With all leave cancelled for the AFP photographers, the Pope’s visit to the UK was always going to be a pretty big deal. As the visit got closer, photographers began to compare notes, plans and tactics, with the rival agencies keeping their cards close to their chest. On receiving my accreditation, I found that I was on full Papal alert with passes for all of the main events of his visit, plus a few more bits and pieces.
Starting off up in Glasgow, the first day saw me trying to gain entry to the site for a preview picture only to find that I’d missed a guided tour by less than five minutes. Having been unaware of it up to that point, I tried to bluff my way in using various techniques with no luck until I eventually got through to the right man and got a few minutes in front of the stage, complete with gift-wrapped Jesus.
The following day was an early start for a long day with a group of us meeting at a nearby hotel before heading into Bellahouston Park for the main event. With the gates open, the pilgrims began to filter in and before long, the park was beginning to fill up. It almost had the feel of a concert with people buying merchandise and counterfeit souvenirs outside, while officially sanctioned burger vans lined the park fence. I guess at least the doughnuts were holy.
My favourite item from the catalogue of official giftware was the decidedly bling “tour shirt”, complete with central image of Pope Benedict XVI with his arms spread while in full Tupac-style font, the name Benedict fanned below him in gold. Pure Vatican Ghetto, baby.
Having a high population of Catholics, Glasgow was in top form for a bit of an old pray, particularly in the unseasonably sunny weather. Deck chairs were set up and the religious carnival began in earnest. For this first job, I was on foot patrol in the crowd so while my colleagues Paul Ellis and Andy Yates shot the Pope on long lenses during the Mass, I wandered around looking for features and quirky images.
The day was a little unrewarding until the very final part of the service where a plethora of Priests walked out into the crowd to give Communion, sheltered by yellow umbrellas held by school children. Running from the far side of the park, I managed to get a few minutes to play with the light before they all withdrew back to the stage.
The following morning, I jumped on a plane back to London City (the best airport in London, by far) and began the coverage of the visit to England’s capital. While he made official calls to various residences and meetings, I headed to Westminster Abbey ahead of the evening’s prayer service. Outside, media platforms had been erected while supporters mixed with demonstrators in a pen opposite the Abbey.
When he finally did show up, like many previous jobs where I’ve covered an arrival at the Abbey, the pictures proved to be exceedingly dull. Only a brief glimpse of the famous red shoes made my personal edit. Having two of my colleagues shouting “Sir! Over here, Sir!” as he passed, as if it were a film premiere, helped to pass the time though.
Day two of the London visit ended with a prayer service in Hyde Park. Having shot Mass at Westminster Cathedral in the morning, I scurried across town and into position without too much time to spare before the TV screens started to broadcast live footage of the Popemobile winding it’s way through the streets of Westminster, towards the park.
Even more than the Glasgow event, Hyde Park had the atmosphere of a festival with people dressed in costumes, Mexican waves, home-made placards and topless women on shoulders. Okay, maybe not the last bit.
When il Papa arrived, the well-tuned PR machine slipped into fifth gear with a perfectly placed “impromptu” stop in front of the photographers pen for a bit of a baby kissing session. Still, it was an experience to see it up close, only slightly marred by a newspaper cropping the frame below into the tight head shot of the kiss for it’s front page the following day. Nothing finer than an over-cropped image with your name on it. *cringe*
Not being a religious man myself, I can’t really comment on his words or actions but the crowds lapped up every word with huge cheers from the younger end of the audience often earning a wave from the man himself.
However, my lack of religious belief doesn’t stop me from appreciating the enjoyment and power that these events must have on those who do choose to believe. Being able to go and watch and listen to someone that you believe to be a direct link to God must feel pretty special. After the service was over, I mentioned this to a woman in the crowd with her in turn promising to pray that some day I get to experience religion. If you’re the gambling type, I wouldn’t put too much money on it happening just yet.
With me getting nowhere near the Pope in Glasgow and shooting around a huge pillar at Westminster Cathedral, this event at least got allowed me to get a few shots of him, even though I needed a 600mm f4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter on for some of the shots. Nothing like a close, personal portrait session, eh?
The final day of the Papal Visit 2010 saw me driving to Oscott College near Sutton Coldfield for a pool job as Pope Benedict spoke to trainee Priests and senior Clergy at their training college. Aside from the fact that I’d never even considered that Priests need to be trained, it allowed me to get a little closer before he fled the country.
Following his official visit, he posed for a photograph outside with the trainees in what scarily resembled a scene from Father Ted. Priests were cheering and wrestling each other to shake his hand, while others got pictures on their camera phones.
As he reached his limousine, ready to drive to the airport, the Priests broke into an impromptu chant in Italian that could almost have been from the football terraces. Rather than leap into his car, Pope B stopped and turned listening to this group of giddy clergy. Not speaking Italian, I can only describe it as sounding like they were singing, “There’s only one Pope Benny, One Pope Bennnny, There’s only one Pope Bennnny…”
With the Pope safely loaded onto his plane and out of the country it was time for a well-earned rest (which was coincidentally blogged by my other half here) With a schedule like he faced, I can see why he only comes this way every 20+ years.