03 February 2016
Four times British Press Photographer of the Year, Ken Lennox Hon FRPS shares the story behind one of his iconic images. Diana Princess of Wales - My Secret Portrait.
"Princess Diana was at the height of her international popularity. The princess’s photographs were in demand for newspaper front pages and magazine features and spreads.
In those days a magazine with Diana on the cover could double the circulation. Competition was intense as photographers vied with each other to get great shots of the beautiful princess for their various publications. I was a Fleet Street photographer assigned to cover the royal family, who after years of being in the background were now, with the arrival of Diana, very popular.
I had a tip off that the princess had a new geometric hair cut. A dramatic change from the long bubbly style she’d had since her wedding to Prince Charles.
I phoned the royal couple’s Canadian press officer Vic Chapman, a straight talking confidant man who managed their press encounters. I put it to Vic that I had heard of the new style and could I get a photograph.
“No chance,” said the big Canadian. I pleaded that an early photograph taken by me would stop a bun fight when the princess next appeared in public, as the look would already have been seen. Again it was a big “no” and a “see you soon Ken”.
However two days later Vic called.
“Ken, the princess is as a meeting of the Red Cross (she was patron) and no one has taken up the Rota, it would be only you at the event. Do want to take up the Rota?”
I jumped at the offer, which meant I would get the photographs, but I would have to share them with the rest of the world.
I turned up at the event and was shown to the front row of the hall (it was like a church hall with overhead lights in wide lamp shades with a low stage at the front 8 feet from my seat). The princess arrived and took her seat on stage focusing her attention on the speaker.
I was looking through my Nikon 300mm 2.8 at Diana’s face holding my fire, because I needed a great show to show the hairstyle and not just a snatched picture. Two minutes passed and Diana looked straight down the lens mouthing “what now?” She realised I hadn’t taken any shots and was puzzled.
I moved the camera aside and looking at her turned my head left, centre and right, indicating how I wanted to show the new style.
The princess looked apprehensive about doing this in front of an audience of 300. But she went ahead very discretely. I only took 5 shots. I am sure no one noticed except Mr Chapman and myself. It was all over in a minute, in the final shot had a little smile on her face.
The photographs were beautiful, the Princess looked stunning, her haircut was a triumph and she was still sporting that style when Prince Harry was born.
The photographs look like I had a one-to-one with her, taken with studio lighting - her right profile was flawless.
I have always called it my Secret Portrait."
All images © Ken Lennox Hon FRPS