Where the magic happens: what can’t celebrity photographer Dave Benett work without?
PUBLISHED: 16:15 07 October 2016 | UPDATED: 16:32 07 October 2016
Dave Benett, 58, is a showbiz photographer who has photographed everyone from Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela to Brad Pitt and Kim Kardashian. He lives in Golders Green with his wife Rosann.
On the left is Rosann and I on our first ever date, just look at the 80s power dressing. We went to the Hippodrome, which had just been opened by Peter Stringfellow. When I met her she was Kelvin MacKenzie’s PA at the Sun. This cheeky photographer snuck in and stole the jewel from the crown. Kelvin went mad! We got married at Camden Registry Office, partied at Morton’s and ended up at Tramp. The party went on until four in the morning and then we staggered to the honeymoon suite at the Ritz. For years the doorman used to laugh at me, I think he remembers Rosann and I tottering up the stairs. Having my daughter, Camille (on the right), was one of the reasons I decided to do showbiz photography. The income of a freelance news photographer was quite limited so I thought I’d better get my act together. Camille’s working with me now and she’s so aware of the nuances of my job that organisationally she’s superb.
This is the Picture Editors’ Guild award for Fashion and Entertainment Photographer of the Year, 2013. It’s always nice to be recognised by your peers. I was given my award by Nigel Farage, don’t ask me why. I moved to London from Liverpool to do my A-Levels at William Ellis. There were so many girls’ schools nearby – La Sainte Union, Parliament Hill, Camden – it was brilliant. So I got rubbish A-Levels, which is why I became a photographer. I got into news photography in the late 70s and in the mid-80s I started messing around with showbiz paparazzi. It wasn’t 40 blokes in big coats, looking fierce and causing trouble then. You had a relationship with the people, it was a different time.
I use a Nikon 28-300 zoom lens. I was one of the last guys to change to digital because I was working mostly for the Evening Standard who have a late deadline so I had time to develop colour prints and keep the quality. I don’t feel threatened by the rise of camera phones. I saw pics of Bella Hadid on the catwalk and all you could see were phones pointing at her, no-one’s experiencing life as it happens. The smart phone has come into its own with the immediacy of news, where quality’s not important. When I was on news you’d sit in the office like a fireman and you’d be told ‘Get down to Wembley, there’s been a shooting’. You’d get there and the shooting was over but you’d go down to Snappy Snaps and see if maybe the guy in there took a picture. It was about sourcing pictures as much as taking them yourself. Now people are putting the pictures straight on Twitter.
I’m in positions where I’m not chasing anyone, it’s all by invitation. I go along to the Derby in my top hat and tails to take pictures of Her Majesty. There’s a lovely picture I took of Princess Diana and Liza Minelli at a film premiere in 1991. The books are from the book launch parties, most of them are signed. Jerry Hall, Keith Richards, there’s a few by Joan Collins. I think I’m too young to do my book yet but Camille took over my Instagram a couple of years ago and sort of retro-ed it up and it’s brilliant. I’d quite like to use that format for a book.
I built my first racing car in 1989. It was a Porsche. I’ve raced ever since in England and Europe at a reasonably high amateur level. A mechanic who helped me build a car said ‘this is a drug, don’t get sucked in’. It’s a good hobby because it brings you back down to earth. Those guys don’t know what you do, it’s refreshing. I’ve always been into cars. I’m not a believer that it’s only something to get from A to B, for me it’s about how you get there.