When you would go to a party, what is it that you were looking to capture?
Basically, my modus operandi was just to photograph things that happened. I wouldn’t really set up pictures. I would photograph whoever the party was for out of politeness, and then I had a hit list. I used a flash because the light in these places was terrible. My editor Mark Boxer used to joke about the “knob count”. He said, “It’s Tatler, we’ve got to have a certain number of titles per page.”
But my way of photographing a party would be to walk around constantly just looking for something interesting … you know, if a girl looked particularly beautiful, or if a guy was doing something outrageous, or if it was just an interesting composition.
The funny thing was, looking back, it was almost like a talent-spotting thing – the people that stood out in the pictures or that my camera would be attracted to, very often they would go on to do other things. Like Hugh Grant – I always wanted to photograph him. And I remember taking pictures of him at some party and going into the office saying, “He’s a young actor – you know, you ought to run a picture of him.” And there was a girl in the office that had known him and she said, “Oh, yes – Hughy. You must put him in.”
But actually, I don’t think we did. It didn’t go in until he became famous, and then the pictures got published afterwards.
Can you talk a little bit about breaking into high society, so to speak? A lot of these dining clubs and unofficial college societies were quite closed off to outsiders. How did you manage that? And then what did they see in you that they let you stick around?
In England, there is this sort of establishment, and I sometimes think how strange it must be for them. If you go to Eton, and then go to Oxford, and then you’re in government, you’re still surrounded by the same people. Also, while spending time with members of the dining clubs, I learnt that there was a lot of snobbery between the schools – major and minor public schools; Eton, Winchester, Westminster versus the rest.