Por­tray­ing celebs in the best light

Testino awarded hon­orary OBE for photograph­y

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - CRISTINA ODONE

“I can­not beel­ieeeeeve eeeet,” Mario Testino beams. The renowned pho­tog­ra­pher has just been awarded an hon­orary Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire for his ser­vices to “photograph­y and char­ity” — and he is thrilled.

No phleg­matic An­glo-Saxon but a hot-blooded Latin born in Peru, he is erupt­ing with ju­bi­la­tion in the Not­ting Hill cafe where we meet.

Cus­tomers look up from their lat­tes, rec­og­nize Testino and smile in­dul­gently: af­ter all, he is now al­most as cel­e­brated as the stars, mod­els and royal peo­ple he snaps. “It’s won­der­ful!” he says. “Like be­ing in love with some­body for years who kept you at bay but then sud­denly one day tells you, ‘I love you, too.’ ”

It is a love af­fair that be­gan when he ar­rived in Lon­don in the late ’70s.

“I came here in my 20s and I started my ca­reer here. I was in awe of the Bri­tish: they were more so­phis­ti­cated, in­tel­lec­tual, hu­mor­ous. I tried to em­u­late them. With the years, I re­al­ized I couldn’t be English, but the English did al­low me to be me.

“If I could, I’d live here all the time,” he says. But I can’t, be­cause there’s not enough work — it’s in Amer­ica, Italy, France. I have to go where I work. When peo­ple ask me where do you live, I al­ways say, ‘in Bri­tish Air­ways.’ ”

What a turn­around for the youth who was taunted on the streets of his na­tive Lima by boys chant­ing “fag­got.” “I was a dandy in a coun­try where ev­ery­one wore the same drab, uni­form clothes.”

The young Testino de­cided not to fol­low his fa­ther into busi­ness, as his par­ents had wished. “When I told them I was think­ing of be­com­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher they were shocked: it was not what they called a se­ri­ous ca­reer.”

But he stood his ground, took up a cam­era, then moved to Eng­land to ply his new trade and at­tend “very wild par­ties.” His gam­ble paid off. The big mag­a­zines, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, were soon sign­ing him up, fol­lowed by fash­ion houses Burberry, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana.

“Mario is a ge­nius!” Domenico Dolce en­thuses. “We love work­ing with him,” Ste­fano Gabbana agrees. “His im­ages are at once so­phis­ti­cated and ac­ces­si­ble to all.”

Testino laps up the praise as I re­peat it, and is about to tuck into his toast when he pushes away the plate. “I shouldn’t re­ally. I was at a party last night with Hugh Grant, and a friend pat­ted me on the stom­ach and said, ‘Cosy,’ and then looked at Hugh with eyes of de­sire. How does Hugh do it? He looks ex­actly the same as when he was in Four Wed­dings and a Fu­neral.”

I as­sure Testino that he, too, looks good. At 59, his soft fea­tures and round face lend him the ami­able ap­pear­ance of Padding­ton Bear, that other much-cher­ished Peru­vian im­port. Testino wants to be liked, too: “Friends tease me I can’t be alone. I say I don’t want to be alone. I adore peo­ple.”

And so, he “adores” Gwyneth Pal­trow, Gisele Bünd­chen and Sir El­ton John, and has warm words for Anna Win­tour, the haughty ed­itrix of Amer­i­can Vogue: “When you work for an ed­i­tor, you have to not think about your ego. She has to shine and the mag­a­zine has to shine. Anna is par-ti-cu-lar.”

Testino’s friend­ship is like Pho­to­shop, pre­sent­ing ev­ery­one in the best light. No won­der celebri­ties couldn’t get enough. By the 1990s, he was known by one name — “Testino” — just like Ave­don, Snow­don, Newton.

Then came Diana, Princess of Wales.

In 1997, Christie’s put up for auc­tion 79 of the Princess’s gowns. Mered­ith Ether­ing­tonSmith, who helped or­ga­nize the event, de­cided she should be pho­tographed in Vogue and Van­ity Fair. But who would pho­to­graph the world’s most fa­mous woman? Lord Snow­don, with his royal con­nec­tions, seemed a nat­u­ral for Vogue. “Mered­ith then sug­gested Diana col­lab­o­rate with some­one new for Van­ity Fair — and sug­gested me,” re­mem­bers Testino. “I knew from the start that this shoot was dif­fer­ent. It would make us.”

He was right. Testino por­trayed an ar­rest­ing beauty who ex­uded sex ap­peal — but also, it seemed, an in­tense long­ing for love. The photograph­s caused a sen­sa­tion.

When Kens­ing­ton Palace asked him to put on a show of Diana photograph­s in 2008, he in­vited the princes. “I ap­proached them with­out know­ing them be­cause I felt that they had to give me their bless­ing for an en­ter­prise like this. I my­self am so close to my mum, I felt I couldn’t do any­thing about their mother with­out their ap­proval. They came to view the rooms with Kate (Middleton) and Chelsy (Davy, Prince Harry’s for­mer girl­friend).”

Like their mother, the princes proved “nat­u­ral and un­pre­ten­tious.” He found Prince Harry “so like Prince Charles: they act alike, they have the same sense of hu­mour, the same con­fi­dence.” The Duke of Cam­bridge “is more like his mother, there’s a kind­ness and a gen­tle­ness there that in­stantly wins you over.”

He was, Testino felt, com­pletely “in love with Kate. I knew they would stay to­gether.” And in 2010 the Duke turned to Testino for the of­fi­cial pho­to­graph to mark their en­gage­ment.

“I waited a long time, an hour or two, to make that pic­ture per­fect. But I wasn’t to­tally sat­is­fied. Then, when I’d fin­ished the shoot, they were about to leave and they sud­denly hugged in front of a ra­di­a­tor. I took my cam­era and that was the pic­ture that ran ev­ery­where — it was spon­ta­neous emo­tion … you could see they were com­pletely in love.”

His life-en­hanc­ing, sen­sual photograph­s drew 170,000 visi­tors to his 2002 ret­ro­spec­tive at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, more than to any other ex­hi­bi­tion in the gallery’s his­tory. And if his pas­sion is mar­ried to a tem­per that has been known to have fash­ion­istas run­ning scared, Testino can point to the mil­lions he has raised for good causes, from Save the Chil­dren to AIDS char­i­ties.

When he do­nated a sit­ting at a char­ity ball in 2008, it went for $2.27 mil­lion. More re­cently, he set up Mates, a char­ity to pro­mote young Peru­vian artists.

“I want to show the tal­ent of young peo­ple. You get el­e­vated to a place be­cause you have a role to do: help oth­ers.”

An­thony Har­vey/Getty Im­ages

Mario Testino’s fash­ion and celebrity photograph­y — which in­cludes sub­jects such as Princess Diana, Madonna and Gwyneth Pal­trow — has earned him an OBE.

An­drew Cowie/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Ed­i­tor-in-chief of Amer­i­can Vogue Anna Win­tour, right, ar­rives with Mario Testino at a re­cent Burberry show in Lon­don.

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