Unseen Beatles photos at gallery

JON WELCH His pictures of celebrities are highly acclaimed, but photographer Michael Ward’s own revelations in his new autobiography are every bit as eye-opening. JON WELCH spoke to him, ahead of a new exhibition of his work in Norwich.


He's taken iconic pictures of some of the world's top actors, artists and politicians and covered news stories including the Aberfan disaster and the 1968 Paris riots.

Yet ask Michael Ward about his career and he replies: “Which career, the women or the photography?”

He's only half-joking. If anyone warrants the tag “ladies' man”, it's former Sunday Times photographer Ward, once an insatiable womaniser. Not for nothing is his autobiography entitled Mostly Women.

Fortunately his eye for the ladies extended to his work. Julie Christie, Marianne Faithfull and Ursula Andress were among the beautiful women he photographed, and whose images will be on display as part of an exhibition of Ward's work at a Norwich gallery throughout the summer.

Also on show will be some never-before-seen photographs of The Beatles. Not only have these pictures never been published, until now they had never even been printed from Ward's original negatives.

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Other stars featured in the exhibition and the book include The Rolling Stones, Tony Hancock, Sir Michael Caine, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

“I had all these pictures but didn't want to do a photography book,” Ward explains.

And Mostly Women is certainly more than just a book of stunning photographs. In it, Ward reveals some explosive secrets about his own past: his virtual abandonment by his “quite spectacularly careless” actor parents; their many adulterous affairs; and, most disturbingly of all, his own incestuous relationship with his mother.

“It is a shocking thing. It didn't take me a long time to decide to write about it. What took a long time was deciding how to write about it - it's not an easy thing to write about.

“But if you're going to write an autobiography then it's either true or it isn't. There's no point pretending things either did or didn't happen.”

Ward was just three when he and his sister, Pat, were sent away to boarding school. Between then and the age of 15, he saw his mother just twice when she joined him on two seaside holidays.

He was 15 and his mother 38 when their brief affair happened. “I had never lived with her and didn't look upon her as my mother,” explains Ward.

“She was a very attractive woman and I was young and eager to go, and I suppose in a way I took advantage of it. Immediately I thought 'Oh God, this is awful' and had a very traumatic time turning it into a proper mother and son relationship.”

Ward, now 77, kept it secret until he told his wife, Elizabeth Seal, eight years ago. How did she react? “She stayed with me!” he says.

“I felt I had carried the secret long enough. Funnily enough, Elizabeth had spoken to my mother and she gathered she already knew.

“Most of my friends have been a bit shocked but then understood. A lot have said, 'It happens to a lot of people. It just isn't spoken about'.”

Ward's book betrays no bitterness towards his mother, however. “You couldn't be bitter towards her,” he says.

Yet the repercussions of their illicit relationship were still being felt many years later.

In his book, he casually mentions his many of affairs, more often than not with beautiful actresses and models. Asked how many women he slept with, he says: “I have never counted. I have no idea.”

Dozens and dozens? “I would think so.”

Ward admits that as far as women were concerned, he could not resist temptation - and, indeed, could see no point in doing so.

“I was messing around in life and kept meeting these lovely women. Then I started marrying them, which was a mistake. I think the undercurrent there was what happened with my mother.”

Ward became a photographer because, he says, it was one of the few things he could do without any training. “I tried to be an actor, and that was hopeless. I tried to be a musician and that failed.”

Modestly, he puts his success down to luck. “A lot of photographers take wonderful pictures but they are hardly ever seen: the right people haven't seen them. Luck has got a lot to do with the actual taking of the photograph.”

On his favourite subjects, he says: “I love women, of course, but I think the most fascinating are things you are not expecting.

“When you are sent out on assignment by a newspaper you realise you have only a limited amount of time and you have to bloody well discover something - you can't create it. You are looking for things and suddenly you see it, and that's fascinating.”

Mostly Women: A Photographer's Life, by Michael Ward, is published by Granta, price £30.

Michael Ward's exhibition is at St Giles Street Gallery, 51 St Giles Street, Norwich NR2 1JR, telephone 01603 663333. Michael will be signing copies at the gallery Friday June 16 from 6pm to 8pm. The gallery is open from 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday. The exhibition runs until Thursday September 7. Visit www.sgsgallery.com for more details.

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