Starr, El­ton John and Ge­orge Har­ri­son, Lon­don, 1987

Clock­wise from left David Bowie with Nikon com­pact cam­era at Ding­walls night­club in 1984; Deb­bie Harry on stage in Ham­mer­smith in 1980; and a re­laxed Marvin Gaye from 1976

Clock­wise from bot­tom left

Paula Yates and Steve Strange from 1982; The Queen and Joan Collins at the Royal Al­bert Hall in 1982; Ron­nie Wood and Rod Ste­wart in 2012; Bruce Spring­steen per­forms in Ham­mer­smith, 1975; Keith Richards in the Cob­den Club from 1993; Jerry Hall and Mick Jag­ger from 1987; Sophia Loren in 1982; and Marie Helvin, Jerry Hall and Grace Jones in 1985


Ri­hanna and Ch­eryl Cole in Lon­don, 2011

Clock­wise from far left

El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor or­ders two of some­thing in Bel­gravia, 1975; The Spice Girls per­form in Lon­don in 1997; Brad Pitt poses for pho­tog­ra­phers on a red car­pet out­side the BAFTA s in 2012; Grace Jones on stage at a Vogue pop-up club, Lon­don, 2013; Yas­min Le Bon and her dog from 2013; Kate Moss gets made-up back­stage in 1993; and Fred­die Mer­cury and friend at his birth­day party in Mu­nich, 1985

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