'We're like a married couple really'
In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
began his career as a photographer in 1960s London and later worked in Hollywood. His portraits of stars include the Beatles, Bowie, Sinatra, Faye Dunaway (to whom he was married in the 1980s), Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse, Born in London in 1938, his father was from Cork and his mother from Waterford. He lives in London with his wife, Laraine Ashton
I’d met quite a few editors at the Sunday Times but when I met Robin we became friendly immediately. Robin’s marriage was breaking up and I asked him if he needed somewhere to stay in London, so he came to live with me. Then he met Lynne Pemberton who’s become his lady now; she’d been a friend of mine since the 1970s. He’s a very smart boy, Robin. And he’s the most hard-working bloke I’ve ever met. As soon as I get back from somewhere he’s got me off to somewhere else. But we enjoy all the travelling, we’re together night and day, we’re like a married couple really.
The teenage Terry O’Neill would be very surprised at how his life turned out, absolutely. I had no idea. I used to sit in these clubs with the Beatles and the Stones, talking about what jobs we were gonna get when all this was over. I’m still convinced that I’ve got to get a proper job one day – it’s been a wonderful life.
Are there any people I’d like to photograph now? To be honest, no, I’ve done the best of the best and all the people today – in all fields, in politics, in royalty – don’t measure up to them at all. I had so many honours: I’ve photographed the queen – and working with Frank Sinatra was great. I don’t want to photograph some X-Factor winner. I’ve got so many old pictures, I keep finding new ones; I’m always putting together new shows with Robin.
In my day, I got invited by the stars to come and photograph them, there was mutual respect. Now they’re fighting photographers off. I used to go into stars’ lives when they were working, spend a couple of weeks with. People like Michael Caine, that I grew up with, I’ll always be friends with. I lived in America but couldn’t wait to get back to England, I missed everyone. I’m still in touch with Faye Dunaway, because we have a son, but not outside of that.
This is my first real Irish exhibition. When I was growing up, every summer holidays my mother and father would take me to Ireland; we’d stay with my father’s brother Leo in Cork city. I had the best times of my life there. I’m hoping my cousins who live in Cork will come to the show. I was actually conceived in Ireland on my mother and father’s honeymoon, but born in England; I grew up Cockney, but here I am, Irish as all get out.
I was surprised and thrilled to death when Robin wanted to go into business with me. His enthusiasm every day just gets you going.
Robin’s never ever down, I can’t stress to you the importance of having a friend like that. And he never holds a grudge. He’s very stubborn and impatient but it’s part of his charm. And his supporting Man U? Well, we’ve all got our problems.
An exhibition of O’Neill’s photos opens in CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery and Cork City Hall on January 5th. O’Neill will be signing copies of his book, All About Bond, at 1pm on January 25th in Wandesford Quay Gallery
is a journalist, who edited the ‘Sunday Times’magazine for 15 years until 2009. He now runs Robin Morgan Media. He has organised exhibitions of Terry O’Neill’s pictures worldwide. He lives with his partner, the novelist Lynne Pemberton
I’d been editing the Sunday Times magazine since about 1990, and Terry had been doing cover shoots for the magazine since the early 1960s. I very quickly realised that when I wanted to interview very famous and unapproachable people, if I said ‘we’ll get Terry O’Neill to photograph you’, they suddenly said yes.
The first time I met Terry for lunch, he was doing a major fashion shoot, so he invited me to San Lorenzo in London. Here was Terry with this spotty little assistant sat next to him. She was chain-
smoking, saying nothing and toying with her mozzarella. Terry and I got on like a house on fire. It wasn’t til the next day that I discovered his spotty little assistant was Kate Moss. That’s the sort of thing Terry would do: you’d take Terry to lunch and he’d breeze in with Bernie Ecclestone or Naomi Campbell.
We became immediate pals. Soon after that I was desperately interested in doing a profile of racing driver Nigel Mansell, who never gave interviews. As soon as I mentioned Terry, he said yes – so we ended up doing a two-week assignment in Arizona and Florida together. That was our initial history.
Soon after that, Terry introduced me to novelist Lynne Pemberton – she’s been my partner now for 16 years.
What is it about Terry that made him so popular with all these famous people? Charm. Terry can walk into a crowded room and take over – everyone will stop and he’ll be the centre of attraction within 10 seconds. He’ll kill me for saying that, he’s actually very modest. The guy’s been charming people since the 1960s. He took the only picture of the queen where she’s posing with a huge, beaming smile on her face.
We’re both working-class lads, left school at 15/16. We both love our football, our photography, our journalism. I’ve just written a book about pop culture in the 1960s.
Terry was right at the cutting edge of that, chronicling swinging London. I’m 13/14 years younger, but the major glue between us is that we’re both interested in the same area of photography and, of course, football.
Terry’s closest friends are people like Johnny Gold of Tramp in London, Eric Clapton, Michael Caine – they all ran with the same crowd in the 1960s. But we’re close, go on holidays together.
I’d planned to concentrate on writing books when I left the Sunday Times: I’d helped Terry organise an exhibition which was quite successful and we sat down over lunch one day and said, why don’t we do some more. It snowballed from there, doing more exhibitions, more books. We’re bringing out a book of his greatest pictures in April. It’s 300/400 pages, it’ll take two people to carry it.
The best thing about Terry is his integrity: he could get a million dollars for his autobiography, but he wouldn’t do it. What he’s seen, what he has done, and who he has seen doing it, wild horses wouldn’t drag from him. The worst? Supporting Chelsea.