By Ian Wright and Lauren Wright
2010 marks my 50th anniversary photographing and interviewing virtually every major celebrity, political figure and royal in the world. Over the span of years, I’ve learnt many lessons about the right way to deal with the rich and famous. First and foremost — “Never be in awe of them.” For some inexplicable reason, celebrities are far more comfortable if you treat them like an ordinary person. Give them the slightest sense that you’re in awe and you will completely lose control of the interview or photo shoot. My first experience with a diva was when I was only 16, photographing Ella Fitzgerald. After cooling my heels backstage for what seemed an eternity, I was finally ushered into the presence. Miss Fitzgerald, snapped imperiously. “You have one minute to take one picture.” I felt like an annoying mosquito buzzing about her person. I reminded my wife, Lauren, of this as we drove to interview Mary Wilson about her latest CD and the 50th anniversary of The Supremes. You see, Lauren grew up in Detroit in the 1960s, idolizing
The Supremes and Miss Wilson in particular. Of all the countless famous people we’ve encountered, Lauren has retained her equanimity and remained nonplussed, always maintaining she stands in awe of only three people: The Queen, Barbra Streisand and Mary Wilson.
With this fact in mind, it was with some trepidation that I rang the doorbell of Mary Wilson’s large but elegantly understated house overlooking a private golf course near Las Vegas.
Lauren sniffed, “This is a far cry from the Brewster Projects where Mary grew up in Detroit, but I was expecting something more spectacular.”
I asked, “Were you expecting sequined walls?”
We were ushered through an entry hall where stacks of matching suitcases stood against a wall sagging under the weight of framed gold records. I wondered if Miss Wilson had just returned from a trip or is just about to leave. Past a staircase curving into the upper distance, we were seated in the comfortable dark walled living room where we waited for an hour — ample time to take in the enormous ethereal painting of The Supremes over the mantelpiece, another large unframed canvas of Diana Ross propped against the black lacquered grand piano, a vast gilt framed mirror and more suitcases. Lauren had a sort of Alice-through-the-looking-glass look in her eyes, much the same as worshipers I’d once photographed at a shrine in India — I began to worry!
Also, I was getting a bit miffed at being kept waiting, remembering the last time a subject kept me waiting so long; Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzeziński, said his official portraits made him look like the commandant at a concentration camp so the White House invited me to take Brzezinski’s portrait for the Sunday Times of London. Brzezinski, arrived an hour late,
“Oh, f**k, I hope this isn’t going to take too long, I’ve got a speech to make on Capitol Hill in ten minutes.” he barked.
During that period, The Sunday Times was considered the best newspaper in the world, and even the Queen never kept the Times waiting. I bristled, “Do you realize I have just flown from London at your invitation?”
Knowing it was impossible to take a decent portrait of a man like Brzezinski in 10 minutes, I told my lighting crew, “Right, lads, break down all the lights — pack everything in the boxes, I think Mr. Brzezinski is going to be 10 minutes early for his speech.” I admit to being just that little bit worried when returning to the Time’s New York office without the pictures of Brzezinski, but bureau chief Bob Ducas — ever a gentleman, said, “You did quite right. Who do these buggers think they are?”