Meeting photography royalty Peter Bush discusses everything from royalty to meat pies with UK photographer Arthur Edwards and discovers how he’s developed his illustrious career
After shaking hands and finding a quiet corner in a crowded hotel foyer, we only had 20 brief minutes for my interview with Arthur Edwards, and, during those 20 minutes, this warm and very personable photographer took me on a roller-coaster ride into the world of a UK royal photographer.
Outside the darkened foyer, it was a brilliant day, with people already moving to take up positions to ensure that they got a great spot to witness the homecoming All Blacks parading through the city.
Arthur Edwards — ever the professional — informed me that, because the royal couple, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, were going to meet the ‘men in black’ at parliament, his time for the interview would be limited, and he would shortly have to put on his suit, gather his equipment, and go with the other UK photographers to capture this meeting of the royal couple with the All Blacks.
There was no need to enquire whether this veteran of 11 arrivals to New Zealand needed to be told just where the All Blacks fitted into the country’s psyche. After so many trips, he knows this country very well and has even made a private visit here with his wife, adding that if they were to live anywhere else but Britain, New Zealand would be a first choice. That was further endorsed when Prime Minister John Key suggested, at one of the royal-tour meetings, that maybe Arthur should apply for permanent New Zealand residency.
However, any move in this direction would still be some time off in the future, as he sketched out for me his itinerary for the next few months. This included a visit to Malta with the Queen and Prince Philip, which would occur shortly after his return from the trip he was on at the time of the interview, followed by a short visit to Paris with Prince Charles for the opening of the vital climate talks.
Another recent trip was with Prince William when he went to the White House to meet President Barack Obama. To be honest, we could easily fill the rest of this interview with talking about the many countries and places Arthur has visited to photograph royalty.
My prepared list of questions for our interview seemed superfluous as we ranged freely over his 40 years of news photography, much of it covering the royal family, both at home and abroad. Of New Zealand, he feels our greatest asset is our people, who he described as being so friendly and polite, with no apparent ‘rat race’ (maybe he should try Auckland on a Friday afternoon). He also felt that, from the first time he visited in 1983, the officials — from immigration and customs onwards — were always most courteous and helpful.
“Like, take where I live — there are over 10 million people in the area, so everywhere
26 | photographersmail.co.nz is very crowded. Why do so many New Zealanders want to go and live in the UK?” he asked.
I found that a bit hard to answer, so I instead asked when and where he started out on his long career. He said it was on the East London Advertiser — a small paper but one at which he would quite often cover up to 10 jobs per day, including everything from news to advertising.
His next and best move was to The Sun, where he was lucky to cover only one job a day, and he was often sent to photograph the royal family. And so it grew — now he is The Sun’s ‘royal photographer’.
Like many other photographers, he has experienced the end of film and the rise and rise of digital technologies with mixed feelings. One of his last major shoots with film was of Princess Diana’s funeral, and, because it was on a weekend, he had the time to shoot it with film (Fuji colour negative) rather than digital.
Two weeks before she was killed, he had gone with Princess Diana to Bosnia, where he had used one of “Those very new … awful digital cameras”; but, even though he was not happy with the camera, The Sun ran 17 pictures of the trip, and there was also great demand from the public for prints of her visit.
While we continued to debate the use of film versus digital, he reminded me that, for the royal tour to the southern hemisphere in 1983, his main suitcase was just about full of film, whereas, now, a couple of extra image cards will suffice.
In the transition from film to digital, he felt there were both good and not-so-good changes.Two of the main good points are the absence of dust and the ongoing quality of the prints. However, he felt that digital technologies have cheapened photography and that a lot of what is shot is rubbish and, also, so many people think that they should be given prints from news events for nothing!
Inevitably, I raised the old chestnut: when are you going to retire? With a chuckle, he said, “I am asked that at least three times a week, but, while I have slowed up a bit, I still enjoy it very much, and the travel is no problem. My wife is a most understanding woman, and, of our three children — two sons and a daughter — one son is a picture editor at The Sun, the other a photographer, also on The Sun, and shortly off to Africa with Prince Harry — and my daughter runs her own nursery. And, with four grandchildren, we are well blessed.”
Before I could ask what his most special or greatest pictures were, he quietly told me of a visit that he made to Southern Sudan and of meeting a wonderful woman there with a permanent smile and rosary beads around her neck. The woman told him that she had lost six of her children to measles, which, along with malaria, was one of the major killers in that country. Daily, she faced a two-kilometre walk to get enough water for their needs, so Arthur and two of his mates arranged for a well to be dug near the woman’s home, and the problem was quickly solved. It was, he said, one of the happiest and most lasting memories he had, seeing the joy it brought to this wonderful woman. “I really feel more about that well than anything else I’ve done,” he explained.
Later, I felt a little bit stupid when I asked about any books he had published, and he gently reminded me that he tries to bring a book out every couple of years, either on royalty or about his extensive travels.
His latest effort, Magical Moments, is still selling steadily, and his book on Princess Diana,
I’ll Tell the Jokes Arthur, is still one of his favourites.
On gear, he has stayed with Nikon his whole career, and it has stayed with him. His favourite Nikon was the D5, and he says it’s the “best they made”, and, with the 28–70mm lens being his favourite, he advises that, “it always delivers”.
He’s sampled cuisine throughout the world but rated one of the best New Zealand meals as the one he and another photographer enjoyed on this tour after flying back from Dunedin to Wellington. It was his favourite, pie and mash. Arthur explained that he tries to have just two meat meals a week and keeps a careful eye on his weight, ensuring that he stays in the best shape to continue his long and successful career as royal photographer at The Sun.