Harley, Richard Young, Princess M, Euro 08

The Weekly News
Harley, Richard Young, Princess M, Euro 08
2008-06-21 9:12

The battered tangle of scrap that I found on a patch of waste ground in an army camp did not look much like a dream machine, but it set my fantasies racing. It had once been a BSA motorcycle, built around 1960, with a 350cc engine.

To an ex-paratrooper who yearned for the adrenalin rush of sky-diving, this machine promised to revive my daredevil lifestyle. I had my Vespa, which gave me independence… the girls seemed to like it too. But a BSA would generate supercharged sex appeal.

My father, who was back in the city after the Six Day War, offered to help me salvage and restore it. Working side by side with him, saying little but sharing the joy of bringing the machine back to life, was an intensely emotional experience. It helped to repair the bond between us that had been damaged by my parents’ divorce, and we formed a friendship, man to man, that lasted for the rest of his life.

I am profoundly grateful to that bike, even though it almost killed me. At a junction outside the city, I hit a patch of oil and flipped over so quickly that I was being dragged under it across the tarmac before I could even twitch the handlebars. I was lucky to escape with a broken leg.

That didn’t scare me off bikes. I rode a Harley in the Seventies which belonged to a Florida family who had made their fortune in the Big Mac hamburger empire. And in Italy I roared around on a mammoth Moto Guzzi owned by my friend Ernst Sachs, brother of the photographer and multi-millionaire industrialist Gunter, whose father helped to develop the first motorcycle engines.

Ernst was tragically killed in a skiing accident— I was sad for him, but I’d known when I saw him unleashing the power of his bike with a reckless twist of the throttle that he wouldn’t live to see a nursing home. And he wouldn’t have wanted to, either.

Another big biker was the photographer Richard Young, whose portraits have defined the image of megastars such as Mick Jagger. Richard is a Harley man, so I was delighted to be able to show him a photo I’d taken just two days earlier, of me astride a 1918 Harley Davidson.

We spotted the bike in a shopping mall in a small town in Hungary, part of a display so authentic that the designer had even housed the bike beside a First World War hut. I was tempted to buy the whole exhibit and ship it straight to Tokyo — the Japanese would go crazy for it.

Instead, I settled for a photo. The mall’s director assured me the bike would run, but I didn’t want to take any chances — I’m not 22 any more, and a broken leg might take longer to heal.

“If that was me,” Richard said, “I couldn’t have stopped myself. What an irresistible piece of history.”

He was making history himself with the launch of the Richard Young Gallery, charting his career from the day in 1974 when Paul Getty Jnr invited him to document a jaunt round London, while he was recovering from his kidnapping trauma. Richard sold the pictures to an evening paper and was launched to the forefront of celebrity photographers.

One of my favourite pictures shows Liz Taylor and Richard Burton at a birthday party in the Dorchester. They ooze glamour. And his shots of Fidel Castro are iconic in a different way. I wish I’d been at that party, but I’m glad I missed the Cuban revolution!

Richard’s wife, Susan, is a celebrated jewellery designer, and by synchronicity our next stop was at a reception given by Princess Michael of Kent at Partridge Fine Art in New Bond St, to celebrate the launch of a magnificent jewellery collection by His Royal Highness Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia.

The son of Prince Alexander, he is the founder of the jewellery house simply called “Prince Dimitri”. He can also claim to be related to every royal family in Europe, from Russia to Montenegro, Bavaria to Belgium and Portugal to our own House of Windsor.

He told me he believes he may have inherited his passion for gemstones from his great-great-grandmother, the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, whose collection of diamonds was considered to be the greatest in the world. I marvelled over the designs, telling the prince that we had been in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul only a few days earlier. His creations would not look out of place even in that treasure-house.

And in another touch of synchronicity, I met a second world-famous photographer when Homer Sykes visited my home for a German newspaper — they wanted me to will the national team to victory against Poland.

My mother was born in Berlin, so I was happy to join in the excitement. Germany won, of course, 2-0.

Homer lined me up in his lens and quoted Emile Zola at me: “In my view you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it.”

If that’s true, then I’ve never seen anything, because it is Shipi who takes all our photos. I’m always on the other side of the camera.


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