I Was A Pap For The Sun

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I Was A Pap For The Sun

It was a strange place to work.
March 23, 2012, 3:00pm

Things changed drastically when the two planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York on September 11th 2001. I had just unpacked my first state of the art Nikon D1X camera and wondered if I had spent all this money for a good reason. I’d been working the streets as a paparazzo and it was now time to move on up the food chain and try my luck at working for the big news agencies. I began getting shifts from the Associated Press and I’d ring in at the London AP office at 07.30 hours sharp after three cups of instant coffee. Working for the AP didn't last long, but it gave me other cuttings to put into my portfolio to try and get work with the newspapers. I approached The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph - all the serious newspapers first, because I was after all, a serious photographer. All they could say was “Yes well, if you get anything give us a call”, but they were not into giving me shifts, mainly because of my paparazzo press cuttings. I met a photographer who mentioned that The Sunday Mirror was looking for photographers, so I met the picture editor over a beer and soon the phone began to ring. The Sunday Mirror was my full time job for a while. The drum roll of war was rumbling, it was the year 2003 and the Mirror Group had sent me on a hostile environment course. This was an exciting development for me, after all I was a former soldier, Iraq was a big story and this was really what I wanted to do and cover as a photojournalist. There were four photographers going, with myself being the last to be sent out. The war had only just begun when news of an ITN reporter who had been killed broke and The Sunday Mirror then declared that they were not interested in the Iraq War; It was too dangerous and what was needed now, was ‘all-out shagging stories’ to ‘keep the UK’s moral up in times of war’.

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The day of my deployment to Iraq had come and instead, I was sent to central London on a ‘doorstep’ story. I buried my head in my hands after I pulled up in my Volkswagen Polo on a single yellow line and began to get very depressed. OK the money was good, but sitting in your car for hours on end was not only bad for your health because it made you fat; it was also boring as hell. Out of desperation I decided to call another newspaper and try and get work elsewhere. I ventured on to The Sun, mainly because they always harped on about ‘supporting our boys’ and, being a former soldier, I thought I could be a useful asset out in the war zones. I was invited to the picture desk to meet the picture editor John Edwards. I had plenty of cuttings and he knew of my work, which was a good start. “OK, I'll give you a few shifts and see how you go” and that was that. My first job was to doorstep Paul Gascoigne at his former wife’s home. I was now working on a daily newspaper; I needed instant results and set my camera up for multiple car shots. There was no need to keep discreet and do the sneaky follows like some covert operation.

This had a good result. My photograph showed in the newspaper, I got a byline and was on my way, even though they had spelt my first name incorrectly.

Work got very busy, working many jobs in eight hour shifts, my mobile phone ringing all the time, the Picture Desk onto me all the time too: “Are you there yet?” Running around central London like a lunatic: One job was to ‘buy’ 20 England team football shirts and footballs and pay it on my credit card. They never used them in the end, it all went down into The Sun's holding place somewhere in the midst of News International. As the months progressed and the regular wage came in, I slowly began to begin to work at The Sun full time. “We will look after you son, you just work for us and you will be alright,” Edwards kept reassuring me. I was getting five regular shifts a week, which was great for me, a man with a young family living in South London.

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I preferred it when the story became big and the press pack were there. Being part of the press pack was good for banter, exchanging ideas, having a moan, but at least I was getting paid to be standing there. Some weeks I did night shifts, which meant sitting on the picture desk waiting for something to happen. One night Adam Ant called the desk. He had been shot apparently. I went to Primrose Hill with the night reporter and Adam Ant opened the door, his chest covered with blood. He told us about his escape from the Police in Regents Park, who had shot him with a pellet gun.

Adam Ant was seriously ill around this time and the photo that was used in the next day’s Sun was to counteract another story whose headline read ‘Frank Bruno Goes Bonkers’.  Again, I was on an evening shift with a crazy Irish reporter who had to knock on Frank Bruno’s brother's home. Frank’s brother nearly punched the reporter in the face. Another target for The Sun was George Galloway. A reporter decided to buy some oil from a refinery in South London and wait for the right moment to ‘place’ the barrel in his front garden. Very covertly, I lay in wait in my car with my long lens to photograph George and the barrel together.

I asked John Edwards, the picture editor if I could go to Iraq. His blunt reply was “I don’t want your death on my conscious”. Even so, some blue-eyed young gun photographer, (whose father knew John Edwards' father incidentally) was sent a couple of weeks later. This only made me realise that something strange was occurring… John Edwards, the picture editor was the son of Arthur Edwards, The Sun’s Royal Photographer whom I only spoke to once over a job photographing Prince Charles & Camilla. I called Arthur and I mentioned who I was. “Who the fuck is this?” he replied in his cockney banter. “Look don’t waste my time, you know what you need to do” and that was it.

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I was serving the ‘Nation's Favourite Newspaper’ for the years 2003 to 2004. I spent days chasing Abu Hamza and George Best. Abu I would see every Friday at Finsbury Park Mosque during his prayers.  There was always a press pack around, should things get ugly. But my main job was to follow Abu and see where he lived. This never happened. He was slippery. One week, The Sun reporters turned up with banners demanding that ‘ABU SLING HIS HOOK’ as many of The Sun's readers felt that he should leave the UK.

Following George Best was usually done in Walton Upon Thames. I admired George for his iconic past, which was difficult as one time as he tried to punch me. He stunk of booze and it was only 9 AM. I was sitting on a mound of earth overlooking his back garden when he came over with his ‘Gardener’. I felt his weary body lurch forward as I blocked his first from hitting me square on the jaw. Not that it would have done much damage; he was very weak and tired of tabloid journalists following him all the time. No wonder he drank like hell.

Apart from the press jobs in London, Downing Street, doorsteps, courts: John Leslie looking pathetic explaining how sorry he was. The Sun Immigration Campaign where I photographed a Mexican holding his banner. He was completely confused by it all and I had been ordered to be in a position where ‘I look down on him’ so had to take my trustworthy stepladders. The whole scene was bizarre and I wanted to scream like a lunatic.  “Can you make sure he is wearing one of them Mexican hats and is holding a guitar?” The picture desk asked.

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I was now getting more night shifts than day shifts. This began to get to me. I began to doubt myself and was getting disillusioned by the day-to-day door stepping and running after football stars, even so coming up with results. I felt the picture desk did not really like me; they wanted the glory for the people in the inside, The Sun Mafia. I was a Northerner, an outsider. My military background did not matter shit. They did not give a flying fuck about ‘our boys’. All they were concerned with was readership numbers. Sitting on the night desk watching the fat night picture editor eating a fatty bacon sandwich was something out of a Martin Parr book; ‘Think of England’. I talked about ideas, which always fell on deaf ears. I would find out that when called out I was in fact on a shift for The Daily Mail, as many Sun journalists went to the Mail and they worked together behind the scenes by ripping off guys like me. One evening, I witnessed the whole of the Manchester desk being put out of work in one single email from The Sun editor, Rebecca Wade. She was known in certain circles as the ‘Poison Witch’. But most people shuddered when she was walking around the newsroom. Everyone was always angry, pissed off, highly strung. I put it down to the fact that everything in the newsroom was red. But everyone did seem whipped up into a complete frenzy. The whole desk was twitchy as hell, while the Editor was around. She never smiled and I wondered how Ross Kemp (her then husband) coped with it.

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Rupert Murdoch visited once, there had been a big panic over an Asian man who had posed as a cleaner. In fact he was an imposter. News International was known to anyone who worked there as ‘The Death Star’ and I was finding it hard to keep up the whole momentum of ultra keenness as a Sun Photographer. I’d begin to follow up some of my own personal projects, just to keep the faith with photography and my artistic integrity. In mid-November newspapers started to wind down for Christmas. I made the usual call every Monday morning to The Sun Picture Desk and John Edwards answered: “Look, I’ve got no more work to give you, I’ve gotta let you go. Why don’t you go back to being a pap? You were good at that.” I felt a huge panic come over me. I had worked at The Sun for 19 months cutting off my oxygen with everyone else – I had become complacent of the regular wage and I thought about my escalating mortgage repayments, credit card repayments, but mostly I thought about my two-year-old son and my wife who was expecting our second child.   Later that day, the accounts department called me to ask where my payment was for the Christmas party. “Don’t think I’m in the right frame of mind to pay for the Christmas party meal,” I told her.  The doom and gloom of having no work during Christmas was bad enough without celebrating it. On reflection, I was bitter as hell, I took it personally on the merit of how good I was as a photographer.  They had their pound of flesh from me in more ways than one and I had given it my best shot.

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