Now arriving at gate ...

Elizabeth Taylor once starred in a film about Heathrow VIPs' lounge. The casting was perfect, for her dramatic arrivals and departures, husbands in tow, belong to the movie of her own life.

August 1953 Happy families with husband No 2, Michael Wilding

January 1957 With husband No 3, the film producer Mike Todd

June 1957 A lone appearance, but it doesn't last for very long earance

September 1960 With husband No. 4, balladeer Eddie Fisher

June 1961 Again with Fisher, once the husband of Debbie Reynolds

January 1966 With No. 5, Richard Burton - their first marriage

September 1970 Now the world's most famous married couple July 1971 Still with Burton, but a glam granny in go-go boots

April 1971 As ageing trendies of the Love Generation

November 1973 `Constant companion' Henry Wynberg was `in cars'

December 1973 Off her legs, but back with Burton, now No 6

November 1975 On its last legs - the second marriage, that is December 1976 With husband No 7, senator John Warner

March 1985 Comforted, between husbands, by her pet Peke

August 1986 With the actor and escort George Hamilton

April 1987 Slim and single again

February 1988 Another wheelchair, another mink

October 1991 Husband No. 8, Larry Fortensky, was `in construction'

Airports were glamorous once, back when air travel was just a dream for the Great Unwashed and stars adorned the heavens. Every day in the gossip columns and the (35,000 ft) high-society pages, a famous face appeared, pouting hello or waving goodbye as it made its pseudo-Royal progress to or from the VIP lounge - preternaturally aware that the airport was, if not a stage, then certainly a frame: a new and exciting site, exquisitely poised between public and private, splashy entrance and dramatic exit, with a celebrity etiquette all of its own.

No one fitted or fiddled with that frame better than Elizabeth Taylor. Long before third husband Mike Todd, died in their aeroplane, fatally christened The Lucky Liz, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World instinctively realised that the sky was the utter limit. Notorious are the transatlantic tales of Taylor hogging the only toilet for hours so that she could stride from the 747 freshly painted and looking fabulous, apparently impervious to the mortal malady of jet lag. True, she never went so far as Marilyn Monroe, who would slip into an exact but unwrinkled duplicate of her travelling outfit just before landing - but then Taylor had her violet eye beyond mere vanity and on the bigger picture.

As biographer Brenda Maddox notes in Who's Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor?, there was a time - the Michael Wilding marriage, actually - when, "photographs always seemed to show her clutching a baby as she got on and off planes". And when the cosy image ceased to play in the wake of her recreation as Scarlet Woman, Taylor cannily went for flamboyance.

In the early days, the British-born Taylor usually had a handy quote about "coming home", but words soon yielded to what the camera wanted and What Becomes A Legend Most, an on-going parade that was Taylor-made for the pop memory banks. Sunglasses and diamonds; wheelchairs and sympathy; Liz fat; Liz-Lite; Liz, recently made a grandmother, in white hot pants, tight top and go-go boots; Liz across the decades smiling adoringly at Eddie, Dick, George, Larry and sundry other consorts as if they were, indeed, The One and Only and not trinkets she'd treated herself to in Duty Free whilst travelling first class.

An airport's sterile surroundings impose a false, yet none-the-less illuminating, context. Heathrow provides narrative stability for an idol's quick changes and slow transformations, even if its exotic promise, like Taylor's, has faded with familiarity. It was destiny - or crass inevitability - when the two came together in 1963 for The VIPs, no one guessing that, in their different ways, both had already peaked. The era of movie-star glamour was over; Liz would sell less and less tickets at the box office as airlines sold more and more to her erstwhile audience. It's all there in Terence Rattigan's script: after waiting a tortuous 24 hours for the fog to lift, Taylor never sets a stiletto on a plane, but is whisked home instead by Richard Burton in the Rolls, plainly ill-at-ease with being grounded. Like the photographs reproduced here, some sort of metaphor, not only for The Way She Was but The Way We Were, too Celebrity Airports is an illuminated poster campaign by Dennis Stone, at BAA airports from August, held in conjunction with the `Airports' exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery, Great Newport St, London WC2, from 6 Sept

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