Paul Ratcliffe is an amateur Royal photographer and has been following the Royal Family all over the country with his camera since he was a child. He lives in Leeds, and has taken some time to talk to The Crown Chronicles of his exciting hobby.
Hi Paul! So, how did you first become interested in the Royal Family?
I can remember being at school and at end of term they were giving away posters – a lucky dip. I got one of The Queen and Princess Margaret as little girls outside the Welsh Cottage at Windsor. I asked my mum and dad to tell me more about the history of who they were, and from then on the rest is history, so to speak. I love all the pomp and pageantry associated with Royalty. It makes you feel so proud of them, this country and the rich history of life!
I know exactly what you mean! How did you become interested in photography then? And of whom was your first Royal photograph?
For my 7th Birthday I was given my first camera, a Kodak Brownie. It took 110mm film and had flashbulbs that you attached to the top which you threw away after using 10 bulbs – it sounds very old fashioned but it was the late 1970s!
My first Royal visit technically was Charles and Diana in March 1982 when all the local schoolchildren were shipped into Roundhay Park in Leeds to welcome them, but they were a mere speck in the distance to me so no photos!
In July 1982, Princess Alexandra visited a branch of the British Red Cross just across the road from my home. My mum took me over, and I stood at the back on a wall (too shy to get a front place!) so the grainy results are my first attempt!
I can remember going back home and playing out with my football in the street and then asking my mum if I could stand on the main road to wave at the Princess as she drove past. Well, football under arm I did just that and she gave me a lovely wave – I was really chuffed.
My camera has now altered and now use a digital SLR with a zoom – Prince Charles always jokes when he sees me with my camera – it’s either ‘space age’ or he is amazed with the results I get!
What is it like following the Royal Family around with your camera?
You have to be extremely dedicated and savvy to be a Royal watcher! You can travel for hours, and wait just as long in the same spot, so after years of experience you get used to what happens and what to expect!
I have recently been scanning old photographs originally taken on negatives, and reliving some many great memories. Its been like opening a time capsule. I have been fortunate to meet or see close-up most of the Royal Family (and a few foreign Royals) over the years. Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie are the only two not on my list.
I am at my happiest with a camera, so I am naturally more critical of my photos (!), but I look back with delight at the results and the memories. And it’s lovely to share those memories with people. I have a photo blog of all my images (take a look here). Given I am not a technical person I am amazed I have managed to set it up, and thankfully it has been well received!
I have on occasions presented the Royals with copies of my photographs. Diana, rather poignantly now, told me she never got to keep the photographs as William and Harry (‘my boys’, she would say) always took them, putting them up next to their beds… and The Queen has some of my pictures in her private albums!
Wow, what an achievement! Do you feel like you know the Royals better, having taken their picture so often?
You get to know how certain members of the Royal Family react and go about their daily engagements. The Royals who are friendly, and those who are more work conscious! I don’t think anyone but those closest to them truly know them, but in the Royal day-to-day public life’s you get a glimpse…an insight into their life. Where else would you discuss wearing comfy shoes but with The Duchess of Cornwall? Or cheekily asking Prince Charles if he needs any family photographs taking? (he knows where to find me!) Only on a royal walkabout!
Do any of the Royals recognise you?
I have received some lovely recognition from some of the Royal Family over the years and that in itself is thrilling. I would never of dreamt that would happen when I was little, when it does it is rather touching and humbling. So yes I have been recognised – maybe I have one of those faces!
Do you have a favourite member of the family to photograph? Perhaps a favourite photograph you have taken?
I have taken literally thousands of photographs over the years, so my favourites change from visit to visit!
The Queen Mother was lovely, she always posed and took her time. The Queen has the most amazing smile and I’ve been lucky enough to capture that. I have been to events like Royal weddings, Trooping the Colour (an annual favourite of mine), to the Garter Ceremony at Windsor… I love taking relaxed, candid photographs, capturing off-guard moments. It can be difficult because you are taking photographs so quickly you don’t have the joy of composing the photograph as you would a family photograph or snapshot, so when you get a picture that stand out it makes it even more of a treasured memory! Thank goodness for continuous shooting on cameras!
I can vividly remember standing in Horse Guards Parade and seeing the crown on top of her coffin coming into view. Later that day I queued up with thousands for hours to go to Westminster Hall to file past her coffin. At the moment we arrived the guard changed to the Yeoman of the Guard, so I stood there by her coffin for a few reflective moments. It was something quite magical, the lighting on the coffin and the stillness of everyone. It is very reminiscent of a famous painting by Frank Beresford of the lying in state of King George V in 1935, if you’ve seen it.
Is any one Royal more difficult to photograph than another? I would imagine it is hard to get The Princess Royal to stand still!
Well, as much as I admire Princess Anne, she doesn’t take to kindly to anyone photographing her, so I rarely see her – she’s a head-down-walking-past kind of Royal. Charles and Camilla are wonderful to photograph, they are a great working team and always speak to as many people as possible and never disappoint. I used to see a lot of The Duchess of Kent as she was Chancellor of Leeds University. She was a lovely lady to meet.
Do you have a favourite Royal?
I would say each member of the Royal Family have their own characteristics that make them favourites. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are lovely – his humour is so witty at times!
Sophie Wessex is one who has now come into her own. William and Catherine sadly do very little in the way of engagements that are accessible to the public – most are invite only, so I have only seen met her twice and seen her at events like Trooping. I was very impressed at a pre-wedding visit to Lancashire in 2011 that I went to: Catherine was very professional even then! I also photographed William holding George on the balcony at Trooping the Colour this year – an adorable image!
Charles and Camilla are a great asset to the Monarchy, as is Prince Harry – the hidden gem of the Royals! Hope it’s not too long before he commences full-time Royal duties.
The two York Princesses, Beatrice and Eugenie, I feel would make great full-time working Royals. I have met Beatrice and she is so like her mother, Sarah Duchess of York. I haven’t seen her for such a long time – she was a lovely lady. After all she is our Duchess of York!
The more minor Royals are seen less and less nowadays, but that doesn’t detract from how charming they are: Princess Alexandra and the Duchesses of Gloucester and Kent to name three!
Tell me about your books…
I have been fortunate to have two books published of my photographs. One in the 1990’s by Robert Hale, and the other in 2011 by Amberley Publishing. Both are entitled ‘Royal Encounters’. I am extremely proud of them. Quite an achievement for little old me to get published when competition is so intense out there. I would love the opportunity to do another book – who knows what’s around the corner!
Years ago I came across a book produced by the Royal Household Cricket Team at Windsor which had used a photograph I had taken of The Queen on the cover. The photo had been used previously as a postcard! After the initial shock and subsequent apology from them in not seeking my permission, they did tell me that from of a selection of images given to The Queen herself to personally look through for the cover, she chose my image herself to go on the cover, so I quickly forgave them!
Below, a selection of Paul’s favourite photos over the years.
Photos: © Paul Ratcliffe