Arthur Edwards, the aggressive tabloid snapper who became friends with King Charles

The official royal photographer for ‘The Sun’ has spent more time with the Windsors than most, photographing seven royal weddings, five funerals and seven births as well as getting the first shot of Princess Diana

King Charles
Charles and Camilla on a visit to Corrymeela Ballycastle on May 22, 2015 in Antrim, Northern Ireland.Pool (Getty Images)

In July 1980, after just three years as The Sun’s royal photographer, a youthful Arthur Edwards was told that then-Prince Charles would be attending a polo tournament that would also be attended by a special young woman called Diana Spencer. Aside from the fact she was blonde, no details were known about the future king’s potential girlfriend, who would become one of the most photographed figures in the world.

At the event, Edwards spotted a teenage girl wearing a pendant with the letter D. He asked her if she was Lady Diana Spencer, and the young woman agreed to have her picture taken: “So I got the first picture of Diana,” he told the Australian media site Stuff in an interview published March 12. “I thought, ‘My editors have got what they wanted – my job is finished.’ Of course, it was only just beginning.”

Now 86, Arthur Edwards has been the official royal photographer for The Sun for 45 years, making him one of the longest-serving professionals in his line of work and the photographer who has spent most time with the Windsors. He has followed the royals on more than 200 tours of 120 countries, and has also photographed seven royal weddings, five funerals and seven births, all of it illustrated in his new photo book, Behind the Crown: My Life Photographing the Royal Family. Throughout his career, he has not only managed to immortalize historical moments, but also to form an actual relationship with members of the royal household.

Having taken the first public photo of Diana, Edwards also lived through the drama of her death. In between, he watched her two sons, Princes William and Harry grow up. He is a staunch supporter of King Charles and the Queen consort, Camilla, and went from being an aggressive photographer to a friendly acquaintance who is incredibly loyal to his ‘subjects.’

Edwards himself comes from an entirely different world. He was born into a working-class family in London’s East End. His father was a truck driver and his mother an office cleaner. When he was a teenager, his parents gave him his first camera. It cost £46, which was a small fortune at the time, but his mother didn’t want her son to end up working in the docks like most of his peers. After working for a time in a dark room, he got a job as a photographer at The Sun in 1975. Several years later, he was commissioned to take the photo of the hour. Thanks to that first snap of Diana, he became The Sun’s official royal photographer.

Diana changed everything, as Edwards points out in the Stuff interview. Edwards says the royal family was previously more stand-offish and rarely interacted with the press, except to talk about the weather. When Lady Di appeared on the scene, the media became more aggressive, bent on turning the public’s obsession with her into a lucrative business. As one of the main players, The Sun spent a large fortune on sending Edwards wherever the Prince and Princess went: “I went on Charles and Diana’s honeymoon,” he says. “When they went skiing, I went skiing. I didn’t go for the first or second day – I went for the whole two weeks. It was a circus. When Diana got on a plane, 30 of us got on the plane with her. Those were the greedy years – the ‘Go, go, go, get, get, get’ years.”

Arthur Edwards was one of the most aggressive photographers of that era, and also the one who got some of the best photographs. He took pictures of Princes William and Harry at the gates of their school and pursued them during their vacations. “I was aggressive,” he tells Stuff. “I was one of the worst. I never stopped. It was just, ‘Get the picture, get the picture.’” But everything changed on the night of August 31, 1997, when Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris, while being chased by the paparazzi. Edwards remembers receiving a call at around midnight: “They said, ‘Look, go straight to Heathrow – we’ve chartered a plane for you. It leaves at 3am.’ I landed at 4am, rang the office, and they told me Diana was dead. I went to the tunnel and photographed a little girl laying flowers at the spot where she died. I went to the hospital and convinced them to have a small press pool, to photograph the coffin leaving.

“I was in tears as I took the pictures of Diana’s coffin coming out with a Royal Standard draped over it. I needed to get the pictures back to the office, but I couldn’t get a cab because everyone thought photographers caused her death. Cab drivers told me, ‘You’re an assassin. You’re a killer.’”

Times have changed, according to Edwards. Now, royals can go skiing without an army of photographers in their wake. The mainstream media have stopped following the children of the royals as they go to school and are generally more focused on covering official events. Often, it is Kate Middleton herself, the newly crowned Princess of Wales, who takes the more intimate pictures of her children, as happened this year on Mother’s Day. Edwards doesn’t miss that time, but he doesn’t regret it either: “I don’t feel bad about what I did,” he tells Stuff. “I was doing what newspapers did back then – whether it was with royals, politicians or film stars. We were selling four million papers a day. The Mirror was selling three million papers a day. We were competing for sales. You just couldn’t be last. I don’t regret a bit of it.”

Now, the media are more respectful, according to the photographer who began to spend a lot of time, often alone, with the future king following Princess Diana’s demise: “I was often only the one person on the plane, going out there with him,” he tells People magazine. “Like Nigeria or Saudi Arabia. People weren’t bothering. They thought ‘Diana’s gone, that’s it, over.’ But it wasn’t over because he was doing some amazing work. And I was getting really good pictures.”

Although he considers the death of Elizabeth II to have been “the end of an era,” he is a fan of King Charles III: “For 70 years, he waited to become the King, but he wasn’t going to sort of just sit there and play backgammon and shoot champagne,” he tells People. “He was going to make a difference, and he did. He’s a pioneer for the underdog. If a big supermarket was coming to a village where all the local shops would be destroyed, he’d fight for the village. He’s just a genuinely kind man, and so far he’s at a great start to his reign as King. And I think the people now are behind him. I went to Bolton, a town in the north of England, about three weeks ago, and the crowds were 30 deep, come to see him! Now, he never got that as Prince of Wales,” Edwards adds. “Suddenly at 74, he’s become this big megastar, like a rock star, and everybody wants to come and see him.”

Edwards also has a very high opinion of the queen consort, Camilla, who disarmed him at first with her spontaneity: “Our first tour was the United States, and I remember going to a market north of Los Angeles, and someone gave her a peach or something and she started to eat it, which no royal would do! But she did. She really enjoyed it,” he tells People. “And I remember saying, ‘Diana would never do that.’ But she was different. And she brought a whole new meaning for Prince Charles. He’s now a much happier person. He’s contented. And he always refers to her as ‘my darling wife.’”

Edwards says that Camilla’s forte is that she has not lost her connection to the real world. That, and her ability to make people laugh: “I have many photos of them laughing together,” he says. In short, he considers Camilla “a great asset” to the crown.

It is perhaps because of his affection and admiration for King Charles and Camilla that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, are not among his favorite royals. In the interview with Stuff, the photographer is said to have used words such as “nasty” and “treacherous” to describe Prince Harry’s actions. Edwards says he doesn’t understand how the young man who was once the most popular member of the British royal family has now turned himself into “the most despised.” He says he also had a pleasant relationship with Harry. Indeed, he watched him grow up, before he left with his family for the United States, made the controversial Netflix documentary with his wife, and penned Spare: “In Africa once, we sat down after a long day and he offered to make me a cup of tea,” he tells Stuff. “He told me about why he was so excited about his charity work, and why it was so meaningful to him. He was a lovely guy. Now, his family won’t talk to him, because anything they say could end up in another book.”

At 86, Arthur Edwards is still active and refuses to retire. His next assignment as a photographer will be a first even for a veteran royal photographer like him: namely, a coronation.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS