The June sunshine beat down on me as I shuffled up the steps and into the foyer of The Queen Elizabeth Grandstand. It must have been thirty degrees in the sun and it felt even hotter under my suit, over which I was wearing a black photographers bib, which meant that I was absorbing even more heat. Racecourse etiquette required that I wore a tie and my shirt collar buttoned up at all times and as a consequence my body heat had no-where to escape from. I was steaming. I could only imagine how the horses felt. When I tried to adjust my white shirt under my suit jacket I found that it had stuck to my back. I checked my watch. It was five to four. I had to clear security in time in order to make it onto the roof for The Derby, which was at twenty past. I stood anxiously in the foyer, waiting my turn in the queue. There was no admittance into the building until it had been cleared by security. At last it was my turn. The security man behind the counter looked at me and said: ‘Can I see your wristband please, Sir?’ I nodded and raised my right hand, to reveal a gold coloured plastic wristband from underneath my shirtsleeve. Wearing it enabled me to photograph inside The Queen Elisabeth Grandstand foyer, on The Queen Elisabeth Lawn, and inside all restaurant and hospitality areas within the building. Saying nothing, he then scrutinised the laminated photo I D card that I was wearing around my neck, in order to check I was who it said I was. Apparently satisfied, he said:‘ Right, how can I help you?’ After I had finished explaining my purpose for being there, he directed me towards the ground floor elevator. He said: ’get out of the lift on the fourth floor. Leaving the elevator, you’ll find yourself in a small reception area, facing a row of tote counters. Turn left and then take the small staircase to the immediate right of the last corporate box. It’s Coolmore’s one, you can’t miss it: it’s got their sign on the door. Continue up two flights of stairs, passing the Royal Box on the fifth floor and continue up to the sixth. At the top of the staircase, security will ask to see your credentials again before allowing you access.’ Security, security, and more security. It hadn’t been like this yesterday on Oaks Day. I thanked him and headed immediately for the elevator. Fifteen minutes later, I made my way up the final flight of stairs that led out onto the roof. The photograph that I was up here to take wasn’t a difficult one to shoot; it was a simple panoramic picture using my 24mm lens. But it was proving to be a difficult shot to realize. As I climbed wearily up the final few steps, I looked up and noticed four people peering down towards me from a small landing that led out to my destination. They included an officious looking Epsom official sat at a small desk behind whom was stood a very large security guard. Two athletically built police officers; one male and one female, flanked the small table. They were armed with batons and handcuffs and one of them spoke quietly into a radio secured to the front of their jacket. Four pairs of eyes scrutinised me as I approached the desk. The Epsom official was looking down at a checklist of names in front of her and without looking up asked me bluntly for my name. I provided it. Then, looking up at me for the first time she added: ‘Your passport please, Mr Franklin.’ I reached into my camera bag, took out my passport and handed it to her. I also handed over a folded sheet of A4 paper, which I thought might help my cause. I said: ‘ this is a letter from Stephen Wallace, the racecourse manager. It’s addressed to the police, signed by him, explaining my reasons for requiring access to the roof. I’m a photographer, you see.’ She handed the letter to the policewoman to her left who read it. She then passed it to her male colleague who did the same. The policeman handed the letter back to me and grudgingly nodded his approval. Having satisfied their security requirements and been availed of my passport, at last I had clearance to walk out onto the Grandstand roof. I checked my watch again and saw that I had five minutes to spare before the big race. The late afternoon sun beat down on the ivory coloured open plan roof ahead of me. Thick blue, black, and yellow coloured cable coiled like giant snakes across the rooftop floor, disappearing into the doorway to a small room to my left, which had a sign hung up outside saying Media Centre. Four journalists shuffled around busily inside consulting a wall of TV monitors. I made my way across the rooftop anticipating in my minds eye the view that awaited me on the racecourse side. The roof ledge was just above waist height. I passed two giant antennae and a powerful looking satellite dish on my way. As I reached the rooftop far wall, I noticed out of the corner of my eye three men stood to my right, positioned a few meters apart from one another further along the roof ledge. The furthest from me appeared to be adjusting what looked like a camera tripod; the next man was frozen as still as a statue, a long lens camera hung around his neck. He was a study of concentration and was peering purposefully through a pair of powerful-looking binoculars. The third man, positioned nearest to me, was tending to the contents of a large bag, which lay open at his feet.Read More →
“And there I was thinking that I had a photo exclusive up here.”I returned my attention to the view and, reaching the ledge, looked out across The Downs. Wow, I said out loud, under my breath. I stood in awe as I took in the best racecourse view in all of England, possibly the world. The spectacular Epsom Downs unfolded beyond me as I watched 120,000 people swarm around like ants across the horizon and down below me. My eyes panned slowly across the inner racecourse enclosure from left to right. Epsom fairground was in full swing and besides that a giant patchwork quilt of thousands of colourful (occupied) picnic rugs. Along the home straight rail, I counted the rows of red open-topped double-decker buses, each one packed to the rafters with early summer revellers, and beyond them, over on the far side of the racecourse, I saw the Derby runners circling behind the starting stalls ahead of the big race. Immediately below me on the Grandstand side of the course, a sea of top-hatted men and elegantly dressed women swanned around on the immaculate Epsom Lawn, sipping champagne and chatting idly. Then directly, below me the Winners' Circle, a lush green carpet of grass enclosed by white racecourse railing opening at one end into a chute that led out onto the racecourse. I thought of some of the legendary Derby winners of the past who had been led proudly into the Winners' Circle in years gone by; Relko, The Derby winner in the year I was born; The Minstrel in 1975. The mighty Nashwan ten years later and Quest for Fame the year after that. It were as though all of London were here, gathered together on Epsom Downs, to witness and honour the 2005 winner. All I was waiting for now was for the Derby to get underway, for the field to swing around Tattenham Corner and gallop up the home straight towards the finishing line, above which I stood, clicking my camera shutter for all it was worth, capturing the moment. I wondered if it would be the favourite Motivator and Johnny Murtagh who would cross the line in first place? As I removed my camera from my rucksack, I caught the eye of the man stood nearest to me, just a couple of feet further along the roof ledge. I switched on my camera and took some test shots, a couple of panoramic pictures across the course. I checked the exposure on the digital display of my camera. I took the man for being a photographer like me. In a casual voice, by way of making conversation, I asked him:
“Who are you shooting for, mate?”Just like before, he was again squatted down on all fours tending to the contents of his bag. And upon closer inspection I realised that it wasn’t camera equipment that he was checking. Bloody hell. Everything suddenly made sense. Of course. The photo ID card, the rigorous security checks, the reason for my passport being held. No, It wasn’t camera equipment that he was tending to, it was an automatic machine gun. His eyes caught mine as I realised how darkly funny my casual question must have sounded to him. Who are you shooting for? With a glint in his eye, the man replied with a question of his own: ‘The woman in the sky blue hat, on the balcony one floor down below?’ I peered over the ledge, one floor down onto the balcony of The Royal Box. Sure enough, there was a woman wearing a sky blue hat, flanked by two very tall men. Body guards. It was The Queen. Of course. ‘Well’, the man continued ‘you could say that I’m shooting for her. If I’m required to, that is’. Unlike Royal Ascot, The Epsom Derby isn’t an official state visit for HRH The Queen; she attends because she wants to be there. The three men with me up on the roof weren’t photographers after all; they were either from MI5, or perhaps the anti-terrorist squad. I had been so side-tracked with getting my roof-top photograph that I had overlooked today’s royal visit. But then I smiled to myself as I realised that the situation I had found myself in was a win-win situation all-round. After all, HRH The Queen’s immediate well-being seemed to be in good hands and it looked as though I did have a photo exclusive after all. A loud voice suddenly boomed out over the racecourse tannoy: ‘Racing Epsom. The 2005 Derby is underway.’ A roar of excitement shot up from the huge crowd on Epsom Downs as the horses shot from the starting gates. I switched on my camera and composed myself in anticipation of my photocall. As the horses shot round Tattenham Corner and charged up the home straight, everything felt good in my world. All I had to do in order to prolong this feeling of well-being was to remember to ask for my passport back from security before leaving the roof.