22:00 GMT, 22 March 2014
11:33 GMT, 23 March 2014
Ben Kingsley was ‘hilarious’, Bob Hoskins ‘obviously bored’, and in a new collection of her work, Gemma Levine reveals her most at-ease subject, the ‘warm and gracious’ Diana
‘Rupert Murdoch was the most difficult, he didn’t want me anywhere near him,’ said Gemma Levine
Pride of place in Gemma Levine’s home goes to her simple black-and-white portrait of Princess Diana looking relaxed without jewellery.
‘I had it blown up and framed, and she signed it Diana and dated it September 31, 1994.
‘Of course, September only has 30 days, so that makes me smile every time I look at it. I thought it was hysterical and so sweet.’
Of the other hundreds of famous faces she has photographed, often for charitable causes, she was particularly fond of John Gielgud, Jonathan Miller and sculptor Henry Moore, who she regards as her mentor.
Others left a less positive impression: ‘Rupert Murdoch was the most difficult, he didn’t want me anywhere near him.’
Now in her seventies, Levine’s big break came with a shot of the Conservative leader Edward Heath on the telephone in 1976.
She was at his book signing when he took a call from Downing Street informing him that Prime Minister Harold Wilson had just resigned.
It became a front-page picture, for which she earned her first £35. Her portrait of another Prime Minister, Tony Blair, now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
‘It was in 1994, he was subdued and rather shy, clasping his hands almost in prayer. I love a photograph that gives a reaction.’
‘Just One More… A Photographer’s Memoir’ is out on April 3, published by Elliott & Thompson, £25
DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES, 1994: ‘Diana was warm, gracious and completely natural. She talked to me about her boys, and I spoke of my own sons. We were totally at ease in each other’s presence. Without any hesitation, she changed clothes in front of me, asking me if I minded and she did not need mirrors to refresh her make-up or hair. A week later she returned with an enormous bouquet of flowers to thank me.
‘She also invited me to lunch in
Kensington Palace. Paul Burrell helped us to be seated but then I
remember feeling a little uncomfortable at his continued presence in the
room – our conversation was personal, discussing marriage, divorce and
the tabloid press. I wondered whether the butler was always in
attendance at these intimate occasions. ‘A few months after this I
asked if it would be possible for her to inscribe a book of mine for a
girl with cancer in Great Ormond Street Hospital. At 9am the next day a
courier arrived with the most exquisite photograph of the princess, set
in an elegant leather frame, inscribed lovingly to Danielle’
BEN KINGSLEY, 1986:
‘This was a hilarious sitting. He immediately struck me as a vibrant,
energetic man and he decided to take off his shirt and bare his chest. A
few years later I wrote to him but forgot to address him as Sir Ben
Kingsley. I received a reply telling me off in no uncertain terms for my
lack of respect. I enjoyed him immensely but he’s very direct’
JOAN COLLINS, 1987: ‘She
emerged from a chauffeur-driven car on a blustery evening in a black
polka-dot dress, fine black stockings and black stilettos, a
pearl-and-diamond necklace and matching earrings. She was breathtakingly
beautiful. She asked for the bathroom, then when she was in there the
handle jammed. I was convinced the shoot would be a disaster. But she
was masterly and it went without a hitch.’
BOB HOSKINS, 1987: ‘After one roll of film he was obviously bored. He had a great sense of humour, he went into the bathroom, put his head under the shower and came back dripping wet, saying, “You may get a more interesting shot?” ‘I can’t find the negative, but I like this first shot I took, the cap was cute and framed his face well’
LUMLEY, 1998: ‘She walked into my studio having never met me before and
seemed to be my best friend in less time than it took to boil an egg.
It took just ten minutes and we talked for a good half hour. We have
kept in touch through letters. She has a wonderful way of expressing
KENNETH BRANAGH, 1988: ‘This was impossible. He was a rising star in the theatre but I had just two minutes with him backstage and had no chance to talk to him. I couldn’t get my flash to work and had to use the natural light on the back stairway. I don’t really like it, because of the ugly, unwanted shadows on the wall behind’
DAVID HOCKNEY, 1991: ‘He lived in California at the time and it took six months to confirm a date at his Chelsea studio. We finished early and he suggested we take a drive by the river in my Saab convertible with the roof down. He climbed into the front seat, put his feet up on the dashboard, rested his head back and we spent a wonderful hour as the Sun set on a perfect summer’s evening accompanied by Mahler’