The life of David Bailey is a genuine rags to riches story. Raised in London’s East End, his father was a tailor’s cutter and his mum a machinist. He rose to become one of the world’s most highly respected photographers, a cultural icon and Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Bailey left school on his 15th birthday having struggled with dyslexia and dyspraxia (neither of which at the time were researched or recognized as they are today) and began working as a copy boy at the Fleet Street offices of the Yorkshire Post.
Then in 1958, having completed his national service in the Royal Air Force in Malaysia, he was determined to pursue a career in photography. Given he left school early, no college would accept him, so he worked his way up from general dogsbody, up to photographer’s assistant, soon becoming one of the most famous fashion and portrait photographers in the world.
Along with Michael Caine, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Twiggy, he epitomized the swinging 60s in London, the youth-driven cultural revolution that both shook and inspired a new generation all around the world. The general consensus is that Bailey was the inspiration for the role of the womanizing photographer played by David Hemmings in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 cult film ‘Blow-up’.
He’s a man of wonderful depth and contradiction. A teetotal vegetarian with an expletive-packed vocabulary. An anti-establishment rebel who was honored with a CBE by Her Majesty the Queen. He’s equally at home taking pictures of the East End underworld as he is recording the heights of society and Hollywood, or the troops on the battlefields of Afghanistan. He’ll have you cracking up in laughter in no time or running for the door if you’re afraid to take him on.
He’s also a painter, director and art aficionado (with a special affinity for Picasso), with an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. On sets, he would just as often be found with a book in hand as he was behind the lens.
And he was never shy about his dyslexia, once saying: “Dyslexia is a kind of privilege because it helps you to see differently from other people because you’re f***** when it comes to words”
Our co-founder John Pearson has known and worked with Bailey over many years and always loved the company of this master storyteller. He’s in possession of a razor-sharp mind and is a bona fide king of the one liners — the latter most usually followed mischievously by his inimitable raucous, asthmatic chuckle.
Here Bailey shares his answers to our ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile as only Bailey could. Full of heart, humor and a touch of punk.
Who the f*** are you?
I am David Bailey born in the East End of London.
How are you feeling right now?
For 83, I am feeling pretty good.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in East Ham in the East End of London. A charming hell.
What excites you?
Waking up each morning.
What scares you?
Now that Hitler is dead nothing scares me.
What is your proudest achievement?
Still working on it.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
Getting to sleep.
Who was your greatest mentor, and what did they teach you?
Picasso and Bob Dylan. They taught me a bicycle wheel doesn’t have to be round.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
Merlin is my fictional hero and my real life heroes are Somerset Maugham and Alfred Hitchcock.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
My camouflage trousers from the Manor Park Army & Navy store.
What music did you love when you were 13 — and do you still love it now?
Gershwin and Rogers & Hart.
What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
Singing in the Rain.
What is your favorite word or saying?
Expect the unexpected.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
See you soon.
And finally, a quickfire five favorites …
Egg and chips.