Hard life of the royal snappers

Diana might get a tough time from the paparazzi. But she holds her own. By Peter Popham
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The Independent Online
All is quiet on the Chelsea Harbour front this morning, so it's a good moment for Mark Saunders, British paparazzo par excellence, to give me a tour of the battlefield where he and his pal Glenn Harvey have fought so hard and long for the greater glory of the yellow sheets of the world.

This is the Family Tree cafe, where the rigours of many a royal stake- out have been softened over a steaming capuccino. That's his large, new, lilac-coloured BMW parked outside, one of Mark's several quiet reminders of the job's rewards - others being the holidays in places like Mauritius, a whole month spent recklessly doing nothing (a gamble duly rewarded when not one picture of the Princess appeared while they were away); and a nice three-bedroom house in Windsor, the town where, 10 years ago, on the staff of the Slough and Windsor Express, Mark's fairy-tale began.

There outside the cafe's window, next to an abandoned, crumbling warehouse, are the grey inflated rubber roofs of the Chelsea Harbour Club's two indoor tennis courts. Diana has been coming here ever since her previous gym betrayed her by selling pictures of her working out ("making the man who took them more money than we've made in five years," Mark notes a little sourly).

The cityscape here makes Mark spit with indignation: "the obscene parallel of the richest of the rich at Chelsea Harbour with their Mercs and Rollers, and the poorest of the poor in the council estate alongside it," he foams. It's noticeable how conspicuous success in something squalid like taking undercover photos tends to stimulate the social indignation gland. But he's right, this is a strange corner of town: gasometers, ruined factories, out-and-out wasteland, Victorian worker terraces; and then, with the Harbour development, a sudden slice of Miami-on-Thames for a princess to stride in.

The front line at the Harbour Club has shifted little in the three years since Diana relinquished her police protection, giving the signal for battle to commence. It consists of the Harbour Club's car park, the roads that lead into it, and the walkway from the car park to the club's entrance. Most mornings at 8 o'clock sharp Diana arrives by car, parks, walks into the club, works out, makes up again, doesn't shower (the boys claim), goes back to the car, and drives home.

And the boys take her picture: from a window in an upstairs flat, perched on top of the club's perimeter wall, skulking in a parked car, or, with most success, from within a clump of bushes by the club's entrance.

Each time, the princess has eventually found them out. A sneak at the club told her of the upstairs flat from which they were snapping. "She stormed out of the club, crossed the road, and stood directly below the window," Mark writes in Dicing with Di, the paparazzi's tale which he has just published with Harvey. "We could hear her shouting, `You cowards, I know you are in there.'

"...Sheepishly I peered over the window ledge. Diana's angry face was staring up at me. Behind her a small group of children had gathered to watch the fun.

" `What are you doing?' she demanded.

" `Nothing,' I replied."

It was the same abject story when she realised she was being "hosed down", as they put it, from within a large clump of rhodedendrons.

" `Can you come here, please?"

"We stayed put.

" `I said, can you come here? I know you're in there.'

"Diana moved some bushes aside and, for one crazy moment, we honestly thought she was coming in...

" `You look pathetic,' she said. `How long is this going on for?...'

" `I don't know,' said Mark. `There's a lot of demand for pictures at the moment...' "

Diana's frequent eruptions at the paps led to her rapidly getting a new professional nickname, The Loon: "to be looned" meant to be confronted in the street by a raging Di. After enduring in acute embarrasment numerous lectures from her - "exactly like being told off by the dinner lady in the school playground," says Mark - Saunders and Harvey finally decided that the best, if not the most dignified, approach was simply to run away.

Martin Stenning wasn't to know that. A dispatch rider with a string of convictions for road rage offences, a thin, gawky, somewhat gauche-looking figure, Stenning blundered into part-time papping after he kept spotting Di on the streets of Kensington and Knightsbridge while he was out delivering documents. Equipped with a motorcycle, unlike the BMW-bound professionals, Stenning was able to nip through the traffic and keep close on the princess's tail. But it wasn't long before he learned how unwelcome his attentions were. And in Stenning's case, Diana took her looning to new extremes, on different occasions removing his ignition keys and his crash helmets to deter him (Stenning has published the pictures which prove it). And when the time came to deal an exemplary blow to the paps, it was new boy Stenning who got it in the neck, being served with an injunction, still in force, banning him from coming within 300 yards of the princess.

Stenning woke one day to find himself in the midst of his own 15 minutes of fame: branded a stalker and a weirdo. Early one morning he was lured out of his flat and beaten up by a thug, whose companion recorded the event on film.

Despite the difficult circumstances in which they work, the rhodedendrons and the looning, Saunders and Harvey's book is full of brilliant images of this extraordinary beauty, alongside others Diana would certainly sooner forget, such as the picture which fuelled the great cellulite controversy (remember that? Harvey's wife's beady eyes spotted it first). The book cruelly illustrates the desperate and hopeless desire of Diana's to have it both ways all the time: to be photographed at her radiant best when it suits her, and to be tactfully overlooked the rest of the time.

It can't be done: whether she's scratching her nose, bursting into tears, scowling up into the trees or sprinting for the exit, the camera loves her to bits. She's got a life sentence.

`Dicing with Di: The Amazing Adventures of Britain's Royal Chasers', Mark Saunders and Glenn Harvey, Blake Publishing, pounds 15.99.

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