“I Don’t Need Some Idiot Telling Me How to Think”: David Bailey Remembers the Good Old, Bad Old Days

Alex Bilmes
·27-min read
Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

From Esquire

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

David Bailey doesn’t know the meaning of “woke”. That’s not a figure of speech, or a joke, or a dig. Britain’s most famous photographer says he has never previously encountered the word, and my attempts to interest him in its definition and implications are failing to make the impact I’d hoped for.

Sitting opposite me at his studio in September, Bailey flashes me a disdainful glare: what’s this bloke on about now? “A woke?” he says. “What’s a woke? I’m not a woke.” Collapsing all the way back into his battered leather armchair, so that he is almost horizontal, his potbelly pointed at the skylight, Bailey twists his head, apparently not uncomfortably, so that I remain in his sights. His lips are pursed in a sour expression. His dark, hooded eyes are narrowed. He is wearing a skull-print scarf over a crumpled grey jacket. He looks like a scruffy pirate.

Not what you’d call a picture of health, he has a shoulder-shaking cough, made worse by frequent outbursts of wheezing laughter. He assures me this has nothing do with Covid-19. “I’ve lost my sense of taste,” he says, with a wicked glint in his eye. “Is that a symptom?”

More convulsive cackling, followed by another hacking attack. At 82, he’s less the lion in the winter than Muttley the incorrigible cartoon dog after a night on the fags.

Does he have to take extra precautions, I wonder, because of his age?

“No,” he says, dismissively. “But I’ve got asthma, too. Well, I haven’t got asthma.” Has he got asthma or hasn’t he got asthma? “My lungs are scarred from psittacosis,” he clarifies. “Because I had parrots.”

So, no more parrots? That’s not very piratical.

“Actually, I’ve got two.” Giggle, titter, hoot. “Noisy fuckers.”

But back to the contentious word that Bailey claims to have never heard before.

“Woke,” explains his amanuensis, and occasional interpreter, Fenton Bailey (also his son) who is tapping on a nearby laptop. “Progressive thinking.”

“It’s not progressive thinking though, is it?” says Bailey. “It’s not even thinking.”

“It leads to fascism,” agrees Fenton.

“I don’t need some idiot telling me how to think,” says Bailey. Hee-hee-hee, hur-hur-hur, chortle-chortle-chortle.

According to Google Maps, we are in Bloomsbury. But this place is less a location you can drop a pin in than a state of mind: Baileyland. Here, on the first floor of a converted mews house, is Bailey’s studio-cum-hangout-cum-HQ — epicentre of his operation for four decades now, where notables in their hundreds, even thousands, have sat for their close-ups. I was last here in 2008, at a time when Bailey and I were working for the same magazine. That day, I left him sitting in an armchair telling scurrilous stories, surrounded by prints of his old photos — Michael Caine, Penelope Tree, Damien Hirst pulling on his foreskin — and piles of his books and contact sheets and assorted ephemera of a life thrillingly lived. Bob Dylan’s Modern Times was playing on a loop.

Twelve years on, I find Bailey sitting in an armchair telling scurrilous stories, surrounded by his prints of his old photos — Andy Warhol, Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree again — and piles of his books and contact sheets and assorted ephemera of a life thrillingly lived. Bob Dylan’s Triplicate is playing on a loop.

The rare photographer who is as celebrated as his subjects, Bailey has been a star for 60 years. At the dawn of the 1960s, as a member of the Black Trinity — the photographer Norman Parkinson’s name for Bailey and his fellow upstarts Brian Duffy and Terence Donovan — Bailey tore into the stiff, hidebound world of high fashion and celebrity portraiture, helping to definitively change the look and attitude of magazines, advertising and, in the process, of the men and women who consume those things. A proto Austin Powers, he was as famous for his groovy-baby lifestyle as his pictures: Bailey raced around town in a souped-up Jaguar E-Type, squiring the sex symbols of the day, smoking pot with John Lennon at the Ad Lib, hanging out with Mick Jagger and Terry Stamp and the rest of the Swinging London elite, working class heroes all.

This was a moment when Britain was, briefly, undisputed world capital of pop culture — music, fashion, cinema — and Bailey was both court photographer and one of the prime exhibits. In 1966, such was his reputation that Michelangelo Antonioni came to London to make Blow-Up, a film in which a dashing fashion photographer stumbles from far-out photo shoot to hip nightclub to druggy party. But, of course, Bailey says it was all over by then. “You felt a change in 1965,” he says, with a sneer: “The Americans arrived.”

Grace Coddington, the model and, later, mega-stylist, described the young Bailey as “unbelievably good looking”. Penelope Tree, another model and former girlfriend, called him “incredibly attractive, with a dangerous vibe”.

That was then. The 21st-century Bailey is grizzled, impish, cantankerous, loud, warm, rude and touchy-feely. The first time I met him, in 2003, he held my hand for a quarter of an hour, at least, as he led me around his studio, showing me the pictures on his walls and, extremely enjoyably, denigrating the work of various magazine editors we both knew. Then he told me I looked like “the fucking postman” because I had a bag slung over my shoulder. Then he offered me lunch.

In 2020, there’s no touching permitted, of course, but Bailey does manage to land a couple of good jabs — comparing, more than once, his own excellence as an interviewer with my failings in that department — and then, again, offering me lunch: “D’you wanna sandwich or something?”

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

My visit to Baileyland today is to talk about one of the publishing events of the year: Look Again, Bailey’s autobiography. “His first autobiography,” it says, ominously, in a foreword, as if, in his seventh decade, he clearly has another in him, perhaps more.

This is news to Bailey, who tells me he hasn’t read the foreword, or any of the book. That suggests he didn’t write it, either. And he is happy to confirm that this is, in fact, the case. James Fox wrote it, the man responsible for the addictive Keith Richards autobiography, Life, a bestseller a decade ago. Fox’s great skill, as demonstrated in the Richards book, is to capture the voice of his subject, as he does again with Bailey, so that readers feel as if the legendary axeman or the celebrity snapper is sitting alongside them, fireside, with a Scotch and a cigarette, telling fabulous war stories from the rock’n’roll years. Though, naturally, Bailey scoffs at this writerly pretension. “The voice, the voice!” he sniggers. “Like the lost fucking chord!” He should read it, I tell him.

“Catherine’s read it, my wife,” Bailey offers.

What did she think?

“She thought it was alright.”

It’s not a quote one can imagine making the cover of the paperback, so I tell him that for what it’s worth I very much enjoyed the book. If the subject of Look Again is occasionally resistible, with his antediluvian opinions and his sophomoric provocations, the story is a rollicking rake’s progress, a horny bildungsroman, and a vivid document of several lost Londons that Bailey has lived in and through.

My interviewer’s hat is off to Fox the more so because in conversation the mercurial, maddening Bailey can be difficult to pin down and hard to follow. He rambles. He contradicts himself. His memory for specific images from his childhood is needle-sharp — his mother, backlit, trying on a dress at Selfridges; the magnolia tree in bloom outside the family home in East Ham — but proper nouns elude him. He can’t remember the name of the part of London he lives in now. “Tufnell Park,” says Fenton.

He can’t recall the name of his biographer. “Francis Fox?” James Fox, I tell him. “Who the fuck’s Francis Fox then?”

He’s forgotten the name of his dog, a chow. “Montague,” he says. “Mortimer,” corrects Fenton. “Have you got a dog?” he asks me. I have, I tell him, and please stop changing the subject.

None of this is to be taken as evidence of, oh, damn, what’s it called again? “Vernacular distemper?” Bailey offers. “Vascular dementia,” says Fenton. Because in other respects his mind is still a steel trap. Any approach on to unwelcome territory is met with a deft segue to more congenial topics.

So, anyway, I tell him, I liked the book.

“Oh, good,” he says, looking not remotely fussed. (He doesn’t need some idiot telling him how to think.)

The “woke” conversation is sparked by my possibly unwise decision to open our interview on the very first page of Look Again, where the reader finds the phrases, “French floozy”, “chink,” “gook” and “silly bitch.” Are he and Fox deliberately trying to antagonise the politically correct?

“I hate political correctness,” Bailey says. “It makes everyone a liar. It means you’re not telling me what you think. You’re telling me what you think you should think.”

He takes a deep breath. “I hate liars,” he continues. “I prefer Trump. At least you know where you stand with Trump.” He mentions Donald Trump — that paragon of truthfulness — in the book. He seems fairly well disposed towards him.

“Well, I worked with him,” he says. “I made his airline commercials. He was alright. He used to come up to me in restaurants and say, ‘How do you get such sophisticated birds?’ Or, ‘girls.’ No, I think he said ‘birds’.” This seems unlikely, given Trump was born and raised in Queens, New York, rather than within the sound of Bow bells. But the point is made. “He was always alright with me.”

Since he’s brought him up, would Bailey say Trump has made a good president? “I think he’s not political, which I quite like, because the things that spoil politics are politicians.”

I mumble something about Trump being a divisive figure. “Then he’s closer to a politician than I thought,” says Bailey, bored already, and he somehow leaps, with age-defying agility, from this topic to discussing the Krays, the infamous East End gangster twins of the 1960s, immortalised by Bailey, as so many of that era’s movers and shakers were, in stark, close-cropped, high-contrast black and white.

One of the minor revelations, to me, of Look Again is that, unknown to Bailey at the time of his association with the brothers, Reggie Kray had been the man responsible for a nasty scar on Bailey’s father’s face. This grim factoid prompts the following conversation.

I hadn’t realised it was Reg Kray who attacked your father. “It wasn’t too bad,” says Bailey. “At least it wasn’t a bottle. A razor’s better than a bottle, a razor’s always clean.” With his finger Bailey draws a line from the left-hand corner of his mouth to the lobe of the corresponding ear. “I think the cheek fell open,” he says. The wound required 16 stitches.

Had he known before he made their acquaintance that it was one of the Krays who had cut his father, he says, “it wouldn’t have altered anything.” I find this hard to understand.

“No, because I got on quite well with Reg. He was a good bloke.” It was Ron, he says, who was the scary one. (Both Krays were sentenced to life-imprisonment for murder in 1969.)

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

I realise this makes me sound like the pampered milquetoast I undoubtedly am, but the notion of being friends with someone who would deliberately cut a person with a razor — whether a close family relation of mine or anyone else — is baffling to me. How can he say Reg Kray was a good bloke? “I don’t know,” says Bailey. “I mean, he didn’t cut me with a razor. It’s nothing personal.”

Nothing personal! I think it’s extremely personal, I tell him, cutting a person’s face. But Bailey won’t condemn the Krays. He tells me another story about a man who was badly beaten, perhaps even murdered, because he didn’t offer round his plate of corned beef sandwiches. “I think they probably killed him, they really fucked him. He went in the back of a Mini and was never seen again. He’s probably buried in the M4. He was a horrible bloke, though.”

Well, fair enough. I mean, what kind of maniac fails to share his preserved meat sandwiches? Is Bailey serious? “I don’t judge people,” he says. “I mean, I’d photograph Hitler, or Mussolini, or Churchill. They’re all the same to me. They’re all leaders.”

Indeed. But he became pals with the Krays. Would he have befriended Hitler? “No! I don’t think so!” He is bent double with laughter at this point. “My whole childhood, until I was seven-and-a-half [when WWII ended] he was trying to kill me! He was the only [famous] person I’d heard of then. I knew Hitler, and Churchill and Stalin. Later I remember Attlee. I bumped into him once, knocked him over, by accident, in a lift in Tokyo.”

Clement Attlee? “Yeah.”

In a lift in Tokyo? “Yeah, with his wife. I was with Jean [Shrimpton, the model]. I knocked him over.”

And, wracked by jagged guffaws and intermittent spluttering, he’s off again, reminiscing about “bumping into” Harold Macmillan in Venice and other encounters with prime ministers. (Point of fact: in 2007 I went with Bailey to Downing Street so that he could photograph Gordon Brown for a magazine article. Sample observation to the then somewhat beleaguered PM: “I wouldn’t have your fucking problems for all the world.” Sample direction during sitting: “Look wherever you like. It doesn’t matter. This is just something to cover my arse with in case I fuck up.”)

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

Bailey was born in 1938 in Leyton, east London. He grew up in East Ham, in a two-up two-down that was, at various times, home to nine people: his parents and their two kids; his aunt and uncle and his two cousins; and another uncle, Artie. They lived through the Blitz, the relentless and devastating bombing of east London by the Luftwaffe. He says it didn’t bother him, he didn’t know any better. “It wasn’t a worry to me.”

But in his book, he also says that even today he still has nightmares of buildings falling on top of him, still jumps when he hears a bang. To me, he says another legacy of the war is a lifelong fear of death. So it’s not too much of a stretch, I think, to suggest that the experience of growing up in the East End during the 1940s was traumatic. “Subconsciously,” he concedes, all this took a toll. “Not intellectually.”

But that, as they might have said in the East End in 1938, wasn’t the half of it. The most astute analysis of Bailey is supplied in his book by his exes. Catherine Deneuve, the great star of French cinema, and wife number two of four, observes that the reason he laughs all the time is because it prevents him having to reveal or engage with his emotions. “Now he can’t say three words without giggling and laughing,” she tells James Fox. “It’s a way of taking away the seriousness of things. It’s a defence…”

But then it’s understandable that he would need one. He didn’t like either of his parents, Gladys and Bert. And Bert, at least, didn’t like him. He has one sibling, a younger sister, still alive. Are they close? “Not really.”

Boys didn’t cry in the East End he tells James Fox, apparently approvingly. “They’d think you were a fucking wimp.” To me, Bailey claims not to have cried since he was a baby. The men he grew up around were cold and hard. The women had it much worse, he says, and were, as a result even tougher. Bailey was frightened of his mother. “She had these eyes that were just scary,” he says. “If she was in a bad mood she just had to look at you and, fucking hell, those big, dark, scary eyes.

“I think she was a great beauty, in a way,” he says. “She was a prize. But I think she was pregnant with me when they got married. I think they had to get married.” His father was “a horrible man to be married to.”

From the book, it seems he can’t make up his mind about Bert. Sometimes Bailey defends his father. But then he says he was an “arsehole”. He was unfaithful, uncouth and a drunk. He hit Gladys. Are there any qualities — good or bad — that Bailey shares with his father? Dyslexia is the only one he can think of. “I’m not sure that’s a quality,” he says.

Almost all the adults of Bailey’s childhood are presented, in his book, as grotesques, almost Dickensian in their cruelty. Bert and Gladys and Bailey’s nasty aunt Maud, beating up her daughter, and his sadistic headmaster, Squadron Leader (rtd) Skellon. “I was told I was stupid every day of my life,” he says. “I just thought I was a stupid cunt.” His formal education finished when he left school, aged 14.

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

Bailey discovered photography in 1956, while performing his National Service with the Royal Air Force, in Singapore. “It was a tax-free state, Singapore. You could buy a camera for the price of a pack of cigarettes. There was lots of geeks who taught me the technique.” His skill was immediately apparent. “It was instinctive,” he said. He never had any doubt where to point the camera.

He learned something else in the RAF. “It taught me about snobbery,” he says. “There was different toilets for privates and sergeants and officers. And I wasn’t allowed to use their toilets but they could use ours. And I thought, ‘Fuck this.’”

In 1958 he was demobbed. The following year he found a job assisting a successful fashion photographer, John French. By 1960, recently married to Rosemary Bramble, who didn’t last long (“I didn’t get on that well with Rosemary”), he was shooting for Vogue. In 1961, his first Vogue cover was published featuring the 17-year-old Jean Shrimpton, with whom he’d fallen in love.

The 1960s are sold to us today as a moment of decisive break with the past. The youthquake, we are told, was about more than long hair and short skirts, soft drugs and hard rock. Was it really so seismic?

“It was an enormous change,” Bailey says. “It was a working-class thing. Michael Caine and John Lennon and Mick Jagger and me and everyone else came along at the same time and I think we couldn’t be ignored. There was just too fucking many of us. Not wearing a tie was a big issue. I always figured: it’s their restaurant, if they want me to wear a tie I won’t go there.”

Bailey remembers coming through an airport with Mick Jagger in the early 1960s. (They were friends before the Stones had a hit.) “There was a bloke in a blazer and a badge. Very tall and well dressed. He said to Mick, ‘Good God, what do you look like?’ And Mick said, ‘I don’t look like you, you cunt.’ And I thought, ‘God, that was great!’ I thought, ‘Fucking hell!’ It made Mick seem daring to me. And he was absolutely right, the guy was a cunt.”

It’s hardly Wildean, and it sounds perhaps pathetic, but his point is that older, posher men felt perfectly entitled to publicly admonish younger men of more humble backgrounds for their appearance, and until the likes of Jagger came along, the younger men simply accepted this. Irreverence was unheard of.

In 1965, Bailey published his Box of Pin-Ups, an essential document of Swinging London at its most potent: fellow young meteors Jagger, Lennon and McCartney, David Hockney, Terence Stamp. Also, influential figures of the arts, media and high society: Cecil Beaton, Kenneth Tynan, Lord Snowdon. His success continued through the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s he had a separate career making TV commercials. He has made (very good) documentaries and (not very good) feature films, but it’s the stills from the 1960s especially for which he’ll be remembered.

There is plenty about Bailey that is refreshing, besides the famous photographs, many of which are sensational. He has no time for fake sentiment, mawkish nostalgia. He doesn’t miss the good old days, because he doesn’t believe they existed: “I don’t miss anything,” he tells me. “I don’t think it was better in my day. It wasn’t. I can see it’s much nicer now.”

He doesn’t mourn the death of the world he knew, when the work of fashion and portrait photographers could be central to the wider culture. “Those days are gone,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. The phone has replaced [print]. It’s our new brain. Things change. They have to. It’s like photography. It’s finished. There won’t be another David Bailey. But everyone’s a photographer now. It’s like a folk art. Fantastic!”

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

Bailey maintains that, apart from the fact that “every day is like fucking Boxing Day”, the coronavirus pandemic “hasn’t affected me at all.” He spent lockdown painting, and beginning work on a documentary, possibly for Netflix, in which he interviews, by video call, some of the subjects immortalised in his recent Sumo book — a hardback of Brobdingnagian proportions, published by Taschen, weighing 47kgs, and retailing for £2,250. It comes with its own bookstand, designed by Marc Newson, and, as one of only four photographers so far to have published one (Helmut Newton, Annie Leibowitz and Sebastião Salgado are the others) Bailey is inordinately pleased with it. He’ll be talking to his friend and Sumo subject Julian Schnabel, this evening, after I’ve left, and the cameras are all set up for the interview.

So Bailey’s still working, still in the mix, and determined not to be a grumpy old man. (Most of the time.) In other ways he is entirely out of step. As a prominent representative of the ’60s generation, emblematic, alongside The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the rest of them, of the fight against the entrenched power structures of the post-war British establishment, does he find fellow cause with those people, younger than himself, agitating against elites today?

“No.”

His era’s struggle was about class, I tell him. Today’s struggles are about race, ethnicity, gender. Does he really not feel any kinship or sympathy with the protestors?

“No. I always thought everyone was equal anyway.”

He might have thought that, but many disagree. Does he agree that black lives matter?

“It gets all boring, that. Saying ‘black lives matter’. You shouldn’t have to say it.”

The reason there is a Black Lives Matter movement, I offer, is that there are people who don’t believe it is the case that black lives matter.

“There are always schmucks. I suppose there’s still anti-Jewish people, which always amazes me.”

We all know there are plenty of racists in the world.

“Well, yeah. But I don’t know any. Do you?”

I know they exist.

“Well, they’re cunts, aren’t they?” [Pause] “My daughter married a Moroccan.”

Sometimes I think he’s doing this stuff for effect. That he believes he is still tweaking the nose of the establishment, like Mick did that time in the airport, only now the establishment is the liberal elite, the Guardian-istas, rather than the aristocratic boss class he squared up to in his youth. In Look Again, Bailey says other silly things, perhaps just to be contrary. He describes marriage as “stupid,” “pointless” and “madness”. But he is uxorious to a fault, mentioning his wife frequently to me, and always admiringly.

He bangs on about how little he likes children, doesn’t consider the raising of them to be anything to do with him. But his son is sitting right here with us. Clearly, they are close. Does he think it’s cool, or something, to adopt this tough-guy pose?

“No! If I want to be cool I just listen to Bob Dylan all day.”

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

Bailey has been married four times: to Rosemary Bramble; Deneuve; Marie Helvin, the supermodel; and finally, Catherine Dyer, also a model and the mother of his three adult children. There are significant others whom he did not marry: Jean Shrimpton, Sue Murray, Penelope Tree. Knock-outs, every one. “I’ve been lucky,” he says, “All my life I’ve been surrounded by beautiful women.”

Until the present Mrs Bailey, he was almost pathologically unfaithful. What was it about her that made him mend his philandering ways?

“I could make a joke about it,” he says. “I could say my knob was wearing out.”

Not Bailey’s knob, surely!

“I still find Catherine sexually exciting, as well as mentally,” he says. “And I suppose [by the time he met her] I’d had so much [sex]. They were all pretty good women. I mean, I loved Jean, as well. I loved Catherine Deneuve. She was great. She was the only French person I ever met with a sense of humour.” This followed by another eruption of mirth. (He’s an equal opportunities offender.)

Perhaps another secret of the success of his fourth marriage is that Catherine, as she tells James Fox, has been — how to put this? — more indulgent of her husband’s indulgences than other women might have been: “When we got together he made it very plain to me that, as he said, ‘photography, parrots and pussy’ were the most important things to him, not necessarily in that order. I always knew I wasn’t to get in the way of his work.”

Would he consider himself a feminist?

“Yeah, I like women,” he says.

I’m not sure that’s the same thing.

“I’m a feminist like Deneuve is,” he says, “not a silly feminist.”

It was Deneuve who, as Bailey reminds me, in 2018, made her own, grand épater les bourgeois, putting her name to a letter denouncing the puritanism and “man-hating” of the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, condemning rape but defending the right of potential seducers to make advances on women.

“Well,” says Bailey, “she likes people flirting with her.”

In Look Again, Jean Shrimpton says that Bailey would have got into trouble today, the way he behaved back then with girls. “He was terrible but he’d get away with it,” she says.

“Well, if Jean says so,” is his answer to this, when I quote it to him.

A number of prominent photographers have fallen foul of #MeToo, I remark, having been accused of sexual misconduct: Terry Richardson, Mario Testino, Bailey’s good friend Bruce Weber. (All three of them deny the allegations.)

“Poor fucker,” says Bailey of Weber. “He handled it very well. Best photographer in America.” Which, if nothing else, demonstrates loyalty. For the record, he also sticks up, unprompted, for Roman Polanski.

At this point Fenton not unreasonably asks if I’m insinuating that Bailey behaved inappropriately with models. Because, Fenton says, he didn’t.

“You’d have had to be fucking mad,” Bailey says. “You’d be cutting your own throat.” The magazines would not have allowed it, he says. Bea Miller, editor of British Vogue in the 1960s, once told him, concerning Penelope Tree, that she didn’t want any of his “hanky-panky”. “She wouldn’t look at a girl under 17,” says Bailey. (Which is one difference between Miller and Polanski.)

He moves on to stories about Diana Vreeland, another famous editor, who once sent him to India to photograph a tiger. Has he a favourite, I wonder, from the countless photos he’s taken?

“Tomorrow’s,” he says. A chat show answer.

Come on, there must be one that calls to him.

“I’ve got a favourite of all the [pictures of] girls,” he says. “I like a picture of Jean standing on Tower Bridge in a raincoat. That was my Uncle Artie’s raincoat that he got when he got demobbed. He gave it to me, and I ended up putting it on Jean. I think that picture sums up the beginning of a new kind of photography, where you put fashion on the street. That doesn’t mean it has to actually be in the street. It just means a different way of looking at things. A more natural way.”

I know the one he means. It’s wonderful. It’s 1961 and Shrimpton is frozen for all time, mid-step, slightly off-balance, in her pointy shoes and that tatty old raincoat. It’s a blustery day, and her hair is blowing across her face. Her lips are parted, as if she is about to say something, perhaps in response to a Bailey provocation. London is grey and grimy and old, but this woman is young and vital and on her way. She’s going places.

Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

“There’s no trick to it,” Bailey says, of his technique. “It’s the way you treat people. The way you talk to them. You’ve got to fall in love with them a bit, just for that moment.”

In Look Again, almost 60 years on from that photo, Jean Shrimpton asks Bailey: “Why are you writing this book? Is it because you want to stay famous?” She doesn’t get much of an answer. So I ask Bailey if he cares how he’ll be remembered?

“Not particularly. It doesn’t make any difference. It won’t do me any harm or any good. When you’re dead it doesn’t matter. You’re dead and gone.”

What does he think happens to us after we die?

“I think you get buried, if you’re lucky.”

Does he consider himself lucky?

“Yeah, I’ve had a charmed life,” he says.

Can it really be just luck, though? How does a boy from East Ham end up living this astonishing existence?

“I ask myself the same question.”

And what is the answer?

“Just luck! Luck is luck.”

Ach, he’s impossible. Some people, I tell him, would say that you got here because of luck, yes, but also hard work, determination, skill, a talent for self-invention…

“God,” he says, appealing to Fenton. “He’s quite hard to do an interview with, isn’t he? What happened to, ‘What’s your favourite colour?’”

I tell him I’m trying to get him to really dig deep and consider these things, to explain them to me.

“I know you are!” he shouts.

I’m laughing now, too, hopefully not infectiously.

“Bring your dog next time you come,” he says.

He wouldn’t want that, I say, gathering my stuff and preparing to leave. She’s smelly and badly behaved.

“Oh,” he says, grinning at Fenton. “We don’t mind that here, do we?”

Look Again by David Bailey (Macmillan, £20) is published on 29 October


Photo credit: © David Bailey
Photo credit: © David Bailey

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