Bill Wyman: 'Si si, I'm a rock star – but I'm a photographer too'

Bill Wyman took pictures and befriended artists such as Chagall when he wasn't playing

On "Si Si (Je suis un Rock Star)" Bill Wyman sings about picking up a Brazilian woman and taking her via Concorde to his south of France residence. But while spending the Seventies in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France, the Rolling Stone wasn't just using his exotic homestead to his advantage in the bedroom. He was also hanging with the artist Marc Chagall and learning about art.

"I knew nothing about art until I went to France," Wyman tells me. "But I met all these bloody great artists who are like gods – Chagall, César, Arman – and, although I was in awe of them they treated me as an equal. They thought I was an artist of music."

Wyman, who tells me he has a store of 20,000 photographs, is known as the Stones' "librarian" for his obsessive diary-keeping – of which the photography is an extension. He has been taking pictures since the age of 11, when his uncle gave him a Box Brownie camera. But it was his friendship with Chagall that really ignited Wyman's interest in fine art.

"I really do look at things. The average person walks along looking at the ground," he says. "But I don't do anything special, I just take the bloody picture."

After first being championed by his friend the photographer Terry O'Neill, Wyman has had over a dozen photography exhibitions. He is in London at the Rook & Raven Gallery to promote the latest, a "rather special" one for him, which includes "re-workings" of his snaps (from landscapes to moody shots of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall) by contemporary artists including Pam Glew and Wyman's friend Gerald Scarfe, the illustrator behind Pink Floyd's The Wall visuals.

During his time living in France Wyman was over at Chagall's house "all the time" and on one on occasion noticed a beautiful Picasso vase. "But that's a Picasso! How did you get this?" he cried. "I gave him one of mine, and Picasso gave me one of his. We swap," said Chagall. Wyman responded with: "But that's what I do with Eric Clapton! We swap new albums. I never thought real artists did things like that."

He was born William George Perks in 1936 later changing his name to Wyman by deed poll in tribute to a friend with whom he had served in the Royal Air Force. A bit older than the other Stones, he stepped in as their bassist in 1962 after Dick Taylor left, and was reportedly asked to join simply because he had his own amplifier. Wyman was the first of the Stones to break out on his own in 1993 after a 30-year stint in the band.

Since then he has had success with The Rhythm Kings, run his Sticky Fingers restaurants, become an accomplished archaeologist (even patenting his own brand of metal detector), written books… "My life is full," he says. "I work from morning to night just taking time out to go to the toilet, make a cup of tea and have my dinner."

At 76 his shaggy hair is fully grey and his bold eyebrows and angular face softened. Sitting in the gallery's chilly basement he moves closer to the small radiator and often cups his hands around a mug of tea for warmth. He is fresh from performing live with the Stones for the first time in 22 years at the band's 50th-birthday celebrations in December, an experience he describes as "short and sweet, I suppose you could say", having consisted of just two songs.

Talking of his "fantastic girls", three teenagers aged 18, 17 and 14, with his third wife Suzanne Accosta, his voice fills with pride. "[The 02 gig] was the first time they'd seen me play with the Stones, you know. They'd been to Stones shows before but never seen me on stage with them, so that was kind of nice. I did get some quite rousing applause when I went on."

Sadly Wyman is cut short by a rather overpowering PR who repeatedly vetoes any questions unrelated to the exhibition – which is tricky as the paintings are yet to be delivered.

Under the circumstances I refrain from asking Wyman about the Jimmy Savile scandal, but I'd have been keen to hear his view as a man who became notorious for his relationship with a minor.

His relationship with Mandy Smith began secretly when she was 13 and became sexual when she was 14, according to Smith. In an interview with The Observer in 2006 Wyman said: "I don't know [how it happened]. It's the magic of the moment, basically. It was 1984 when I met her. We got married in 1989. That was a disaster." They divorced in 1991 and Smith subsequently told the Daily Mail: "People aren't as protective of celebrities nowadays and if this had happened recently I think Bill would have ended up in prison."

It is hard to reconcile this, or indeed the Wyman reputed to have bedded a thousand women, with the likeable, domestically minded person in front of me. Is he happy? "I've never been happier," he says. "I'm a father and not a grandfather. At my age my three gorgeous daughters should be my grandchildren, shouldn't they? But they're my children. And I'm very fortunate since I can spend more time with them than I could have if I was younger because I would have been touring."

Bill Wyman-Reworked, Rook & Raven, London W1 (020 7323 0805) 21 February to 31 March

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test