Politicians live and die by their public image, which makes this selection of previously unpublished photographs from their personal lives all the more revealing.
Taken at home or in their constituencies, these photographs show another side to high-profile politicians and previous Prime Ministers including Margaret Thatcher, Denis Healey, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Enoch Powell.
Shot by amateur photographer John Farrier on a Nikon F100, the black and white images use natural light to convey what he calls “little snapshots” of the politicians’ characters.
Having arranged to photograph Tory MPs Bob Dunn and Keith Joseph after meeting them at an event in Parliament in 1984, Farrier slowly managed to coax more and more back and frontbenchers to sit for him.
In an amateur photography career spanning 30 years, Farrier has shot more than 190 MPs and Lords, giving him a unique insight into their personalities away from the glare of Westminster.
He followed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on at least six constituency meetings and describes her as “very attentive and kind”. One portrait shows her with a plate in hand, queuing for food surrounded by other women - a rare sight for the first female PM whose entire cabinet was male.
“She was known to put the fear of God into people, but she had a lovely other side to her as well. After that photo was taken she said ‘John do you want a cup of tea?’ I loved the thought of the Prime Minister asking if I wanted some tea. She then got this gigantic urn and poured a cup for everyone,” says Farrier.
Thatcher was happy to let Farrier photograph her as he wished and did not dictate to him, unlike Jeffrey Archer, who had a clear vision on how he wanted to be shown in his portrait.
Taken shortly after he was elected, Archer’s photograph shows an ambitious young man looking up from a copy of The Daily Mail in front of Conservative campaign posters. On meeting Farrier, he told him: “You will photograph me like this.”
“He was really the cat who got the cream then. I suggested putting him in front of a picture of Maggie instead and he turned to me and said ‘I think you mean Margaret,’” says Farrier.
Farrier talks fondly of his sessions with each politician, and says he often left their homes feeling like he had formed “quick and intense” relationships with them in just two or three hours.
One of his favourite shoots was with former Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his wife Mary, at their Westminster flat, which he describes as “like visiting your uncle and aunt”.
Mary beckoned him into the corner where Wilson was smoking and writing his memoirs. “I sat there on a small stall next to Wilson and talked to Mary who was doing her crocheting, and she told me about her thimble collection,” he says.
Farrier chose to take Wilson’s portrait of him sitting in the chair smoking his pipe, and says Mary was keen for him to hurry up so the three of them could enjoy a cup of tea in their kitchen. “I was there for over two hours and we talked a lot of nothing, really,” he says.
Farrier says he was often taken aback at how normal the politicians seemed despite their huge public personas. “It was a bit like meeting your headmaster- quite daunting. But I was always offered tea just like anybody else. I was looking at Denis Healey’s personal photographs within an hour of meeting him. That guy’s a dreamboat,” he says.
He tried to photograph Tony Blair during his term in office but the opportunity fell through. Having retired from his career in public relations and advertising, he hopes he can now take his hobby more seriously and is due to photograph Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin soon.
Farrier is currently planning on photographing David Cameron. Will the current PM live up to his ‘family man’ image and be pictured at home in Oxfordshire? Farrier thinks not and is instead planning take his portrait in Downing Street, much in the same way as Cecil Beaton took Churchill’s.
“I think he’d want to look more like Churchill. I think he rather models himself on Churchill,” he says.
Voices from Westminster at The Strand Gallery runs from 3-13 July; www.proud.co.ukReuse content