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  1. Wealth
August 14, 2012

Richard Young’s Photographs of Elizabeth Taylor, and the Stories Behind Them

By Spear's

Richard Young’s photographic relationship with Elizabeth Taylor lasted 35 years. Here we present some of his favourite shots and he tells the stories behind them

Richard Young’s photographic relationship with Elizabeth Taylor lasted 35 years. Here we present some of his favourite shots and he tells the stories behind them

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The famous kiss between Taylor and Richard Burton at his 50th birthday party at the Dorchester, 1975

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My relationship with Elizabeth Taylor began in 1975. It was the beginning of my career as a photographer, and this was my first exclusive shot. I had been given a tip-off that there was going to be a big party for Richard Burton’s 50th birthday hosted by Elizabeth Taylor at the Dorchester. I was told there probably wasn’t much chance of getting in, but I was to go down there anyway and see what I could get.

Chaos was reigning when I arrived; the place was filled with press, photographers and TV crews. I had noticed one of the Dorchester’s press officers slipping through a door, so I went in after her. I followed her for a while, then lost her and found myself in the Gold Room. A waiter asked, ‘Are you with the band?’, to which I replied, ‘Yes,’ and he showed me into the ballroom where the party was being held. The room was empty except for the DJ setting up in the corner. I went up to him and explained that I was a photographer with the Evening Standard and asked him not to split on me. Thankfully, he agreed.

After a while I asked if I could have a go at spinning a few discs. He showed me what to do and, as I was quite competent, he went to the bar for a quick drink. Well, I say quick drink — actually he didn’t come back for three hours. I had no complaints. Suddenly I had become guest DJ at Elizabeth Taylor’s party, the party was in full swing and I even played a few requests!

The real DJ came back just when a huge birthday cake was wheeled into the room. Richard and Elizabeth went hand in hand to blow out the candles. I sneaked around the guests, got as close as I dared and took a couple of shots. Elizabeth looked up as my flash was brighter than the other guests’. She then turned to Richard and gave him a passionate kiss, at which point I became a little bolder and took a couple more shots. Again she looked around, slightly perplexed. I went back to my spot by the DJ.

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However, when Elizabeth walked on to the dance floor to dance with one of her guests, I couldn’t resist taking another couple of pictures. That was it: my cover was blown. She came storming over to me and put her nose right in front of mine and said: ‘I think you’d better leave… now!’ And I did.

This photograph appeared in publications throughout the world. A few days later I received a call from her office. I was told Elizabeth liked the picture so much she wanted a copy.
With Burton after her own 50th birthday bash, 1982

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On the night of Elizabeth’s 50th birthday party, the photographers were following her and Richard everywhere. The party was being held at a club in the West End called Legends. It ended in the small hours, and I followed the two of them back to her house in Cheyne Gardens. They went inside, and most of the photographers left, leaving just me and a couple of other diehards.

A few hours later, we were well rewarded for our wait. A dishevelled Richard Burton came out at about 6am and announced that he and Elizabeth had just made passionate love on the floor! ‘I’ve left her to sleep,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Why don’t we go have some breakfast?’ I don’t know how true his story was.

Anyway we all piled into his limo and swanned off to his suite at the Dorchester. We tucked into bacon and eggs and he tucked into some more vodka, and we chatted away about the party until about 7.30am. Suddenly his PA came in and said: ‘Who are all these people, Richard?’ Burton looked around and said: ‘I don’t know — get out, the lot of you!’ So we left.
Taylor with Elton John at an Aids Crisis Trust gala at Banqueting House in Whitehall, 1991

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Elizabeth Taylor was a devoted, consistent and generous humanitarian throughout her life. A dedicated fundraiser for HIV- and Aids-related charities, she was the founding national chairman for the American Foundation for Aids Research (AmFAR), and during her lifetime helped to raise more than $270 million. She was one of the first celebrities and public personalities to do so at a time when few acknowledged this disease. In the early Nineties I photographed her at many Aids Crisis Trust gala events in London. During that time, many other celebrities came on board publicly to support her and the cause.

At an Aids Crisis Trust event at Mirabelle restaurant, 1991
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Taylor the Dame at the Dorchester, 2000

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  I had been photographing Elizabeth for over 25 years, and one day in 2000 I got a call from her attorney in Los Angeles asking me if I would like to photograph her and her family after her investiture as a Dame at Buckingham Palace. I arrived at the Dorchester and was ushered up to the beautiful Oliver Messel suite. Inside, a small reception was being held for her immediate family and close friends. We said hello to each other and she seemed happy to see me.

I remembered the first time that I had photographed her 25 years before, when she demanded that I leave. She still remembered that night also, but thank goodness I was invited in this time. I led her through the French doors on to the terrace, which was decorated with all her favourite coloured roses. I was holding her hand and accidentally pulled on her diamond ring — she turned to me and said: ‘No, no, you can’t have it!’ I tried to explain that I was only trying to help her through the door.

Once on the terrace I posed Elizabeth up, and she looked so radiant and happy. When all her family came and joined her, I had never seen her look so contented. It was a beautiful moment which I will treasure for ever.
Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Young is on at the Richard Young Gallery, 4 Holland Street, W8, from 4-29 September 2012

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