‘He Calls Me Arthur and I Call Him Sir’-Forty Years with Britain’s Royals

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Interview Conducted by Hauke Goos and Jörg Schindler

Arthur Edwards has spent over 40 years photographing the royal family for Britain’s Sun newspaper. In an interview, he talks about his experiences and Prince Harry’s wedding this weekend.

Arthur Edwards, 77, has been photographing Britain’s royal family for more than 40 years. He’s responsible for some of the family’s most iconic images: Diana as a nursery teacher with a see-through skirt; Diana standing alone in front of the Taj Mahal; Prince Charles disguised during a ski vacation with a fake mustache; Queen Elizabeth smiling in front of her own photo.

Edwards has accompanied the royal family on around 200 trips. He has visited 120 countries, been to seven weddings, four funerals and eight royal births. All the photos featured in this interview were taken by Edwards.

He is currently preparing for the May 19 wedding of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Edwards, this weekend the whole world will be tuning in as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot in London on Saturday. Why are we always so fascinated by these images?

Edwards: Our monarchy goes back 1,000 years to William the Conqueror. If you go over to the window here, you’ll see the Tower of London, which William built. Of course, there have been a few hiccups — a king was beheaded. But it’s gone on and on and on. And the Windsors have become the kind of senior royal family in the world.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you already know where you will be on the wedding day?

Edwards: We don’t know yet because we’re in negotiations with them at the moment. The palace issued a list, which we’ve all found a bit unacceptable, because they want reporters and no photographers.

DER SPIEGEL: You are negotiating with Kensington Palace?

Edwards: Yeah. There weren’t enough press passes. Only one reporter is going to be allowed into the church. I think that’s being renegotiated. This is a purely private wedding. No one from the government is attending and there will be no foreign politicians. We’ll have to see where I am on Saturday.

DER SPIEGEL: Why is the palace being so unaccommodating?

Edwards: I don’t know what the reason is, but I think it is because Meghan, through no fault of her own, is getting a lot of bad publicity through her family in America. Her family, her first marriage, things like that. But if a member of the royal family gets a girlfriend, that’s a news story. It has to be covered. Of course, you’d also want to talk to the family. And, of course, the family doesn’t want to. And then there’s some who will do it for money. And then there are others who will give you pictures. If you live in a country with a free press, they will report on the things that people want to read about. That’s the way it is.

DER SPIEGEL: Will the fact that she is already famous help Meghan?

Edwards: She wasn’t that much of a celebrity. She was a Netflix celebrity. I had never heard of her. But she had done seven seasons of that show, she had been in Rwanda and she had addressed the United Nations. So, she’s pretty accomplished and very articulate. I think she’s going to be good.

DER SPIEGEL: People also assumed that of Lady Diana. You were the first to photograph her.

Edwards: I was asked by my editor in 1977 to find out who Prince Charles was getting married to. I just worked for three years like a demon. Charles had one girlfriend after another. They never seemed to last. Then, one day, I went to a polo match. I had been given a tip that he was there with Lady Diana Spencer. I walked around the field looking and I saw this woman with a necklace with the letter “D.” I said, “Are you Lady Diana Spencer?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “May I take your photograph?” She said, “Yeah.” She agreed and posed right away.

DER SPIEGEL: That was a scoop for a photographer.

Edwards: I immediately rang the office and said, “I’ve just photographed a girl who came here with Prince Charles today. What do you know about her?” They got back to me and said: “She’s just had her 19th birthday.”

DER SPIEGEL: And the next day the entire United Kingdom found out?

Edwards: No. I took the picture back to London, and I remember writing very clearly: “File this, but do not syndicate it.” I didn’t think that Charles would be running around with teenagers.

DER SPIEGEL: He was 31 years old at the time.

Edwards: A month later, on the first Saturday in September, I was driving up to the queen’s summer estate in Balmoral. I saw Prince Charles fishing in the Dee River. And who was with him? Lady Diana. I got out and started taking pictures of him fishing. She ran into the woods. She hid behind a tree and then ran away through the woods. But I got pictures of that.

DER SPIEGEL: Diana reportedly used a mirror to spot you.

Edwards: Yeah, that’s right. She never did well at school with exams, but she was just really wise, very bright.

DER SPIEGEL: How did you get the famous photo of Lady Diana as a nursery school teacher with a see-through skirt?

Edwards: I knew she worked as a nursery school teacher in the West End of London. So, with another reporter, I went around to every nursery to find out where she worked. Eventually, I got to the one in Pimlico. I asked, “Does Lady Diana Spencer work here?” They said, “yeah.” Would she pose for a photograph? She came out with two children and posed for that photograph. As I was taking the picture, the sun came out and you could see the legs. So, it was another splash picture, Charlie’s girl.

DER SPIEGEL: A few years later in 1990, you took another famous photo, this time of Diana in a bikini in Mallorca.

Edwards: They were on the King of Spain’s yacht. She was sitting down with the prince on the foredeck. He had just broken his arm playing polo and was there with his arm in a sling. We had rented a yacht. Then she saw us, got up, went into the cabin, picked up an apple, came out and started eating it.

DER SPIEGEL: She knew you were there?

Edwards: Of course. Diana was very aware of photographers and often helped you. At the time, I was using an 800-millimeter lens without the autofocus on, and both yachts were moving on the sea. Getting it shot by manually focusing was an absolute miracle. When I looked at the film and saw it, I couldn’t believe it.

DER SPIEGEL: Didn’t she feel hassled?

Edwards: Sometimes she was in a bad mood. One day, we were at Great Ormond Street Hospital. She was speaking with the children and she suddenly decided to get everyone out. We were all kicked out and there were no pictures. Then, as she left, she was really miserable. Two workmen across the road whistled out. She looked up and smiled at them and that was the picture. She was one of the great women of the 20th century.

DER SPIEGEL: One who couldn’t take a single step without being watched.

Edwards: Toward the end, she was hounded by paparazzi. Every time she went to the gym, there would be paparazzi there. They were there if she’d go shopping or anywhere. In fact, she used to go to the gym every day in the same top, hoping they’d get bored with the pictures. Diana, I always felt, photographed better than she looked. With Catherine, William’s wife, the opposite is true. She looks better in the flesh than she does in a photograph.

DER SPIEGEL: Where were you when you found out about Princess Diana’s accident in Paris?

Edwards: I was coming back from a wedding with my wife. My son, who was working on the picture desk at the Sun at the time, called me. Can you get to Paris first thing in the morning?

DER SPIEGEL: The news came shortly after midnight.

Edwards: I turned on the radio in the car. The news bulletins kept getting worse. Dodi, who was accompanying her, was receiving treatment at the curbside. Then Dodi was dead. We chartered a plane out of Heathrow. Literally as the plane was taxiing in at Le Bourget, they phoned me from the newspaper to inform me that Diana had died.

DER SPIEGEL: You followed Diana for 17 years and shot thousands of photos. What do you do at a moment like that?

Edwards: I went to the tunnel where it happened first. There was a kid laying flowers there and I took some pictures of that. Eventually, I went to the hospital. Then I saw the coffin coming. I had to photograph it. Then, of course, I couldn’t get a cab to take me to the hotel to send the pictures because I had all these cameras around my neck. The cab drivers were all saying, “You assassin. You’re a killer,” thinking I was the paparazzi, which I wasn’t. Back in London, I went to Kensington Gardens, where Prince Charles was visiting the site together with William and Harry where people laid flowers and tributes to their mother. The whole country had lost its senses. Everybody was in shock.

DER SPIEGEL: William and Harry still blame the paparazzi today for their mother’s death.

Edwards: I think they were part of the cocktail. Having spoken to one of Princess Diana’s former policemen, he would’ve told that driver to slow down. There’s no rush. They were just going to take a photograph, and that never hurt anybody.

DER SPIEGEL: Afterward, the palace and media came to an agreement that they would be more reserved in their reporting on William and Harry.

Edwards: That was true. When they went to school, we would only do the first day. The main thing we didn’t cover was when Prince William went to university. That was because it would be so unfair for him to be pestered like that while he was studying for a degree. He was able to go and get drunk if he wanted to. He was able to fool around and live a normal university life. He was also able to form his relationship with Kate.

DER SPIEGEL: Did the press do this of its own accord or was it a request from the palace?

Edwards: It was a request.

DER SPIEGEL: Did anything change in the royals’ relationship with the press following Diana’s death?

Edwards: The palace changed. They became more proactive rather than reactive. They employed professional press officers who would help you with the story.

DER SPIEGEL: But your work would be more fun with less of this assistance from the palace, wouldn’t it?

Edwards: Today, we query every paparazzi picture that comes in, whether it was taken in a public place, whether it was taken in an intrusive way. Every check is made before they publish the picture. We’ve signed up to this editors’ code and we stick to it. It’s about privacy. We used to just put it in the paper. So, yes, it’s less fun now.

‘I Don’t Think We Intrude on Their Privacy At All’

DER SPIEGEL: There’s also a lot more competition.

Edwards: At the end of April, when Prince Louis was born, Kate and William’s third child, 5,000 pictures crossed our photo desk. Too many people are doing it now — there are too many people trying to make a living from of it. There are freelancers now who take only 2 pounds for a photo. It’s just ridiculous. And they’re all shooting the same pictures.

DER SPIEGEL: That makes the hunt for exclusive photos even more difficult.

Edwards: I don’t go out hunting. The royals want pictures in the paper because they want what they’re doing to get covered. And we want pictures in the paper. It’s a good deal. We get along. If I am part of a pool, I get their briefing, see what they’re going to do, and I can photograph everything they do. I don’t think we intrude on their privacy at all. We are invited. We get a list of events each month. I don’t call that hunting and prey. I call that just covering a visit of a member of the royal family.

DER SPIEGEL: So, it’s a deal from which both sides profit.

Edwards: It’s an arrangement, yes.

DER SPIEGEL: Is it true that Prince Charles was difficult in the beginning?

Edwards: Just when I started at the Sun, I was given the assignment of driving to Highgrove. I walked along a public footpath, albeit with a big lens on my shoulder, and Charles came galloping up on his horse. He said, “What are you doing on my land?” I said, “It’s not your land. It’s a public footpath.” He said, well it’s for taking walks, not for taking pictures. I said I was just doing my job. He said, “Oh, some job.” And I said, “Well, at least I’ve got a job.”

DER SPIEGEL: But you get along nowadays, don’t you?

Edwards: Yeah, yeah. He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever come across. I’ve been to every rainforest in the world with him. We’ve been to the rainforests in Brazil three times, we were in Australia, Cameroon, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. He’s passionate about his interests, and when someone impresses you that much, you’re lucky to work with him. He calls me Arthur and I call him Sir. And it works very well.

DER SPIEGEL: But that didn’t keep you from shooting his bald spot as it began to grow.

Edwards: He asked me, are you the man who took the picture of my bald spot? I asked if he had been getting a lot of stink about it. He said: “No, but everywhere I go, people are photographing the back of my head.”

DER SPIEGEL: Is it a kind of friendship?

Edwards: No.

DER SPIEGEL: But you speak of him affectionately.

Edwards: My wife celebrated a big birthday recently. We invited people over to a big lunch we were having on Sunday, her actual birthday. Two of her friends had written to Prince Charles telling him it was her birthday. On the Saturday, I got a call from his personal assistant saying: “The Prince of Wales has written a lovely note to your wife, but it won’t get there until Monday. So, he’s asked me to fax it to you so you can read it out at the lunch on Sunday.” At Christmas, he sent me this beautiful print signed by Charles and Camilla with the date.

DER SPIEGEL: Is the relationship similar with the queen?

Edwards: Of course. She’s the queen. She’s very formidable. You almost know what she’s going to do. You know when she’s going to turn. You almost know when she’s going to smile. So you just have to make sure you are there.

DER SPIEGEL: Is it possible to make small talk with the queen?

Edwards: She does everything by the book. There’s no flippancy. You just take the pictures and keep your mouth shut. If you’re patient enough, you’ll get a lovely picture because she knows what you’ve got to do.

DER SPIEGEL: Have you ever tried speaking to her? Asking or telling her something?

Edwards: No. Would I ever do that? Not in a million years. She would look at me as if I had two heads.

DER SPIEGEL: There’s a rumor that the queen has a handbag code — that the way she holds her purse signifies to her people if she is bored by an encounter and wants help extracting herself from it.

Edwards: I’ve never heard of that, but the queen starts the conversation and ends it. You don’t talk to the queen. She talks to you. You don’t shake the queen’s hand unless she offers it to you. And you don’t photograph the queen drinking, eating or praying.

DER SPIEGEL: Were there ever times when the royals disappointed you?

Edwards: I’ve had some serious tellings off. I’ve had at least three really serious ones, and he’s (Charles) lost it a bit. Once, he screamed at me because I was photographing one of his friends shooting in the field, and he got a bit upset about it. But after a few minutes, he was fine.

DER SPIEGEL: Is it true that personal happiness for the royals is sacrificed in the name of duty?

Edwards: I once went to India with the Prince of Wales. They had built this dam in this village to provide water. They did a rain dance and Charles joined in. It was really fantastic. He knew how important it was to the people. He didn’t care that he might look a bit stupid in the paper the next day. It’s a duty. I remember years ago we were at an engagement with the queen mother up in Scotland. The rain was coming down at a 45-degree angle. Someone asked if they would cancel and I said: “They never cancel unless they’re ill.” And I said they would come out. And the queen did turn up.

DER SPIEGEL: Is it difficult to marry into that kind of family?

Edwards: For all: For Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York; for Diana; for Mark Phillips, who was Princess Anne’s first husband. They all had proper lives beforehand. And then, suddenly, they were married to someone who is obsessed with doing everything correctly and doing it on time. You can set your watch by the queen. That’s also true of Harry. He’s incredibly popular. And he does an amazing amount with great enthusiasm.

DER SPIEGEL: There was a time when Harry was considered a national embarrassment.

Edwards: He was an embarrassment to himself, really. You had the storm trooper with a swastika on his arm, fancy dress. But I think that’s down to not having a mother, because a mother would say: “You’re not going out looking like that.” Another time, when he tried a bit of soft drugs, weed I think, his father took him to a drug rehabilitation center. He saw the damage and that’s it.

DER SPIEGEL: You have been doing your job for 43 years. How many years do you think you have spent waiting somewhere for somebody?

Edwards: Oh, God. I don’t know. Maybe 20 years? I don’t even think about that. I just get a job and I go and do it.

DER SPIEGEL: How do you occupy your time during those waits?

Edwards: Most appointments are known and planned. Sometimes I have a ladder with me to get a better camera angle, but I’m not stuck on a ladder for two days. You can have a cup of coffee, check your mails or chat with others. Taking photos is a bit like taking a vacation — afterward, you forget about the rainy days.

DER SPIEGEL: Looking back, are there any photos you would prefer not to have published?

Edwards: When Diana was pregnant with William, we got some really good photos of her and Charles on the beach in the Bahamas. They didn’t know I was there. I thought nothing of it — I thought, that’s my job. I did a good job. There was an outcry when the photos were published under the headline, “Bahama Mama.” There were even questions in parliament about it. When I look back on it, I don’t think it was one of my proudest moments.

DER SPIEGEL: Was there ever a situation where you didn’t take a picture out of decency or respect?

Edwards: When Harry was looking at the flowers in London after his mother died. I was there, and I saw his face crack up. I didn’t take that picture.

DER SPIEGEL: In 2012, there was a scandal when the paparazzi photographed Kate while sunbathing topless. Would you have taken such photos?

Edwards: It’s a hypothetical question. I’d say that I probably wouldn’t have done it. I remember once getting off the plane from Australia and seeing in a newspaper that the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, had arrived in St. Tropez. I remember ringing the office and asking if they wanted me to go there. I was told to go home, and I was so glad. The paparazzi were photographing her in her bikini with the boyfriend. I really liked her and would have hated to have to do that to her.

DER SPIEGEL: Would you have printed the photos of Diana dying?

Edwards: No. I say that, but you know what? I also don’t condemn the photographers for doing that because, if she had lived, those pictures would have been used. But I didn’t agree with the fact that they were trying to sell them when she was dead. The pictures are in the safe here somewhere. I never even wanted to look at those. I never wanted to see her like that.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you believe that, in all these years, you truly got to know the royal family? Or did you just publish the public image it wanted to see of itself?

Edwards: I don’t quite understand the question. You’ll never really know the royal family. You’ll never know that the queen is very good at after dinner conversation because you’ve never been there when she’s done that. Apparently, she’s great at mimicking people. But I’ve never heard her mimic anybody. There’s the private life and the public life. I mainly do the public life.

DER SPIEGEL: Is it crucial to the idea of a monarchy that people shouldn’t know and see everything because it would destroy the magic?

Edwards: Destroys the mystique? Yes, it does that.

DER SPIEGEL: You were also eternalized in an image once — an oil painting that hung in the National Portrait Gallery for a while. Does that make you proud?

Edwards: It does. We were on a plane going to Sri Lanka with the painter Catherine Goodman. She asked if I would pose for her. I thought about it for a month before I agreed.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Edwards, we thank you for this interview.

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