By Britt Collins
Sunday November 02 2008
Famous for photographing, and for sleeping with, the world's most
desirable women, David Bailey defined the glamour of the Sixties and
of every decade since. As a great, lasting chronicler, he captured
some of the freshest and most memorable images of the movers and shakers.
In among the stories of his bad-boy exploits and saying the
unsayable, there's an anecdote about Annie Leibovitz's recent shoot
for American Vogue, a group portrait of legendary photographers. She
instructed Bailey to settle between the legs of the fashion director
and former Sixties model Grace Coddington. "Fuck me," he announced,
stunning everyone into silence, "I'm back where I was 46 years ago."
"That was a joke," he says, when we meet in his London studio. He
definitely "didn't sleep with her, didn't even like her".
What about those other 350 women that he claimed to have slept with?
"Oh no, some fucking journalist made that up. It was at least double
that," he says with his trademark wheezy laugh. He may have lived up
to the Sixties mantra: "David Bailey makes love daily," but, he says,
"I never did anything sinister. I was perceived as bad because I was
having a good time. It was a two-way thing. The girls were getting
pleasure. I wasn't raping them."
At 70, he is still attractive, if a little worn. His black hair has
gone wild and peppery, his whippet-thin figure rounder, but he
retains the cheeky, streetwise swagger and seductively black humour
that have served him well over the years. Someone once likened his
elusive, roguish charm to a kind of black magic. It's not hard to see
that as a young man he was incredibly good-looking; a dark-eyed,
snake-hipped Lothario "chasing round the world after big-eyed, skinny birds".
Not that he's bothered about ageing -- at least he "doesn't need
Viagra". "There's nothing worse than hanging on," he says. What, like
Rod Stewart and Peter Stringfellow? "Yeah, that lot," he winces,
His latest book, Is That So Kid, documents his year-long
collaboration with Anjelica Houston, played out on the pages of
British Vogue. Its title is inspired by her father, the
hard-drinking, hard-talking Irish-American film director John Huston:
"Whether you were talking about the great mysteries of life, or
whatever unimportant nonsense, in a deep, smoky voice he'd always
reply, 'Is that so kid, is that so?'"
In 1973, while the world was in turmoil, with Vietnam, the Watergate
scandals, the oil crisis and Elvis Presley's divorce dominating the
headlines, Bailey and his young muse cruised the beaches and grand
hotels of Europe on one of fashion's greatest road trips.
"It was a moment in time and it's fucking boring to talk about,"
Bailey tells me on a rainy September morning, debunking the glamour
of his life with a petulant shrug that makes him seem like a
world-weary, ageing rock star: "Haven't you read the book?" Yes, but
it's quite slim and short on words. "Well, that's it really. It's
only a fucking fashion book."
Tucked away at the end of a cobbled mews in fashionable Clerkenwell,
Bailey's second-floor studio, all breezy simplicity and clutter, is
not as glam as you would expect. A blue Damien Hirst pinned with dead
butterflies stretches across the back wall. Alongside a sensual
black-and-white nude of his 46-year-old wife Catherine, Kate Moss,
Jean Shrimpton and Mick Jagger loom over us. Bob Dylan's Modern Times
is drifting across the studio -- "Dylan's still the guv'nor", and
still his favourite. His little white terrier, Pig, settles on my
lap, while Bailey, scruffy and unshaven, is propped on the sofa
opposite like a sun king, his assistants swirling around him and
seeking his approval.
"The books before it were better, more interesting, like The Pictures
that Mark Can Do," he says, his mood lifting, throwing knowing smirks
at his assistant Mark, who inspired the jokey title.
"It's fresh and current. It's not sentimental. I don't like
nostalgia, it's a disease."
These days, Bailey rarely shoots any fashion, but he is prolific.
Alongside his portraits, commercials and documentaries, he has
published a spectacular collection of art books.
"Coming from the background that I do, I never imagined I'd get paid
for doing what I enjoy," he explains. "I never want to stop." More
than ensuring his legend, he feels the need to keep putting out books
"so people know I'm not dead or living in Chelsea".
What was his life like at the time when he was whizzing across the
Riviera with Houston?
"What, do you want to know what stockings she wore?" he says
teasingly, his eyes gleaming with mischief. "Was I sleeping with her
at the time?"
That's pretty obvious from the intimate, sexually charged images of Huston.
"It was just one of those things, as Cole Porter would say. I guess
she was a girlfriend then."
They met at a party in Belgravia, thrown by Angelica's best friend's
parents, when she was 13, "long of limb, nose and hair". He was in
his 20s, already on his second wife, and an international superstar.
"I don't remember much of the evening," Bailey recounts succinctly,
"except for two teenage girls peeping behind the party doors,
One girl was Joan Juliet Buck (the writer and former editor of French
Vogue) and the other was Angelica.
Huston, now 57, remembers the first time she saw Bailey across the
crowded room, and that everything about him was dark and mysterious.
"He wore a black leather jacket, black stacked cowboy boots, and he
had black eyes and shaggy black hair," she writes in his book.
"Beside him, in a pale-pink angora mini-dress, with skin like a dove
and long, pale-gold hair, sat the ravishing Catherine Deneuve. They
were like day and night across the room, light and dark, her cool and
Huston was intrigued, as his reputation preceded him "as the
discoverer and lover and photographer of the other most beautiful
woman in the world, Jean Shrimpton. She was now living with the most
beautiful man in the world, Terence Stamp."
Several years passed before they saw each other again, but the
teenage Huston followed Bailey's soaring career and sexual adventures
through the cut-outs of fashion magazines: "most of the iconic
photographs of the time were Bailey's". Then, when she was 16, her
father cast her in her first film A Walk with Love and Death. Already
caught up in a whirl of international fabulousness, she was jetting
off to Ireland on Richard Avedon shoots. It wasn't long before her
moody, Modigliani looks made her a favourite of Bailey's too. He shot
her for Vogue in spidery eyelashes, "with eyes like starfish", facing
the lens warily.
She remembers it as a troubled time. Feeling insecure and vulnerable,
she thought she "was hideous". She was lost and adrift in a sea of
pain: her mother had been killed in a car crash; she had fallen out
with her father; and instead of finding a safe harbour, she ended up
as carer to her schizophrenic and mercurial 42-year-old boyfriend,
photographer Bob Richardson.
"When I walked into a dressing room, a famous model, the perfect
English rose, Celia Hammond, was leaving. She was the most beautiful
girl I'd ever seen, with hair the colour of lemons, skin like peaches
and cream, huge blue eyes. As the door closed, I was left in her dark
wake, as if the sun had disappeared behind a cloud," Angelica
recounts, as she struggled to glue on her fake eyelashes, on the
verge of tears and hysteria. She and Bailey didn't quite hit it off,
she later confessed. She was shy and sulky, although "he had been kind to me".
Later, among the few good memories she had of A Walk with Love and
Death, she recalls Bailey's visit on set, looking "like the cat that
got the canary", with Penelope Tree, the wide-eyed, WASP-ish, it-girl
from New York: "He was laughing with my father, and carried a bunch
of cameras and looked like a poet and acted irreverent, like life was
a big laugh and he was in on the joke."
Years later, Huston ran off with Bailey on their whirlwind adventure
around Europe, recreating his extravagant couture fantasies. She was
22 and he was 35, and in-between marriages to Deneuve and Helvin.
Their romance blazed brightly, if briefly. The slim volume of his new
book, decadent and dreamy, shows Bailey and Huston rolling around on
the floor together, she in a clingy knit and he in hip-hugging flares
and Cuban heels, reflected in a ceiling mirror of a Milan hotel. They
had flown there from Paris, to capture the opulent setting of
L'Hotel, formerly known as L'Alsace, where Oscar Wilde spent his last
days while exiled from England, drowning his sorrows in cognac and
champagne and moaning about dying beyond his means.
There are other larger-than-life characters running through the book,
all at pivotal moments of their careers: there are photos of Huston,
rangy and regal as a greyhound, lounging beside a youthful Yves Saint
Laurent, then a rising star of Parisian haute couture, in his
sun-dappled garden; with Olivieri Toscani, a budding fashion
photographer for Italian Vogue, who would later achieve renown for
his Benetton campaigns, speeding through the Paris night on the back
of his motorbike, her long, black-stockinged legs jutting out, and
clouds of Missoni billowing behind her like a witch's cape; and
languishing at the seaside in Nice and Corsica with shoe designer
Manolo Blahnik, a flamboyant Italian dreamer who had just opened his
first shop in London.
"I stuck Manolo in because he's a mate. He wasn't a model," Bailey
explains. "But he was difficult." How did you get him to pose naked?
"You're talking nearly 40 years ago. Oh God, I can't possibly remember."
Huston, however, vividly remembers the heady moments and high drama
of terrifying mountain drives with roadside shrines, and raging
storms with a plane-load of nuns. She recalls the turbulent flight to
Corsica, she and Bailey were both hungover and "unhinged by the
presence of so many sisters of Christ, who were taking a deceased
sister home. And we were all rocking in this lightning storm over the
ocean, with her body in the belly of the flying beast."
Then, arriving to their hotel, they found the main square was shut
up, and swarming with riot police; and the guy from the tourist board
who had driven them there had a car boot full of rifles.
"From that moment on, we were mystified by the place," she says. "Our
first night, three Black Marias came pouring out of town. It turned
out three towns had been left out of the general vote, and they'd
come down to the main streets to shoot it out. Every morning, Manolo
and I would shout to each other from our balconies: 'Vive la Corse!
Vive la Corse! [Long live Corsica].'"
Often offbeat and oddly cropped, but always beautiful, Bailey's
collection of images evokes a sense of magic and the unexpected. His
fashion photographs, he says, transcend fashion and don't fluctuate
with the trends.
His break came in 1960 when the Daily Express published his picture
of the model Paulene Stone in a mini and a mohair sweater, crouching
down amid a swirl of autumn leaves, playing with a squirrel.
On the day it appeared, Bailey's mate and rival, the late
photographer Terence Donovan, called and teased him: "You cunt, did
you do that on purpose or was it an accident?" And as Donovan had
forecasted, it sparked a revolution in fashion photography, ushering
in the new spirit of the Sixties -- the icy, perfect, society
beauties were replaced by the sweet, sexy, girl next door.
Donovan's suicide was a crushing blow for Bailey. "It was hard," he
says, suddenly looking lost and fidgeting with a paperback of
Bukowski's Ham on Rye. "It was the worst thing that ever happened to
me. I do miss him. Oh, he was funny, probably one of the funniest
people I've ever met. He had that gritty Cockney humour. I guess he
got bored with life. I think part of the problem is that he got too
obsessed with money, rather than what he was doing. But, then, if you
were brought up like we were, you don't want to do without money."
In 1960, before the mods and rockers, Carnaby Street, the Beatles and
the Stones, the Terrible Three -- Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian
Duffy -- had burst onto the London scene with an irreverent attitude
and keen sense of style. The laddish young snappers from the East End
-- whose lifestyles reflected the emerging youth culture -- had
gatecrashed the elite, ephemeral world of fashion and made it edgier,
sexier and more esoteric. Antonioni's 1966 cult film Blow-Up
immortalised the Bailey myth, depicting his life as the cool,
womanising photographer. While Duffy and Donovan burned out and
disappeared, Bailey continued to reinvent himself with his portraits
and films, gaining fresh notoriety through his famous Lynx anti-fur
cinema ad -- "It takes a dozen dumb animals to make a fur coat and
just one to wear it."
Bailey bristles slightly when I revisit the Sixties.
"It's dull," he says dismissively. "You're not going to get anything
out of me if you keep asking about the bloody Sixties. The decade
didn't end in 1969. Look at you, you've got a Sixties haircut, a
Sixties face, even. I guess that qualifies you to be obsessed with
the Sixties. Well, you shouldn't be."
There is a tendency to romanticise all the excitement and energy,
says Bailey, "and it was fabulous", but it was also a "horrible,
"It was great for about 500 people in London, but rotten if you were
a coalminer in Yorkshire. People had dandruff because there weren't
any good shampoos. Everybody ate shit food. There was still food
rationing. And there was that awful middle-class Look Back in Anger
view of life. Most of those angry young men were frauds. Before
Michael Caine, all the actors were posh and they put on Cockney
accents. And they sounded appalling, like Guy Ritchie, who, by the
way, isn't from the East End. Barely knows where it is. He went to
public school. I mean, I had a great time in the Sixties. I used to
see the Rolling Stones and Beatles at the Ad Lib club in '63 or '64.
I was mates with all these people from the start. Mick was going out
with Jean's sister, Chrissy."
Back then, he says, celebrities were very different to the "vacuous,
boring cunts" he runs across today. "Most of them were famous for
actually having some sort of talent. They were normal, down-to-earth
people. Now they bring their PRs and their minions. They can't cross
the road without their bloody PRs -- actually, it tends to be the
second-raters who do that. People like Jack Nicholson and Johnny Depp
still turn up on their own."
A working-class boy from Leytonstone, Bailey is similarly
clear-sighted and coldly objective about his own life.
"There was nothing in the East End," he says of his early childhood,
which was clouded by the war. "It was a wasteland; cinemas and bombed
When his family home was blitzed, they moved to East Ham with his
Aunt Dolly, where he and his sister grew up with a bull terrier and a
parrot. He doesn't like to dwell on long-past miseries, but it was a
tough life, "all bombs, funeral hearses and hiding out in the
cellar". He came to understand over that time, surrounded by death,
how fortunate he was and how he "learned not to waste a minute".
His father, a tailor's cutter, who eventually walked out on the
family, worried about his son's twin loves of bird-watching and vegetarianism.
"He thought I was queer because I hated football and wouldn't eat
meat, or drink milk."
Even early on, Bailey saw himself as an outsider. An impervious,
mouthy boy, he often got beaten by the teachers at school. He dropped
out at 15, and started a series of dead-end jobs.
"When I left, the head told my mother: 'Well, someone's got to dig
the roads.' I hope he rotted in hell." After a stint in the RAF to
Malaysia and Singapore, Bailey returned home, and charmed his way
into a job as an assistant to society photographer John French. Not
long afterwards, he landed a £600-a-year contract with Vogue. He
dabbled in jazz, and spent nights frequenting the clubs, where he met
his first wife, Rosemary Bramble, a council-house beauty queen and
jazz singer, and an original Playboy bunny.
He cultivated his great loves, photography and art -- and women. He
has always liked, he says, women like Anjelica Huston and Penelope
Tree who "had a beauty that was all their own", and "curiosity and a
sense of humour are the most important qualities in a woman", he
says, citing the story of his divorce from Deneuve in his crisp,
engaging way: "She phoned from Paris and said, 'Bailey, guess what,
we're divorced? It's great, now we can be lovers.' So that's how it ended."
In 1967, Bailey hooked up with Tree, a teenage model and rebellious
sophisticate from a fabulously wealthy, well-connected political
family. Her strange, moon-faced look and avant-garde style made her a
poster child for the flower-power generation.
"I remember when Catherine saw some pictures of Penelope by Avedon in
American Vogue, she said: 'You're gonna run off with this girl.'
An appealingly laid-back character, Bailey remained "mates with all
his old flames throughout the messy tangle of marriages and affairs.
"I see all my old girlfriends, Angelica, Penelope and Jean," he says,
describing the latter as "the greatest model of all time. I didn't
realise how important she was to me until we split up. I didn't cry.
I just worked obsessively hard to get over it.
"The thing about relationships," he muses, "is that they don't end
because you don't like them any more. It's not about discarding one
person in favour of another. Emotions are fluid and life moves on.
Like anything else, relationships bloom, wither and die. Nobody
leaves anyone. You sort of leave each other, don't you? I never had
any trouble because I never cared about money and possessions. When
you start arguing, the lawyers get all the money. It cost me a few
Warhols over the years, but I have no regrets."
His wife drifts in, serene and elegant. "Hello, Catherine," he says,
gazing up at her, his dark eyes sparkling. He introduces me to a
willowy brunette in skinny jeans and knee-high boots before kissing
As she leaves, he returns to his usual surliness, though I'm starting
to realise that it's all an act, and he's as soft as a pussycat.
He met Catherine, his fourth wife and mother of his three grown
children, on a shoot for Italian Vogue in 1983.
"She was the best thing that's happened to me, apart from being
born," he says.
Was it love at first sight?
"What?" he asks, screeching with laughter. "You sound like that
creepy old spinster in pink. What's her name? The one that writes
those romance books, with all the cracked make-up and Rolls Royces."
Barbara Cartland? She's at least 100 years older than me.
"She's dead as well, or if she isn't, looks like she should be," he
says, chuckling to himself. "She used to say love at first sight. No
one says that nowadays. Now it's sex at first sight."
Was he still married to Marie Helvin when he went off with Catherine?
"Probably. But I still love Marie." Amazingly, he has remained "good
friends" with Helvin, who painted him as a bullyish philanderer in
her recent memoir. Amid the African grey parrots and black-painted
walls of their North London home, she recalled the final days of
their 10-year marriage, when her friend Jerry Hall broke the news
"about Catherine, a young English model she and Mick had seen with
Bailey in Paris".
So will this be his last marriage then? "Yeah, unless she runs off
with fucking someone else."
You might run off with someone else too?
"I don't think I'd run, I might walk off."
"Are you married?" Bailey asks, noticing my ring shimmering beneath
the dim studio lights.
Sort of, I say evasively.
"How can you be sort of married?" When I explain that the ring is
actually a reminder to get divorced so I can move on to my second
husband, like a forget-me-not, Bailey falls into a fit of laughter
and persists with his questioning: What does my ex-husband do? Is he
English? And what about the boyfriend?
Playful and unpredictable, he seems genuinely curious about me. Do I
No, I have eight cats. Children are demanding, expensive and not at
all environmentally friendly.
"It's true," he says. "Why would anyone want kids? But once you have
them, it's great. None of my ex-wives wanted kids either. But I never
Anyway, I'll probably end up like Celia Hammond, the patron saint of
stray cats. When I mention Celia, one of the Sixties' most fabled
faces, who gave up all her worldly wealth to set up London cat rescue
clinics, he smiles. "A lovely woman, with a pure heart."
Did he shag her too?
"No, she was one of Donovan's girls. I didn't get much out of her,
apart from a few snogs and blow-jobs. She used to drive me mad,
though. Once she saw a stray cat in the road, she'd make me drive
back to get it. But she was truly beautiful."
She still is, I remind him, even though she has gone, as Bailey would
say, with the elements.
"Yeah, well, she wouldn't be any good to me now, would she?" he says.
"You're complicated, aren't you?" he says to me.
Not really, just unconventional.
"More like plain bloody mad."
Maybe, but I wouldn't know, would I?
"Oh, you're complicated alright," he insists.
But isn't everybody?
"I'm bloody not," he says with his rasping, asthmatic chuckle. "I'm
straightforward and easygoing."
Well, I am too.
"No you're not. You're full of angst. I watch your hands moving all the time."
It's probably a caffeine overdose, combined with the stress of one of
the cats murdering a pigeon in the corridor this morning and being
interrogated by a grumpy, curmudgeonly photographer.
"So how old is this boyfriend of yours?" He continues with an almost
feline curiosity, intrigued. "He's 26? Forget it. He's too young. It
won't work. Get rid of him."
With his staggering collection of ex-wives and mistresses, Bailey is
hardly a good example, I protest, and he's married to someone 25
years younger. "Well, at least I'll die before she gets really old.
It's different with men anyway. Women are emotional. Men are
aesthetically driven. It's fine now. But sooner or later he'll be out
looking for a younger model."
As I leave, he kisses me goodbye, still laughing, and whispers
sweet-nothings: "Sort out your sex life, love. And get yourself an
older man, you silly bitch."
'Is That So Kid' by David Bailey, 40, Steidl. See www.steidlville.com