II’ve been surrounded by gangs my whole life. I went to school in Ealing, where it is Freddie Mercury He went to art college. Likewise Ronnie Wood and Pete Townsend. The Olympic Studios, where Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones recorded, were in nearby Barnes, where I lived. It’s a cinema now – the Stones recorded Sympathy for the Devil in the room where you watch movies.
I was on the sidelines of it all but my parents wouldn’t let me go to art school and I ended up working for an insurance broker in town. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. I started going to see bands at the Hammersmith Odeon, and I saw… David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. One night, I smuggled in a cheap Russian camera to see Paul McCartney and Wings doing a sound check. The Queen was the support act, so I took a picture of them playing and was able to sell it. It was my first ever photo sale.
I taught myself, but I couldn’t get a pass without a wallet and I couldn’t get a wallet without a pass. Punk came at the right time: Suddenly I had access to bands for 75p, and these were the images the music tabloids wanted. Once my name started appearing in the NME, I was able to maneuver it around a bit more.
A photographer I met at a damned party shared a home with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott. I stopped there and one day Phil said they were going to Scandinavia. I said, “Take me with you?” This is how I became a tourism photographer. After Thin Lizzy, I shot Bowie, The Stones, Bee Gees, and Neil Diamond. Duran Duran was in America like Beatlemania. Bowie was very friendly, down to earth and funny. I spent two years with him almost every day. Being with the Stones was incredible. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to go around the world with a rock band on their private jet?
hot queen on the 1986 Magic Tour, which no one knew would be the last. It was very big by then. I wanted to tour with them because it was such a great show and Freddie was a once-in-a-lifetime showman. I think this is one of the few shots that captures it. This look he throws – no one has ever done it before. Seems like a curveball game. There’s also the way he holds the microphone, one of his trademarks. It was difficult to photograph it when it was moving: it would remain in this position for a microsecond, because it was spinning around.
I only had 36 pictures on a roll, and the film was really expensive so I couldn’t shoot after a shot. Every time I press the shutter it costs me a pound. So I became like a sniper. I’d follow Freddy like I had a movie camera, and then when I saw the shot in that nano, I’d take the picture. Focusing was all manual. I often had really bad headaches after performances because the pressure on the brain was so intense. You keep a close eye on the lights and what the artist does.
This was a summer show. The further north you go, the later it gets dark, so on Maine Road in Manchester it was all daylight. I shot with an old Olympus and film can only go up to a certain speed, so if someone is moving fast you need daylight to make it work. Also, shooting the crowd means that the people who are in love with him are in the same picture.
Freddie may be shy off stage, but he was probably the funniest person I’ve ever gone on tour with. Apparently, he always referred to me as Doris. Queens guitarist Brian May said, “Don’t you know?” I didn’t – Freddie apparently used to call me when I wasn’t around. On stage, though, he was pretty flamboyant. He would command an entire crowd – just like he did at Live Aid. If you’re thinking of Freddy, this shot would be it.
The exhibition 69 Days by Denis O’Regan can be viewed online at the website west-contentporary-editions.com and in person at the Denis O’Regan Gallery, London, on November 25-26
Denis O’Regan Biography
Boy: London, 1953
Effects: “David Bowie, The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk. I bought my first Mac in 1987, two years before Adobe came out with Photoshop, which I immediately adopted.”
High point: The birth of my son in 2006. W David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight World Tour1983.”
low point: “My mother’s cancer. She passed away in 1978 at the age of 47.”
Top tip: “Stop whining. do it.”