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Sixty Seconds with David Bailey



■ The photographer and artist, 82, on celebrities today, photographing the Queen and how the iPhone has killed his trade
Why not? I might as well do it here. It’s better than a poncey gallery. I know it’s not working class but it’s open to the public. If you want to go to a museum it’s like going to church — they make such a fuss about hanging them. But this isn’t pretentious.
No. I’ve painted since I was about three so it’s been 80 years — it’s taken a long time to display them! I’m a slow worker!
I don’t like reading things, I like seeing things. When I was about 11 I won a prize at some poncey government thing for a picture I drew of Bambi. I loved Walt Disney, he was my hero. I thought he’d been murdered by Hitler because the Germans bombed the cinema in Upton Park where I saw Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bambi. I did another picture called Hitler Killed The Duck!
Yeah, I was always scared he might fart! Nobody farted who I knew in the East End, people were always scared of farting. I thought what if I walked in and Picasso started farting? My hero would be down the drain! I love Picasso. He cut off everyone’s balls, actually, because nobody could paint after him. He’s probably the only genius of my period.
I met him in a lift in the St Regis Hotel in New York. I didn’t really know who he was. I was a bit suspicious! Who’s this bloke dressed in black with a walking stick? He said, ‘I’ve seen you with that beautiful girl.’ I was staying there with Jean Shrimpton and he asked me up for a drink and said, ‘I’d like to introduce you to my mother and sister’, and he got his walking stick, which had two little naked dolls on top of it, and he pressed a button and they spun round! That was my intro to Dalí.
It’s about 50/50. There’s not much call for photography at the moment, though, there’s nobody good enough to work for. Vogue is kind of silly now. I think photography is finished now, in a way. There can’t be another David Bailey because the iPhone has taken over and is everything now. The iPhone killed the camera, in a way, because everyone is a photographer. My wife, Catherine, will take a picture of a flower and fiddle with it and she has this fantastic image. I don’t take pictures of flowers any more because she can do it better.
There is no celebrity now, just people who wear a lot of lipstick and stick their arse out! It doesn’t seem to be replaced by anything, either — mediocrity, I guess. People back in my day had the chance to become famous. If I were to take someone’s photo now, where would I get it published? They weren’t celebrities when I was working with them, they were talented — and I’m interested in talent.
The Queen is fantastic. I’m not a royalist but you couldn’t invent a better queen. None of the others made an impression whereas she stands out. She’s fantastic, charming and something special — she’s a hard one to follow. They have to be careful otherwise they might lose the monarchy after the Queen goes. She gave me half a day when she could have given me five minutes.
I don’t know. I’m not a very good dad [Laughs]. I don’t particularly like children unless they have webbed feet or something. I like children when they’re old enough to play chess — then you have something to talk about. But mostly they’re just boring. I’m not sentimental like that. I never wanted them — Catherine wanted them.
I never thought about retiring. What would you do? I worked a bit from 15 to 18 before I joined the Air Force for two years for National Service but I haven’t done a day’s work since. All I’ve done is f*** about the rest of my life taking pictures, painting and making commercials or documentaries. It’s all been fun. I’ve always been surrounded by the most good-looking girls in the world too so that’s a double bonus!
Who knows? Chatting up Peter at the gates, I guess, when I get to heaven! I forgot my pass, mate! There’s not much future when you’re 82.
W1 Curates and Flannels present David Bailey Unseen until September 30 at 161-167 Oxford St, London

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