'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