When She Was 84: My photos of the Queen
As the Queen marks her 90th birthday, I am reflecting on the time when, as the official photographer for the Derby Cathedral Quarter, I was commissioned to shoot the Queen’s visit to Derby Cathedral for the Royal Maundy. This is the annual tradition whereby the reigning monarch gives a purse of money to the elderly – two people (one male, one female) for each year of the monarch’s life. As the Queen was 84, there were 168 recipients.
I don’t think I have ever been so anxious about a photo shoot. This was one of the biggest days in the Cathedral’s long history, and the sense of responsibility starting weighing down on me. As I had about two months’ notice of the event, it enabled me to spend many sleepless nights worrying myself daft. For one, this was press photography which wasn’t me at all, and this was going to be much more demanding than a wedding shoot. After all, you can always say to the bride: ‘Do you mind kissing the groom again? I didn’t quote get the shot.’ However, you can hardly say to Her Majesty: ‘Do you mind shaking hands with the Bishop again?’
What’s more, photographing the Queen was only part of my worries. I had to take photos of the crowds, the Maundy recipients, VIP guests, everyone associated with the Cathedral, plus the Yeoman of the Guard who turn up in all their finery and are responsible for the Maundy purses.
I fretted and panicked – a bit too much because I was close to turning the job down due to the strain I was under. I had to pull myself together. I started to feel better when I asked a fellow photographer, Ian Daisley, to help me out as, logistically, I realised I couldn’t shoot the entire occasion on my own. He eased the pressure. So did the weather. The forecast was good and, thankfully, the sun shone all day. I had a feeling God was looking down on me, as it rained the day before – and the day after.
My anxiety was quelled after taking one of my first photos of Her Majesty as she entered the Cathedral. She had a smile that suggested she was positively looking forward to the occasion. I thought: ‘She’s really up for this’ and, as I looked at that image on my LCD monitor, it made ME smile. ‘I’m up for this, too’ I decided.
It was still a tough, demanding shoot. I was one of only four photographers allowed inside the Cathedral. We were not permitted to use flash and could only photograph Her Majesty as she distributed the purses walking up the middle aisle – and even then, we had to stop shooting as she came within a certain distance. Because of the low light levels, I used ISO 1250, f2.8, from 1/125 to 1/200 sec.
I relaxed a little more as I checked a satisfying set of shots following her first walk up the aisle. My best photo of the Queen gifting a purse came in the second walk up the other side of the aisle.
As my camera caught it, the Maundy recipient seemed to be cupping Her Majesty’s hands, savouring the moment. It was a humbling moment knowing I had captured one of the proudest moments of this guy’s life. Maundy service over, we stepped outside for the regal walkabout.
What I like about the photo right is that the Queen is already clutching a gift of flowers and although a bouquet of cheap flowers in a cellophane wrapping is ready to be thrust at her – and this happens all the time to the Queen – I captured a look that shows an unflappable display of dignity.
Her smile seems genuine. Or maybe it’s well practised and this is the Queen at her most professional, knowing that photographs are being taken.
Whatever the case, you have to admire her.
What I like about photo left is that she lets slip her calm, smiling walkabout demeanour when presented with a gift by a man who, I was told later, ‘follows the Queen everywhere.’
I was also told that she knows this man well and he always showers her with gifts.
I would love to know what her gleeful look tells us about the particular gift he had bestowed on her that day.
My favourite photo is this last one – for many reasons. I was pleased that in the heat of the moment I took a chance and panned the shot, knowing that it might not have come off. But boy, it did! Again, Her Majesty’s smile is genuine. Maybe it’s the fact that the formalities are over for a while and lunch awaits down the road at the Derby Cathedral Quarter Hotel. I love the fact that I have captured not only her smile but also a blur of waving hands and a flurry of Union Jacks. I even got the reflection of faces in the bottom of the frame, and was delighted with the sense of movement just in those few horizontal lines across the picture.
After the day was over, I processed the photos and, buoyed with what I’d got, suggested to the Cathedral that they issue a souvenir booklet. It didn’t generate any extra income for me but I was proud to see my photos in a permanent form for public consumption. The brochure sold well.
I never thought of myself as much of a Royalist but that experience enhanced my respect for the Queen. I had never got so close to Her Majesty before and was surprised at how I felt such nobility and presence. When I give photo talks to Women’s Institutes, the reaction to these photos reminds me how privileged I was to capture this day.
This shoot was good for me: in the year that followed, I was commissioned to photograph Derby visits from Princess Anne, Prince Charles and Prince Edward. Where was this leading, I thought? A call from Prince William about a certain wedding in 2011? I would then be well on the way to completing the set!