Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Picture perfect: the acclaimed photographer Terry O'Neill is exhibiting his work at The One Fusion in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
Picture perfect: the acclaimed photographer Terry O'Neill is exhibiting his work at The One Fusion in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

Snap, and a star was born

The Life: Terry O'Neill was just filling in time when he took a picture that changed the course of his career, which led him to photograph some of the world's most famous people.

Terry O'Neill was filling in time when he took the picture that changed the course of his career.

A 20-year-old Londoner with dreams of becoming a jazz drummer, Mr O'Neill signed up in the early 1960s to work for BOAC, a precursor to British Airways, for the chance to play on both sides of the Atlantic.

But he had just missed an air steward training session, so he took a job in the airline's photographic unit to fill in the three-month wait for the next slot.

"I went to the airport and I took a picture one day, one Saturday, of a guy in a pinstripe suit surrounded by Africans in all their tribal robes. He was asleep."

Mr O'Neill had no idea who the sleeping man in the suit was but a reporter at the airport recognised him as Rab Butler, the UK's foreign secretary at the time.

"[The reporter] said my editor would like to see the film, so I gave him the film and I rang the guy at 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock and he said I love your work on these pictures. I want you to work for me at the airport every Saturday.

"Suddenly I had a job and I said but I don't really know what I'm doing. He said just do what you are doing now. Take pictures."

Another photographer, the "local hotshot", discovered Mr O'Neill and asked him to cover his shift at the airport when he was doing other jobs. A couple of months into the arrangement, the photographer died in a plane crash. Mr O'Neill was offered his job on the Daily Sketch, a tabloid newspaper.

It wanted pictures of emerging pop stars at the time based on a hunch they were going to be big. "He said there's this group which has just made a record called Please Please Me. I go down there and got one of the first shots of The Beatles as The Beatles."

It took three months to publish, but when it finally ran, the paper sold out straight away.

From there, he stumbled onto scoop after scoop. He was the right age; it was the right time; and he knew the right people, says Mr O'Neill.

"I used to go to this club called the Ad Lib Club, where all the in crowd went and we used to sit there and talk about what job we were going to get when all this was over.

"Ringo wanted to be a hairdresser. He wanted to own a chain of hairdressers. George wanted to work in a tailor's shop. It was so funny. We used to laugh about Mick Jagger singing at 40 like he'd be an old granddad."

He left the Daily Sketch when he was 24, having covered a funeral of youngsters who were murdered in a stabbing. "I went back and said: 'Listen, I can't do this any more'."

His editor, a "sergeant major" type, told him that the paper had made him and he would be finished the minute he walked out of the door.

He was wrong. Mr O'Neill went on to photograph stars including Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Brigitte Bardot, some of whom star in an exhibition of his work currently on at The One Fusion in Al Quoz in Dubai. The photos on show range in price from Dh10,995 (US$2,993) to Dh64,995

One of the pictures, a photograph of Faye Dunaway, whom he was married to for a time, shows the actress sitting by a pool in Los Angeles the morning after her Oscar win in 1976. "That's when they realise that their lives are going to change. It's the next day when the penny drops that their money is going to go from, say, half a million to five or six million."

Part of his success, he says, was because of the switch of major films being produced in America to Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"That's the way I got to meet all these people," he says.

"I'm the luckiest person going."

gduncan@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 The Greens, villas: Q1 no change. 3BR - Dh210-250,000. 4BR - Dh210-260,000. 5BR - Dh220-300,000. Q1 2013-Q1 2014 5% rise. Pawan Singh / The National

In pictures: Where Dubai rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014

Find out how rental prices in the prime locations in Dubai have altered during the first three months of the year and the current rates you will pay according to data provided by Asteco.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

 The cooling towers of the Temelin nuclear power plant near the Tyn nad Vltavou in Czech Republic. The country wants to continue expanding nuclear energy capacity despite cancelling a tender to build two new units. David W Cerny / Reuters

In pictures: Best business images for the week to April 17, 2014

Here are some of the best business images for the week to April 17, 2014.

 Three generations of the Hakimi family tend to their stall Crawford Market in Mumbai. Subhash Sharma for The National

In pictures: Shopper’s delight at Crawford Market in Mumbai

Crawford Market is an old British-style covered market dealing in just about every kind of fresh food and domestic animal imaginable. Later on renamed Mahatma Jotirao Phule, the market remains popular among locals and visitors by its old name, taken from Arthur Crawford who was the first municipal commissioner of the city.

 The Wind, Energy, Technology and Environment Exhibition takes place from April 14 to April 16. Above, the Dewa showroom during last year’s Wetex. Jaime Puebla / The National

April corporate and economic calendar for the UAE and overseas

From Cityscape to Wetex to stock-market holidays to nations reporting first-quarter GDP figures, here is our helpful calendar of April's business events in the UAE and internationally.

 Get the latest information on credit cards, bank accounts and loan products in the UAE. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Rates report: Latest on UAE loans, accounts and credit cards

Souqamal.com brings you the latest interest rates on banking products in the UAE.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National