Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he tells Jessica Barrett that it wasn't all fun and games

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The Independent Culture

The photographer Richard Young can be forgiven for being nonplussed about Kim Kardashian. "Who is she? I don't know anything about her. What does she do?" he questions, when he's asked if she has star quality. After all, when you've photographed the world's most iconic celebrities, from Jack Nicholson to Serge Gainsbourg and Marvin Gaye to Madonna, you have an eye for real talent.

Hackney-born Young's career spans nearly 40 years. His very first job was gatecrashing the party that Elizabeth Taylor had thrown for husband Richard Burton for his 50th birthday at The Dorchester in 1975. Speaking about one of his favourite images from his new book Nightclubbing, Young says: "It's one of Liz dancing with a guest. On the right hand side of the picture there are a lot of leaves: I was hiding behind a massive plant to try and get the pictures secretly. But she soon realised and came and told me she didn't know who I was and would I mind leaving. Which of course I did.

"But after those birthday pictures I got friendly with Liz, and I would get to photograph her whenever she was in London. I got some beautiful images of her over the years and we became good friends. Liz was one of my favourite people to photograph."

Young's career has been built on capturing these moments of showbiz magic at the most exclusive events – and picking up close friends such as Freddie Mercury and George Harrison along the way. He says that he's only ever felt starstruck once in his life. "It was Joni Mitchell. She really fazed me," he admits. "I never got fazed by the big rock stars and movie stars. But it was one particular year at the Vanity Fair Oscar's party, 2004 I think. I went over and said 'Hi' and got the picture, and I was thrilled."

Nightclubbing was chosen for the title of Young's fourth book because, he says, he wanted it to be all about dancing. "All of them are caught in a moment – it's a very real expression of yourself and you're not focusing on the camera. I've got an amazing sequence of Claudia Schiffer dancing at a Gianni Versace party in the 1990s at the Ritz in Paris," he says, though it's not all models and glamour. "I've also got Grayson Perry going wild in his full regalia," he adds, laughing.

His friend Jo Wood, the ex-wife of Rolling Stone Ronnie, who has known him for 25 years, explains why it is Young who gets the shots that others cannot. "He makes you feel special," she says. "You feel safe with Richard, you see him coming and you know he'll get the best picture. I love him."

Having worked with such a list of stars, Young is as well placed as any to judge whether he thinks celebrities these days can match the star quality of someone such as Sophia Loren.

One of Young's close friends, the interior designer Kelly Hoppen, agrees that Young definitely has an eye for the real stars: "Richard once said to me, celebrity has become so manufactured these days. You used to be able to eavesdrop on a moment, but now it all seems much more false. Richard cuts through that."

While he's not aware of Kim Kardashian's oeuvre, there are others whom he holds in high regard. "Sienna Miller, Keira Knightley, Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie… they're all very talented," he says pointedly.

It must be a lonely life, always watching the fun from the sidelines as an outsider. Young, 67, agrees, "Over the past 40 years I've sacrificed a lot. I didn't have any friends, you sacrifice your whole social life. It was a real nightmare for 38 years but for the past few I've let myself have a life. I get invited to events as a guest now – I don't have to bring my camera. Speaking to these people I've been photographing for years for more than two minutes. It's great."

'Nightclubbing' by Richard Young (Richard Young Photographic), £70

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