'The Prince of Wales calls me Arthur and I call him sir': Royal photographer reflects on 40-year Sun career

Arthur Edwards is pictured above at an internal News UK event where he was interviewed by Alice Thomson of The Times

Long-serving Sun photographer Arthur Edwards MBE is known to the Queen as Mr Edwards, Prince Charles as Arthur, and is shown great “respect” by Princes William and Harry. Over his 38 years as a royal photographer, Edwards estimates he’s travelled to more than 100 countries on 200-plus tours with the family. 

And when he’s not covering the royals, he’s with the Prime Minister, behind the scenes at Wembley stadium or travelling abroad for high-profile events – and that was last week alone. Edwards spoke to Press Gazette as he was travelling back from Belgium, where he covered the reburial of six British soldiers from World War I who were discovered in a farmer’s field.

Edwards has been on staff at The Sun for 40 years, and has been the paper’s dedicated royal photographer since 1977. At 74, he’s still going, full-time. Why? “I love what I do, and I do it well,” he says. “David Frost once told me: ‘If you love what you do don’t stop doing it.’”

His career survival is all the more notable considering the huge cutbacks on national press photography staffs since he started out.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” says Edwards, who says that The Sun photography staff is down to five – from a peak of 20-25 – the Express’s has gone from 50 to two, he estimates, and the Telegraph does not, to his knowledge, have any full-time photographers.

On the Daily Mirror, he says: “It was everyone’s ambition to get on the Mirror because they had great photographers on that paper, like household names. But you couldn’t name one of them now. And there are very few of them… I mean, I’m not talking about average photographers – I’m talking about great photographers, and they’ve been laid off because they were probably expensive.

“It’s all about the budgets and the bottom line now, I’m afraid – and falling sales. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just the way the internet’s gone, young people take their news in a different way now.” 

Newspapers still use plenty of freelance work, he says, but this does not leave photographers in a good position: “They’re all on contracts and they are treated like taxis – they call up when they want one.”

Agencies sell pictures "cheap as chips" nowadays, Edwards notes, adding that there are some websites where images can be purchased for as little as £1. "There’s no value in that work because so many people can take pictures now because of digital photography,” he adds.

One thing the hasn't diminished over the past four decades, Edwards says, is newspapers’ interest in the Royal Family, and photographs of them.

“More than ever they’re popular,” he says. “Princess Diana brought the interest back… At least 40 photographers and camera people would travel when she went on tour, and after she died there was a hiatus. And then of course we have Kate and William and Harry coming into their own now, and they’re very, very popular.  

“But I can remember in the early days the Queen going on a state visit to Sweden and not one person covered it. And Prince Charles went to Canada and just one freelance covered it.” This, Edwards says, was in the late 1980s.

Asked about his personal dealings with the royals, Edwards says: “The Prince of Wales calls me Arthur and I call him sir – it works quite well.

“I’ve got a lot of time for him (right, Shutterstock), I enjoy working with him. Obviously I’ve known William and Harry since they were born so they’re very respectful and very helpful to me, and the Prince of Wales is – and Camilla – very, very helpful. They want to help you. They know you’ve got to fill the paper and they do their best to help you.

“I mean, they certainly help me anyway – I can only speak for myself. Another photographer will tell you something completely different. But for me it’s an absolute pleasure to work with them and I really enjoy it.”

Asked who his favourite royal is, Edwards doesn’t hesitate: “Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. I’ve got nothing but total admiration for that man – what he’s done, what he does and how hard he works, and the effort he puts in – only for other people, nothing’s for himself. His only purpose in life is to do good things for others.”

Asked about his dealings with the Queen, Edwards says: “I think she’s fabulous too. I mean, you think that woman is 89 and she’s still putting in a full shift – and absolutely a credit to us all. And in September this year she’s going to be the longest reigning monarch we’ve ever had. Can you imagine that? And she’s absolutely unbelievable. So she’s loved throughout the world, absolutely adored.

“But, you know, she’s slowing down now and I can understand that – I mean she probably gets tired very quickly and she’s not so great on her legs anymore. So maybe it’s time for her to have a little slow down, but you try and tell her that – she doesn’t want to."

And does she call him Arthur as well? “On the very few occasions that she’s spoken to me I think she calls me Mr Edwards. When she gave me my MBE she said to me: ‘I can’t believe I’m giving you this.’ And then she said: ‘How long have you been coming to Buckingham Palace to photograph me?’ And that was a few years ago I got the MBE, I said: ’27 years, ma'am’. She said: ‘Well let’s have our photograph taken together.’ Which I thought was very nice.”

Edwards hasn’t a bad word to say about the royal family – declining the chance to name his least favourite – but something he does appear disappointed about is the lack of opportunity to photograph Prince George (below with his parents, Reuters).

He says: “The way I look at it is it’s their child – they can do what they like. I mean, Prince Harry’s private secretary, Edward Lane Fox, took the last picture, and he’s quite a competent photographer, I’m told – so he did quite a good job.”

He adds: “It’s their child and the picture’s adequate. The thing I felt bad about was the fact that British newspapers don’t use paparazzi photographs of George – they’ve refused to use them – and yet… everybody else in the world, America and Germany and France, are seeing these paparazzi photographs and seeing how he’s getting on, how he’s looking. Because he changes every month, a child that age – and we’re not [seeing him], so I would like to see more pictures coming out of the baby."

He agrees that it’s a strange situation, adding: “That’s the way Prince William wants to do it. But, as I say, it’s his child and he wants to cut down the – maybe he wants him to have as normal a life as possible.”

Asked how privacy law changes have affected his job over the last 40 years, Edwards says: “Everything has changed now. It’s a whole new ball game. There’s no photographing people in their own property. You knock a door once, not more than once…

“And a lot of it’s for the good. You know, a grieving family, I don’t see why they should be pestered. I think if you knock once and they say ‘no thank you’ I think that’s it. And I think that’s right. And if not photographing or not identifying children just because their parents [are] famous, I think that’s right as well.”

Arthur Edwards is the father of John Edwards (right, Reuters), The Sun picture editor who was found not guilty of paying public officials for stories in January following a three-month trial which took place nearly three years after his initial arrest.

Arthur Edwards gave a character witness statement for his son as well as chief reporter John Kay, who was cleared last month. He also describes leader writer Fergus Shanahan – cleared last month also – as a “dear friend”.

His son is yet to return to work after the trial but remains on the News UK payroll and is expected to be welcomed back. Arthur Edwards says: “He’s just timing his return to cope with the shock of it all. It wasn’t a pleasant thing, that. I mean, three years on bail and a seven-week court case is pretty daunting. And when he’s feeling he’s ready to come back they’ll welcome him with open arms.”

Since this conversation, on Thursday, three more tabloid journalists have been found not guilty after trial (two from The Sun) and cases against nine others (including four Sun journalists) are due to face court have been abandoned by the Crown Prosecution Service. When all the cleared journalists return to work Edwards predicts a more powerful Sun.

“That’s the problem at the moment at The Sun,” he says. “It’s missing its top people, its brilliant reporters and brilliant writers and two brilliant deputy editors, a leader writer – good people.

“We’re missing those great talents. And once they’re all ready to return, the paper will be better for it.”

Video: Alice Thomson interviews Arthur Edwards

 

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