The photoshoot took place on the evening of Tuesday 2nd July 1991 and I was fully booked assisting for the rest of that week. I worked with photographer Brian Aris on the Wednesday and Thursday, then assisted Terry O’Neill on Friday 5th at Buckingham Palace. I worked with O’Neill again on Monday 8th, so I wasn’t able to get to Metro’s lab in Chelsea until Tuesday 9th to put my films in for processing.
The single roll of colour was processed really quite quickly, within a couple of hours, and naturally I was extremely excited to see them. As soon as it was processed I grabbed the sheet of film from the technicians hand, placed it on the light-box and eagerly peered through the glass loupe.
To my horror, eight out of the ten colour images were out-of-focus.
In the excitement of it all, I had mis-focused the long lens ever so slightly and James’ temples were pin sharp but his eyes were blurred. I was mortified; I’d made an enormous mistake.
My heart was in my mouth, I was in total shock, it was devastating. And now, I had the agonising wait to see whether the two rolls of black and white were also out-of-focus, but had to wait days before they were processed and contacted.
I was having a nightmare; could you imagine the humiliation of having to explain this to James?
The majority of the transparencies were unusable and I remember begrudgingly cutting them up with scissors and binning them. A few days later I returned to the lab and THANKFULLY, all of the black and white negatives were razor-sharp.
The relief was enormous.
Without question, there was a great feeling of trust, as James never asked to see the pictures that I’d captured of him. Most celebrities wanted complete control over their image but James never felt the need to see or edit them in any way, allowing me full-authority over the pictures.
His untimely death, only two years later in ’93 at the age of 45 came as an awful shock and along with millions of people around the world, I was extremely upset by his sudden passing. Out of sheer respect for the great man, I decided not to release the pictures at that time.
“Forty-five years of James’ life contained at least as much as ninety of anyone else’s” – Murray Walker