A dawn chorus of alarms and texts wakes me at 4am. The Addison Lee car service driver will arrive at 4.30am. I have that sick feeling in my stomach and desperately want to go back to sleep, having got to bed just three hours earlier. I lie there for a moment trying to remember why I have to be up at this wholly unreasonable hour. Something to do with the Mail on Sunday, Sky TV and You magazine’s Eve George commissioning me... The Royal Wedding! It all comes flooding back, along with the usual apprehension of going to shoot the unknown.
Quick shower, pick up the very lightweight (for me) camera bag (Lowepro 160 classified bag, three lenses – Canon 35mm f/1.4L, 85mm f/1.2L and 135mm f/2L – along with two Canon EOS-1Ds cameras), a banana and off. The driver is chatty but I want to sleep, while not wanting to be rude. He tells me he used to be in the newspaper business and was on the presses when Diana died. “We all knew about it as soon as it happened, way before the general public did.” I ponder on that dreadful day, one when we all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. Today, of course, will be another one of those days but thankfully for different reasons. We pass Westminster Abbey and I wind down the window; there is a party atmosphere and everyone is chatty, people shout hello and as we sit in a 5am traffic jam I’m holding conversations with royal well-wishers, most of whom have been there for days. To my surprise we arrive outside Buckingham Palace at 5.10am and I find myself standing among police, security and crowds of people of all ages, colours and cultures. There is a bevy of brides, a whole crew of Kate Middletons, in full air attendant uniforms, complete with travel cases, and everywhere I look there is red, white and blue. It’s one of those rare occasions when all the usual human barriers are down and everyone is chatting as if we have known each other for all of our lives. I take a moment to soak up this collective community atmosphere and feel the anticipation and excitement. If I hadn’t been shooting I wouldn’t be here. Not because I am against the Royal Wedding but because I don’t really like crowds, far preferring the peace and quiet of my home in Derbyshire.
Eamonn has that disarming Irish charm, combined with sharp wit and charisma, that I’ve seen so many times in the Celts. He seems to put all in his path under some kind of spell and standing next to him all I have to do is bring up my camera and shoot the poor hapless devils as they are drawn to him, all smiles and flailing arms, men and women alike.
But now I am glad that I am here and experiencing this first-hand, the iPhone chimes. It’s Amy Williams, the journalist from the Mail. We meet at Gate 4 outside the temporary town of TV technology. Bright blue-eyed, with beauty, youth and experience, Amy has organised the whole shoot, a different angle on the day from behind the scenes with Sky News. Lucy Ellison, director of News PR for Sky News, then appears with our press passes. Lucy is to spend the day with us... two blonde twenty-somethings and me; maybe the alarm hasn’t actually gone off yet? The media area is fascinating and compared to the crush of the crowds it feels like I’ve entered some kind of exclusive Royal Wedding Day club. Everywhere I look there is celebrity and soon Lucy is introducing us to Eamonn Holmes and Charlotte Hawkins, the Sky News anchors for the big day. Both are easy-going, relaxed and genuine, and if they are nervous, they don’t show it. Eamonn has that disarming Irish charm, combined with sharp wit and charisma, that I’ve seen so many times in the Celts. He seems to put all in his path under some kind of spell and standing next to him all I have to do is bring up my camera and shoot the poor hapless devils as they are drawn to him, all smiles and flailing arms, men and women alike. It is impossible not to like this man with his mischievous, informal nature and he is obviously well-respected and liked by colleagues and peers alike. In contrast, Charlotte is quietly confident, demure and has a kind of innocent beauty. There is no mistaking the thinking behind selecting this partnership. We walk through the streets of this temporary media town and bump into the BBC’s Huw Edwards and Fearne Cotton, and radio presenter Simon Bates, along with a host of royal and fashion correspondents, and fellow Sky presenters Dermot Murnaghan and royal expert Dickie Arbiter. Among the news teams there is a feeling of everyone playing for the same team; you would almost think it was one TV station. All agree it’s quite possibly the most important event of their careers. We walk past the American NBC Today Show studio and it’s easily the biggest here. Walking through this town of studios, outside broadcast trucks, Winnebagos and a sea of satellite dishes, I am reminded of the global significance of this event and the hundreds of millions of people expected to tune in to watch history in the making. The Sky gallery, a multi-million-pound truck (one of many), has two rooms lined with monitors and video feeds from dozens of key locations. It reminds me of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and at the helm is studio director Tom Allen. “Cue camera one... camera three, have another look for something interesting in the crowd… thanks Eamonn, can someone get him a bacon sandwich… where’s that edit? Shields up and warp factor three, Mister Sulu. As 11am approached, I was half-expecting a voice to say “ she canne take any more captain”... I was mesmerised by how this combination of technology, intellect and experience made what must be immensely complicated look so easy. It had the feeling of a military operation and yet in the midst of the key moments, none of the significance of the event was lost on the 20 or so team, camera phones (or were they phasers?) taking pictures of the monitors.
Outside, as I walk past groups of gaffers, grips and sparks watching any available TV monitor, there is calm and quiet everywhere. It was like another sci-fi favourite, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original 1951, Michael Rennie version, not the 2008 one!) and just as with the film, everything jumps back to life as the newlyweds approach. Swept along with the excitement and to get a better angle of the crowd, I jump on to a not-insignificant wall overlooking the Palace, closely followed by a security guard. He had obviously been given strict instructions to repel all aggressors, but then another two, then three, then 10, follow my move, and he is literally jumping up and down when radio legend Simon Bates follows and makes a somewhat undignified, yet confident approach, taking his historic mount for Smooth FM (if the security guard is of my generation then he will not dare mess with Bates). I offer help to an elderly lady as she joins the ramparts and the guard finally cracks and switches sides. I shoot the scene and then rush for the gates, careful to avoid any more fluorescent party police. Outside in the crowd there is calm as we wait for the couple and the kiss on the balcony. One million cameras are facing the Palace and one is facing the crowd as I completely miss the kiss but get some very pleasing crowd scenes. The atmosphere is a surprise... no whooping or shouting, just reserved flag waving and cheers, along with laughter, tears and, what seemed to me at least, genuine joy. Up until now I had remained relatively detached emotionally from the romance but soaked up the atmosphere and fun of the day; after all I was here to shoot pictures. That was until I heard the hum of the British, liquid-cooled V-12, 27-litre piston aero engine, known as the Rolls-Royce Merlin. Or, to be precise, six Merlins powering the Spitfire, Hurricane and Avro Lancaster bomber of the royal flypast. The sound and resonance of this world-saving piece of British engineering excellence, combined with all the past history it represented, along with the pomp and pageantry, finally brings a lump to my throat. Kisses over and the Sun’s Arthur Edwards happy, I try to make my way back to the press area. It’s a stone’s throw away and yet takes me 40 minutes, which, as I hate crowds, would normally have been a quiet hell. Yet this is calm and orderly, allowing me to shoot pictures all the way. In a slow-moving river of one million people I swim to reach the bank and am pulled ashore by the newly-recruited security guard, now happy to see me as I enter the tranquillity of the press area.
There is just time to meet up again with Eamonn and Charlotte, who have been cooped up in a studio for the past six hours. There is a sense of both relief and obvious pride as Eamonn is still taking pictures through the studio window of the dispersing crowd, while Charlotte discusses her feelings at having witnessed a very real romance and all the girls chat. As I go to leave, I bump into Simon Bates again, now back in his office and packing his bags but still making time to extol the virtues of his antique brass microphone. Both Simon and his Coles Electroacoustics 4104 commentator’s ribbon mic seem to me to be part of broadcasting history, and it is somehow apt that my lasting memory of the big day is of the two of us enthusing over his means of recording the sound and mine of taking the pictures.