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Entertainment Exclusive: Inside Princess Diana's 20-year working relationship with photographer: 'We needed each other'

08:25  01 september  2021
08:25  01 september  2021 Source:   honey.nine.com.au

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Photographer Kent Gavin remembers trying to convince the Princess of Wales to pose for a now-iconic image during a royal tour, despite her initial refusal to cooperate.

It was May 1992, and Diana was visiting Egypt and being somewhat difficult.

During a photocall at the pyramids in Giza, Diana's protection officer told Gavin she didn't want to stand in front of the famous monuments, thinking the image would look "too chocolate-boxey".

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Diana, Princess of Wales, at the pyramids of Giza in Egypt on May 12, 1992. © Kent Gavin/Getty Diana, Princess of Wales, at the pyramids of Giza in Egypt on May 12, 1992.

"So, I said to him, 'Let me go over and talk to her'," Gavin tells 9Honey exclusively from his home in the UK.

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"And I said to Diana, 'Ma'am, those pyramids are one of the seven wonders of the world and you are the eighth, we need that picture' and she said, 'Well, I can't refuse that, can I?'.

"And we got that beautiful picture. It was quite amusing, and she often laughed about it later."

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Charles posing for a photo: The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana and Prince Charles at the Braemar Highland Games in Scotland in September 1982. © Kent Gavin/Getty The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana and Prince Charles at the Braemar Highland Games in Scotland in September 1982.

Gavin was chief photographer with British newspaper The Daily Mirror before being assigned to royal duties. He had previously covered war zones, politicians and even Hollywood A-listers.

His work with the royal family — which now spans nearly 60 years — began with covering Queen Elizabeth in the 1960s.

Since then, Gavin has received countless awards, including being named Royal Photographer of the Year an unprecedented seven times and Royal Photographer of the Decade, twice, in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Prince Charles, Diana, Princess of Wales that are standing in the grass: Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, on honeymoon at Balmoral in August 1981. © Kent Gavin/Getty Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, on honeymoon at Balmoral in August 1981.

The British royals came to respect and trust Gavin so much that he was the only photographer invited on the Royal Barge at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee flotilla on the Thames in 2012.

But it is his work with the Princess of Wales that he is most famous for, a partnership that started when a young Lady Diana Spencer came onto the scene in 1981.

They developed a close working relationship, which saw Diana personally choose him to photograph Prince William's christening, something he describes as "a great honour".

a person wearing a hat: The christening of Prince William at Buckingham Palace on August 4, 1982. © Kent Gavin/Getty The christening of Prince William at Buckingham Palace on August 4, 1982.

"I went everywhere with her," Gavin tells 9Honey. "We had a lot of fun – she liked my Cockney accent, we always had a little banter wherever we were, it was a working relationship but a friendly one."

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For nearly two decades, Gavin had a rare and up-close insight into the world's most famous woman.

"To me she was very friendly, [had a] great sense of humour, [we had] lots of personal chats, sometimes she let information to me that she wanted out there in the public, other times it was a lot of fun.

"There were, at times, some fractious moments, particularly with the holidays with the boys, but she understood that myself and the other guys on the newspapers had a job to do – she knew very much the difference between the paparazzi and the staff guys."

Ken Rutherford, Diana, Princess of Wales standing in front of a building: Diana on a three-day visit to Bosnia - Herzegovina to raise awareness about the devastating effects of landmines, August 9 1997. © Kent Gavin/Getty Diana on a three-day visit to Bosnia - Herzegovina to raise awareness about the devastating effects of landmines, August 9 1997.

He went on to cover nearly every event in Diana's life since the royal wedding.

"I had a hell of a background, so went I went into this coverage of Diana full-time, I wasn't in awe of anything. As a result, she appreciated that to such an extent that she did give one or two big stories to me."

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Put simply, "we needed each other", Gavin says.

He recalls one front-page story that came about following a tip-off from Diana herself during a night at the theatre when Phantom of the Opera was playing in London.

"I went and sat down and Diana was sitting in front of me and we had a big chat," Mr Gavin explains.

"She said, 'You know, Ken, my husband will miss William's first day of school tomorrow…he's snowed in at Sandringham and he can't get down'.

"She knew that was going to be a story and in the interval, I went up to the lobby and phoned the office. [The front page] the next day was 'Charles misses William's first day of school' – she wanted that one out there."

From photographing Diana at the Vatican, to her ground-breaking visit to Angola to bring global attention to the problem of landmines, to her solo trip to New York where she cuddled HIV-positive children in Harlem, Gavin had a front-row view of the People's Princess.

"Wherever she was, I was with her. Eighteen years I spent with her, until the terrible day of her death."

Gavin got a phone call from Piers Morgan, who was the paper's editor at the time, telling him Diana had been in an accident in Paris and to come to the office immediately.

"By the time I got there, she had died," he says.

"All the computer screens were filled with a dreadful picture of her in the Mercedes with a little trickle of blood. [Morgan] wiped them clean and they never appeared in any UK publication. Sadly, they did appear in one or two of the foreign magazines."

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a group of people standing in front of a crowd: The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on September 6 1997. © Getty The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on September 6 1997.

He was asked to go to Paris but chose to remain in UK to be there to cover Prince Charles arriving back with Diana's coffin.

"I was choking up, with a lump [in my throat] thinking, 'how could it all this end like this?'

"You couldn't believe this fairy tale would end in such a tragic way."

Just 16 years earlier, Gavin was inside St Paul's Cathedral to cover the royal wedding, a day he describes as "history in the making".

"That day of that wedding was the most unbelievable thing that had happened in the country for so long," he says. He talks in detail about that momentous occasion in the BritBox Australia original documentary, Wedding of the Century.

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Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Charles standing in front of a crowd: The royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana on July 29, 1981. © AP The royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana on July 29, 1981.

"But, little did we know – as we now know – that Diana wanted to call the wedding off the day before, and it was only her sister Sarah who said, 'it's too late now, Duck, your face is on the tea towels'," he explains to 9Honey.

"And when she went through with it, could you imagine how she felt, knowing what was going on with Camilla? When she walked down the aisle, Camilla was two rows back so you can imagine what she was thinking.

"I remember on the day, those beautiful blue eyes under the veil, and the sadness that was there – she was a lot happier when she left [the cathedral] and when she saw the reaction from the crowd."

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Kent Gavin began photographing Diana from her very first engagement as the fiancée of Prince Charles. © Getty Kent Gavin began photographing Diana from her very first engagement as the fiancée of Prince Charles.

On the year Diana would have turned 60, Gavin is reflective about her legacy and the impact she had on millions around the world.

While he looks towards happier times within the monarchy, pointing to its future with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge one day at the helm, he says Diana was a once-in-a-lifetime figure.

"There will never ever be another Diana, it was a one-off fairy story, a moment in time that wouldn't happen in this day and age," he says.

"I just don't see how that moment in time could be relived, especially with a woman like that."

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