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Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

20th January 2017

Terry O’Neill, 76

Legendary 1960s British photographer Terry O’Neill has photographed everyone from Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor to David Bowie and Audrey Hepburn. He now exhibits his work internationally and is one of the world’s most collected photographers.

“I’m very aware of getting old. I’ve got a bad back so I swim every day. I have to have my eyes injected too otherwise I’ll go blind. All these things happen to you but I don’t allow it to be a setback. I just don’t allow myself to be 76, I still think I’m 40 or something.”

When you’re married to someone famous, you barely see anybody else, it’s weird. You’re in this stratosphere.

I actually wanted to be a jazz drummer when I was younger but I’m pretty pleased about how things have turned out. I’ve met the best people of all time. Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, The Beatles. The only person I ever felt nervous about photographing was the Queen but she put me at ease straight away. I realised she spends her whole life posing for photos or paintings. She was charming.

Nowadays, I’m with a big company and we exhibit all over the world so I’m often all over the place. I just got back to London last week – we’d been to Las Vegas, San Francisco and LA all in a week to launch a book and do shows. When I’m in London, I come into the office here in Green Park and sign prints.

Believe it or not, I’ve never been into cameras. I don’t like them. And I definitely don’t see the point of digital – everyone’s just watching the computer screen. You lose moments and you lose ownership.

I’m looking for inspiration at the moment as there’s nobody I really want to photograph. I’ve done the likes of Tom Jones and Eric Clapton before in their heyday and I certainly don’t want to photograph people from the X factor! Perhaps I’ll find a new project – maybe I could work with Jose Mourinho – he might need an advisor!

I’m married to Lorraine Ashton, an ex-model agent. It’s my third and last marriage. When I got engaged the first time, I thought ‘what have I done?’ Then I just tumbled into my second marriage with Faye [Dunaway] and didn’t enjoy it. When you’re married to someone famous, you barely see anybody else, it’s weird. You’re in this stratosphere.

Yes we live in a ageist society – I don’t face it, because everyone is really nice to me but I imagine if I didn’t have the track record I’ve got, I’d just be another person on the bus.”

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