April was one of those months. They come along occasionally. There we all were ambling along waiting for the temperature to rise above 10 degrees so we could go to St James’ Park and photograph flowers or sunbathers, anything to indicate the end of another depressing British winter. It was my first day back at work after an Easter break refereeing the Mulholland clan’s daily bouts. I was covering the Royal Academy (RA) Summer show, or rather the queues of artists with their works early on the first morning of submissions. A nice gentle return, just what I needed. The first person I spoke to that day was a PR from the RA. I was stood across the road from the queue when she came running over brandishing the ubiquitous clipboard and demanding I filled a form in to allow me to take pictures. I asked her if they were allowing us in to photograph the works being submitted and was told ‘no’. I then informed her that I wouldn’t need to sign any forms then would I since I was in a public area that had nothing to do with her or her form. The pictures were pretty dire as was the job. Apparently this is a hardy annual but in 20 years at The Daily Telegraph I’ve never done it. I won’t be rushing to do it again either. Apparently the queue normally stretches right around the building. It didn’t on that day.
I edited the slim pickings and sent in on the FTP.
My next port of call was auction house Bonham’s who were promoting a sale of photographic prints by Mark Gerson who captured a rare image of W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice . Mark (92) was attending and was a fascinating man to meet. His portraits were excellent. We tired him out a little, always “one more” but left him in good spirits. I headed over to Westminster to edit.
The call came in at about midday “Baroness Thatcher has died, get over to her house.” Poor old Mark, he was never going to get in the paper now.
When something big like this drops it’s a combination of panic and planning. The paper was pretty much written already. We’d need members of the family, Mark or Carol Thatcher, but they were out of the country. With husband Dennis having passed away some years ago there was not a lot to do. We soon found out that she had died at The Ritz where she had been living since Christmas. A second pack began arriving there, those of us at the house waited as more and more TV crews turned up. Nothing to film but they have to do their ‘pieces to camera’ somewhere. We didn’t have to wait too long till people began turning up with floral tributes. There was a bit of a frenzy when each bunch turned up but I was finding it difficult to believe any room would be left in any of the papers for these pictures. The Obituary articles would fill page after page, especially in The Telegraph. When one passerby deposited a pint of milk on the doorstep as a reference to her nickname when she ran The Department for Education “Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher” we guessed that definitely would never publish.
Her body was removed from The Ritz just after midnight. We would be watching the house for the next few days until her children had been accounted for and final touches would be made to the plans for covering her funeral.
I’d been involved about two years ago in a walk through to assess positions for the funeral with people from the cabinet office and representatives from the BBC, ITV, the wire services and The NPA (Newspaper Publishers Association). The walk through had only gone as far as St Clement Danes (where Baroness Thatcher was transferred to the gun carriage). Three days after her death I was roped into a similar meeting at St Paul’s to discuss the business end of the event, the service at the Cathedral. Representing all the newspapers and wire agencies, in fact all the reps of still photography amounted to three people. The BBC had over twenty there. ITV who were not even going live had about ten people present. Parachuted in at the eleventh hour and expecting to have some say in where Photographers should be was a guaranteed recipe for disappointment .
There is a statue surrounded by a fence opposite the entrance to St Paul’s. It’s a statue of Queen Anne (QAS). I’ve worked for The Telegraph for 20 years, but I’ve been in this job for about 27 years. I know for a fact that many a year ago I’ve shot events at St Paul’s from inside the fence on the QAS. The meeting was told there was NO position for anybody for the arrivals of Baroness Thatcher at the QAS. The reason given was that the size of the entourage with a gun-carriage etc meant there was simply no room. I suggested we could position at least 10 photographers behind the fence. The reps from The City of London who are in charge of the statue said no. I said we’d done it before . They said no that had never happened. The main PR from ST Paul’s agreed it had never happened. I said I remembered being in there and was told no it had never happened. I asked if the ‘nobody by the QAS rule’ applied to everyone and was told it did. A facility at the QAS was made for the coffin leaving, but I was told NOBODY would be there for the arrivals.
If you look carefully at footage or photographs from the day you can see that there was a tiny platform built on the statue inside the fence . The BBC were allowed in there. You can go along to all the meetings you like, but if you are lied to there is not much you can do. The BBC has an entire department to organise these events we have 2 or 3 people working part time looking after stills. It’s of no interest that stills have the lasting effect that footage never will, TV rules.
Despite all this there were some very good positions and some excellent pictures produced.
The positions were put around to all the desks and they were asked to bid for where they wanted to be. I suggested to my desk that the best two to bid for were the’ Triforium’ (an elevated position over the West door looking down at the whole procession on Ludgate Hill) and The Whispering Gallery inside the cathedral looking down on the service. I knew the Triforium was the best spot. We never got it. It went to Dave Crump from the Daily Mail and he did a great job of it. It was The Telegraph’s whole front page. I got The Whispering Gallery. It wasn’t the front but it was a double page spread . A double page spread in a broadsheet. The biggest picture I’ve ever had published.
The logistics on big jobs like this are always the things that frighten me most. The roads get shut down at 7am, so despite having a ‘report time’ of 9am you still have to get to the venue at 6.30 am at the latest.
When it’s a big job you tend to have a bit of a restless night . You have to be up at 5am so you set your alarm. Then you wake up every half an hour to see how long you have left to sleep. The first ring of the alarm goes and you’re vertical… I’d checked all the batteries and arranged my kit. I’d added a few pieces to my normal kit and dumped some other bits, like flash guns ( though I left one in the bag just in case). I’d been at The Palace of Westminster the day before covering the arrival of Baroness Thatcher’s coffin at The House of Lords. I’d shot that and filed, then done a very poor job of her family arriving and leaving and filed that too. All the cards I’d shot on where in the pocket of my Barbour that I use every day for work. When I arrived at St Paul’s the following morning I was suited and booted. I’d spotted a gaggle of colleagues across the road from the car-park and parked up, decanted my gear and went to join them. I’d had a nagging feeling since walking out the house that I’d forgotten something. As I walked out of the car-park it came to me. All my memory cards were in my coat hanging on my banister. Luckily I had some spare but old 4GB cards in my bag and my mate Murray Sanders from The Daily Mail found two 8GB ones to tide me over. It wasn’t a disaster but it was a stupid mistake.
Tea and sandwiches later I was in position with top bloke Gareth Fuller from The Press Association in The Whispering Gallery. We had some great handlers from St Paul’s and got some great shots. I sent from the gallery on my brand new EE 4G mifi and the files flew away, I sent 17 pictures during the service and another 18 after . As the coffin left our line of sight on the way out we heaved a sigh of relief. All had run to plan and neither Gareth or I had dropped anything on the congregation below. Result.
A couple of other jobs finished the month off including a strange insect photo-call at The Wellcome Institute, a meeting with Barbara Windsor and Bruce Forsyth and a rota with Prince Harry in Nottingham but the month without doubt belonged to Maggie.