Wry Society: The royal photographer

Hector’s work, once snapped up by the high and mighty, has been nothing but negatives since the digital revolution. But will a new royal wedding propel him back into the limelight?

Image: Phildisley.com

“Oi look, it’s Princess Tamara… Here, Tamara! Over here! Nice hat, Tamara! Give us a smile!”

As the 16th in line to the throne turned and obligingly flashed the pen of photographers her best red-carpet grin, Hector DeFresnes tried to dive into his own camera bag. While it was not lost on him that this was not the best way to get a sellable shot, he simply couldn’t bear the humiliation of her seeing him in here. Not five years ago, he had been the official photographer at her wedding to a slightly stocky Argentinian polo player and now he was here. In this dreadful pen full of noisy, bearded paps in leather jackets…

Oh, how the mighty had fallen! In his heyday, Hector had been the (almost) David Bailey of his generation. The only reason he hadn’t quite matched his arch rival’s success was because he hadn’t been born in the East End. 

Dressed in his trademark plum velvet jacket and white ruffled shirt (open almost to the waist when the occasion allowed it), Hector had, until about three years ago, enjoyed a peerless reputation as the hip society photographer of his generation – a sort of Beaton with Beat. Then, almost overnight, the world had gone digital  and Hector had found himself Instagrammed off his pedestal, carelessly tossed into a professional wastepaper bin like a faded old Polaroid.

But even a rakishly thin rake has to eat occasionally and, with two ex-wives to pay for, retirement was not an option. And that’s why he found himself standing in the spring sunshine outside St George’s Chapel, Windsor, trying to grab himself the money shot that he would normally have been invited into the palace to take.

When this particular longed-for engagement had been announced on a grey Monday morning in November, Hector had been the only royalist not to weep tears of joy into his Earl Grey. Despite having photographed the young prince in pageboy mode on umpteen occasions over the years – and even, in more recent years, got inappropriately drunk with him in Mayfair nightclubs that he was possibly too old still to frequent – he had found himself waiting in vain for the call. Instead, the honour had been given to Djane van Hoogan, a 23-year-old Dutch street-style blogger who, like all the young these days, seemed to think that an iPhone contract was equivalent to a photography degree. Needless to say, her “fresh and modern” engagement shots had gone down a storm.

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By midnight – at this point standing in a slightly different pen outside the castle watching the disco lights flashing inside – Hector was losing the will to live. He was too old for this, too depressed, and the heartening handshake he had got from the Prince of Denmark as he slipped outside for a cigarette had been more a humiliation than a comfort.

He could wait for a shot of the happy couple leaving for the honeymoon but, knowing the young prince as he did, that was unlikely to happen for at least three hours. And besides, it was starting to rain.

Packing his kit into the luggage bag of his Royal Enfield motorbike, Hector took a moment to appreciate the fact that he was at least still young and cool enough to ride a motorbike. There was still a bit of bark in the old dog yet. 

Quarter of an hour later, as he pulled into a deserted petrol station, Hector was deliberating over whether to buy himself a packet of overpriced tobacco as a treat, when he noticed a bike pulling up at the pump in front of him. The passengers, both in leathers and black helmets, were unmistakably a couple, and she was wearing a pair of impossibly high white satin Christian Louboutin stilettos.

When they took their helmets off and began to kiss passionately, it took him a few moments to compute who they were. Watching them, foreheads together, tenderly holding each other’s faces, Hector thought about fumbling for his camera but quickly realised there was no time. Grabbing his mobile phone from his pocket instead, he quickly lined up a shot and – snap! – he’d got it: an instant pension fund.

As the prince turned and looked at him, Hector bowed his head in respectful acknowledgement. Whispering something to his bride, the prince winked conspiratorially at Hector as the new princess turned and blew him a kiss. Cramming their helmets back on, they revved off into their future, and Hector was surprised – and more than a little touched – to feel the sting of sentimental tears prick his eyes. He would buy that tobacco after all.

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