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David Bailey: What I've Learned

The legendary photographer and womaniser reveals his life lessons

David Bailey: What I've Learned

People often don’t like my pictures. Then 10 years later they say, “Oh, can I buy a print? That was the best picture ever taken of me.”

Sex gets better as you get older. Much better. Like anything in life, it’s practice. And I had a long apprenticeship.

I was a terrible father. The most I ever did for my children was to teach them chess. At least they got that.

I hate men who are in touch with their feminine side. They’re a bunch of fucking wimps. And women don’t really like them either.

When the war ended and I was eight, we moved to Bristol. My mother hated it, and I got into trouble with the police. Somebody gave me a blackberry to eat and told me afterwards that they’d pissed on it. So I set fire to their field.

I haven’t explored the gay side. It depends how long you live. If I lived for 2,000 years, I’d probably get round to it.

The Stones over The Beatles, no question. They’re from London.

I think about death all the time. I know there’s nothing out there, but I’m curious. There’s a 300 billion-to-one chance that there might be an energy that goes somewhere else, but I doubt it.

People say my paintings aren’t very good. They’re not meant to be very good. They’re an expression of what I feel.

Talking about the Sixties gets boring. But everybody lives with the burden of the first thing they were noticed for. All they know about Picasso is that he did abstract painting. It’s complete misinformation. Not that I’m comparing myself to Picasso.

The Queen is one of my favourite women in the world. She’s funny. I got given the CBE - it’s nice to get something. Prince Charles said: “It’s nice to see you here.” I said: “I want to get one thing straight, Charles - I’m not joining, I’m infiltrating.” Nobody laughs at those things. They’re all so serious.

Money or respect? I’d rather have both.

I never understand when they say men are more promiscuous than women. What are they sleeping with? Cabbages? For every man that’s fucking, he must be fucking a woman. So it’s equal.

I listen to everybody, then I ignore them. But at least I listen. You’ve got to treat people with dignity.

The key to a long marriage is respect, and sex. The best years of my life have been the last 30 with Catherine [Bailey, the model]. But I’ve had great girlfriends and I loved them all. I loved Penelope [Tree, prominent Sixties model]. I love [Catherine] Deneuve in a way, too.

I’m not slightly dyslexic. I’m really, really dyslexic. I’ve got my own language that Catherine has learned. I can’t even read it. She can.

I don’t really like the term “artist”. I’m not sure what it means. It’s a bit like “love”.

Good shoes are important. I wear English brogues in a wide fitting. They last me years. I mean, I love cowboy boots because they’re so comfortable. But you look like such an old fucking trendy if you go out in those.

If something becomes old-fashioned it was no good to start with. Think about it. Michelangelo is not old-fashioned.

Being trendy is dangerous. I’ve never been trendy, which is why I’ve never really fallen out of favour.

Men make the mistake of being too serious with women. Some men go out with a woman three times and think they own them. I just hoped they liked me enough to stick around.

Criminals are always cockneys on TV. The villains always whisper. [Barely audible] “It’s warm, innit?” Everything’s a secret.

Being handsome wasn’t much of a burden. It worked for me.

I’ve never won an award for photography. I’ve got hundreds for commercials. If someone wants to give me one, they’d better hurry up because the clock’s ticking. I’m playing chess with the devil.

If you’re a bald-headed man, it means you’ve got a high sex drive. Too much testosterone: it makes you go bald. So be careful of bald-headed monks. Beware of Friar Tucks.

Jean Shrimpton hated the name The Shrimp. I hated it, too. It’s not a name I would apply to one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen.

I kept hearing rumours about Lady Gaga being difficult, so I cancelled our photo shoot. I thought, do I need this aggravation in my life? It’s a singer in a funny frock. Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith never wore funny frocks.

The best thing about being David Bailey? Still being here.

The Chinese have got the right idea. All that stuff people say about global warming: it’s not about the Rolls-Royces or Ferraris or aeroplanes; it’s about overpopulation. Every time the population goes up there’s another million mouths to feed and we grow stuff that goes rotten and puts gases into the atmosphere. You’ve got to stop people breeding. But nobody ever says that.

I like laughing. That’s the story of my life, really. It’s been a bit of a laugh. Cockneys don’t cry. If you cried, you got thumped.


Portrait by David McKendrick