It’s a big deal being photographed by Julia Fullerton-Batten, as I was recently for the New Yorker. (‘For the New Yorker’. Note how coolly I toss that out? Believe me, my nonchalance is feigned.)
The first indication that something extraordinary was coming up was my being asked if I had a preferred make-up artist and hair stylist. I suggested that the team of ‘me, myself and I’ could do a reasonable job. This clearly wasn’t acceptable, and reference images started arriving in my in-box from a proper make-up artist. They included ladies in amazing wigs and – I was alarmed to see – very few clothes. I began to worry that this Julia Fullerton-Batten had unrealistically high expectations of how much Worsley flesh might be available for inspection.
The second indication that something big was afoot was the news that the shoot would take FIVE hours. It was to be in the Great Kitchen at Hampton Court, with all sorts of props including dead birds and a huge fire. The theme was to be modern-day Marie Antoinette.
On the big evening, I arrived at Trophy Gate around six, by which time it was dark. There appeared to be a thunderstorm in progress; strange flashes flickered over the palace’s west front. The lightning turned out to be the flashbulbs of Julia Fullerton-Batten herself. The Queen of the Thunderbolts had brought with her about a million lamps, assistants and computers, and even from the kitchen they collectively illuminated the whole sky.
Next followed a discussion about clothes. A flowery frock from Pied a Terre, which I’d already spotted and genuinely liked in a shop, immediately caught my eye on the rail. Also it makes a subtle reference (as my colleague Rebecca the conservator cleverly pointed out) to the brilliant picture of the 1960s vine-keeper precariously picking grapes at Hampton Court in her high-heeled shoes.
However, the Queen of the Thunderbolts preferred a baby-blue tu-tu. I put it on for a test shot, feeling rather ridiculous. ’This is age-inappropriate, I’m thirty-seven’, I muttered. ’But you look so much younger!’ called out a craven fashionista from the shadows. ’That’s because I’m dressed like a fairy’, I responded. Unbidden and unwelcome, the song ‘Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty’ popped up in my mind.
Next I was whisked upstairs to have extra hair attached, and the whole puffed up and powdered. At this point I was warned not to use a comb or all my hair would all fall out. A curious instrument was used to curl my eyelashes – I believe the CIA use something similar while extraordinarily rendering people. The army of assistants ate pizzas.
Finally around 9 pm I was positioned by the kitchen table in the demure flowery dress. I was only feet away from the fire, but as most of its heat goes straight up the chimney it was absolutely freezing. Shoes were pulled on and off, jewels were added and removed, brushes were wielded, there was intense activity and concentration as Julia’s lightning exploded all around us.
So far I’d been wearing the flowery dress, but the order came from New York: they like the tu-tu, put it back on.
Now things look very different in midday Manhattan, and in a stone corridor round the back of the Tudor kitchens at 9.30pm when your bare feet are freezing, you live more than an hour away, and you need to be back at Hampton Court again for work by 8.30 the next morning. There in the dark and the cold, I knew I needed to ask myself The Question.
‘In the same circumstances, would Simon Schama wear the tu-tu?’
The answer quickly came: no, he would not.
So back out there I had to go, tu-tu-less. A frown appeared on the imperious brow of the Queen. Nevertheless I stood my ground. We already had some lovely pictures, I argued. She relented, and I went home to melt off my extra hair in a hot bath.
I’m sorry you won’t get to see me dressed as a fairy, and perhaps that would have been even better, but this is the nevertheless amazing picture that Julia actually produced. Note the light coming from the high window – that’s from outside. Amazing. See here for more of her freakishly brilliant dreamy pix.