Saturday, 28 September 2013

'I was always nearby ready to photograph her and that suited us both': Photographer Jason Fraser opens up on his special relationship with Princess Diana

It is the defining history-changing moment in the controversial new film Diana: when celebrity photographer Jason Fraser agonises over whether to release the iconic pictures of the princess and Dodi Fayed kissing on his father Mohammed’s £15 million yacht Jonikal.
Fraser spreads the prints on the floor and discusses with the man who took them, Italian snapper Mario Brenna, what impact they are likely to have – for it was the first time since her divorce from Prince Charles that Diana had been seen in an intimate embrace with another man.

In the film, Fraser is portrayed by Daniel Pirrie.
And it was by chance that the real Fraser – who knows the full truth behind the pictures of Diana and Dodi’s tragic last days and is now telling it to the Mail for the first time – was visiting on set when the pivotal scene was being shot.
Reflection: Photographer Jason Fraser speaks for the first time about his working relationship with the late Princess Diana
Reflection: Photographer Jason Fraser speaks for the first time about his working relationship with the late Princess Diana

Says Fraser, ‘Pirrie was smiling and taking it lightly. So I instinctively pulled him
aside and told him: "Listen - this is not what it was really like." I had to describe the heavy significance of that exact moment. This was not about feeling happy about making lots of money with thoughts of "it’s a scoop". The over-riding feeling I had at that time was of great concern and fear that nothing would ever be the same again. I felt deeply uneasy at this responsibility.
‘The moment I had seen the pictures I  foresaw  the repercussions once they went worldwide and couldn’t shake off this sinking feeling that the Princess Diana bubble was about to burst.’      

Why, in that case, did Jason release the photographs at all?
The truth is that Jason, now 46, had been invited by Diana herself to photograph her holidaying with her lover Dodi in the last days before her death in Paris on August 31, 1997.
Big news: Jason was the first person to photograph Princes Diana with her then-boyfriend Dodi Fayed in summer 1997
Big news: Jason was the first person to photograph Princes Diana with her then-boyfriend Dodi Fayed in summer 1997

‘I wasn’t going to tell the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, or Daniel, the details of my private conversations with Diana. I was in no way an adviser, but I was on set out of curiosity. In fact it felt rather surreal.
‘They had reproduced my home exactly as it had been. There was even a replica of my collection of box cameras on the mantelpiece and my fountain pen and moleskin notepad on the desk.
‘It was like walking into a 1990s time warp, with 90s phones and 90s pre-digital cameras. Then a guy [Pirrie] came up to me and said, "Hi, I’m Jason Fraser". I told him, "No, I’m Jason Fraser". I  wanted to leave because I didn’t feel comfortable – it took me right back to a time and place that still unsettles me.’
Earlier that summer, Diana had made a puzzling public announcement. ‘You’ll be shocked at what I do next’, she said teasingly.
Starting out: A young Jason (far right) alongside Norman Parkinson outside the Hamiltons Gallery in 1983
Starting out: A young Jason (far right) alongside Norman Parkinson outside the Hamiltons Gallery in 1983

Says Fraser, ‘Like everyone else, I was left scratching my head. I had no idea what she was talking about – or that it would later involve me.’
In the film, Diana is seen phoning Jason and giving him a clue as to her whereabouts on the Jonikal,  in the full knowledge that he would be able to track her down and photograph her with Dodi. She drops  a tantalising clue about a fox’s mouth to hint at her location.
‘What really happened was that Diana called me before she left on holiday to say that she was going  with Dodi on a yacht. Although she’d been seen publicly with Dodi two weeks earlier, I didn’t know she was having a relationship with him. Nobody did.
‘She just gave me the name of the boat and told me that she would be somewhere in the Mediterranean - she didn’t have a clue whereabouts. Neither did I - it was a needle in a haystack which is why I asked my close friend Mario Brenna to find it because he is based in Monaco.
‘Mario, found the yacht near Cala di Volpe, Sardinia. The name translates as fox cove. So that was the hint she’d dropped. He took the pictures of them kissing from a distance, but he wouldn’t tell me what he had over the phone. He flew to London, came to my house and simply said: “You’re not going to believe this. You might want to sit down.”
‘When he showed me the prints, we spread them out over the kitchen floor and we sat in silence. We didn’t know what to do. We knew that Diana had wanted them to be taken. But we knew nothing would ever the same again. We didn’t want to change people’s image of her.’

Bearing in mind that it had been Diana’s wish, Jason finally decided to release the pictures of The Kiss and they caused a worldwide sensation. ‘Then she phoned me and asked me to go down to the Med and take more pictures of them myself, so I took over.’
Fateful night: Jason wasn't in Paris when Diana and Dodi were killed in a fatal car accident
Fateful night: Jason wasn't in Paris when Diana and Dodi were killed in a fatal car accident

She had been pleased with Mario’s snaps, but remarked that some of them were grainy – due to them being taken by a long lens.

From that moment on, she kept Fraser up to date about where she and Dodi could be seen. ‘I photographed Diana holidaying on the yacht and on jet skis during that summer right up until before she left for Paris with Dodi. I didn’t go to Paris. But otherwise I was always nearby, wherever she went, ready to capture these historic images and that suited us both.’
His final photographs of Diana, taken just a few days before her death, were  shots of the princess lying next to Dodi on the top deck of the yacht while moored off Portofino.

The scene is recreated in the movie by Naomi Watts, who plays Diana. She is also shown calling Jason to tell him her whereabouts for these shots. 
Recalls Jason: ‘She let me know she was going to be on a tender going out to the yacht so I could get the shots. I think overall, she was happy with all the pictures taken that summer’.
Top of the industry: Jason is one of biggest photographers in the business
Top of the industry: Jason is one of biggest photographers in the business

After a week of following Diana closely, keeping ahead, discreetly and secretively, in helicopters, power boats and sports cars, Jason was exhausted. 
‘The film is accurate when it shows how over 2,000 other photographers arrived once the story was out. I felt the whole thing was spinning out of control,’ says Jason who made in excess of £1 million from the Diana and Dodi photographs.
‘So I told Diana that I was going back to London as there was little else for me to do. She agreed and said she’d be back there too in a day or so. But Dodi convinced her to stop over in Paris and to return to London the next day instead.’ It was a decision that would change the course of history.

The film covers a period of two years, from 1995, when Diana is officially separated from Prince Charles, to her death. But it focuses solely on Diana’s secret and passionate love affair with Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani heart surgeon who Diana referred to as 'Mr Wonderful', played by Naveen Andrews in the movie.
Diana decided to end it in the summer of 1997, weeks before her death, because Dr Khan was unable to commit to marriage, saying he could not handle the public attention. However, the film suggests that Diana’s key motive for tipping off Jason to take photographs of her and Dodi on the yacht, were to make Khan jealous.
Says Jason, ‘I don’t know if that was her motive. I do know she tended to be attracted to men who were unavailable, as there were other examples, like the London art dealer Oliver Hoare, and Hasnat was one of them.
‘But I am pretty sure that Dodi was nothing more than a summer romance for Diana, although from what I saw he seemed to be making her happy. But as for them planning marriage, that’s baloney. 
‘I know that she had become desperate to get back to see her sons, William and Harry and by the weekend of August 30, when she had flown into Paris, she’d had enough - she was looking stressed and worn out.’
Over his 30-year career, Jason has specialised in getting intimate, ringside pictures of personalities, in particular, those others can’t get, thanks to his unparalleled direct access to the rich and famous, from celebrities to  world statesmen, including three British prime ministers, US presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev and Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi.
He’d been an enthusiastic snapper since the age of 12, and since he lived near Diana’s home at London’s Kensington Palace, he would often bump into her. In time, he became Diana’s most trusted photographer and they would meet in a secluded basement corner in a local Italian restaurant, Da Mario’s.
‘The first time I took a decent photo of her, was when she was coming out of Harvey Nichols’ department store when she was pregnant with Prince Harry. She didn’t pose but she walked up to me saying: “Are people really that interested in me?”’ recalls Jason.
Big screen: Naomi Watts as Diana and Haveen Andrews as Doctor Hasnat Khan in the movie Diana
Big screen: Naomi Watts as Diana and Haveen Andrews as Doctor Hasnat Khan in the movie Diana

‘I found her complex, sensitive and intense. She was extremely caring - the more desperate a person’s needs were, the more she came into her own.’

Jason was in Cannes photographing the Spice Girls when he heard the news that Diana and Dodi had died in a car crash on the last night of their nine-day holiday.. ‘I was devastated and for the next six months I didn’t want to work. That’s when I realised what a huge impact Diana had on mine and on so many people’s lives.'
Jason himself has now been diagnosed with a life-threatening auto-immune disease, Wegener's granulomatosis, an extreme form of lupus
‘Since her death, I’ve come to admire and understand her more. After taking those pictures, everything else seemed to pale into significance. What photographs could I ever take in the future that would hold a candle to those images?
‘The tragedy of Paris - ducking down in the back of a speeding car, a drunk driver, no seat belt, no police protection - is a far cry from the carefree Diana I had of the absolute privilege of capturing her in the previous weeks.
‘I think it’s ok to make this film now – who can say when is the right time?  You’d need to make eight feature films to do Diana’s life and achievements justice. I was the person who revealed their relationship. I don’t know whether that feels good or not, but I guess I will be remembered for it.

‘Everybody who ever met Diana, feel they own her memory in some way. I’m happier to let my images of her tell their own story. It was a huge decision to publish them and it wasn’t done lightly, even with her blessing, because I knew you’d never be able to put the genie back in the bottle.’
Diana, is released nationwide.
For more information about Wegener's granulomatosis visit

Daniel Pirrie on becoming Jason Fraser by  Lisa Sewards

Actor Daniel Pirrie, who stars in the new Diana movie, spent last summer living a James Bond lifestyle in order to get into his role as photographer, Jason Fraser.

‘Director Oliver Hirschbiegel explained that Jason leads a James Bond kind of life, wearing stylish clothes, jetting between glamorous locations, driving the nicest cars and staying in the most fabulous hotels,’ says Daniel, who most recently appeared in Downton Abbey playing the rogue Major Charles Bryant.
‘So I got to drive an Alfa Romeo Spider convertible, go to fancy hotels where I’d throw the porter my keys, along with a 200 franc note. The reason that Jason is an incredibly successful photographer is that he’s always one step ahead of the game.
Under the lens: Daniel Pirrie stars as the famous photographer
Under the lens: Daniel Pirrie stars as the famous photographer

‘My brief to creating Jason’s character in the film is that his glamorous lifestyle is a way of keeping separate from the rest of the pack of photographers, so for example, you never see him carrying his own cameras.
‘He has this ability of always being in the right place at the right time through his incredible contacts and network, He also has to be very careful and discreet throughout to keep ahead of everyone else.’
Daniel, who other television credits include BBC1‘s Jayne Eyre with Toby Stephens, spent a lot of time talking to photographers to understand how to use and assemble heavy camera lenses.
Critically, he also had to mimic Jason’s unique way of taking photographs. ‘Jason looks through the lens with his right eye but keeps his left eye open so he’s got peripheral vision. This is why his side of his face is very slightly droopy compared to the other side because he’s taught those muscles to totally relax when he’s shooting,’ says Daniel.
The key to his role as Jason, which is integral to the movie, was to create a sense of the media frenzy which resulted from his historic Diana and Dodi kiss photographs. ‘We wanted a sense of the viewers feeling they were having a front row audience into Diana’s life through Jason himself who was one of the few people who knew where she was and what she was doing that summer,’ says Daniel, who trained at LAMDA.
‘There’s a scene in the film where I’m shooting Naomi Watts as Diana from the nearby Hotel Splendido on the Portofino mainland while she’s on the yacht. Naomi was great to work with, a total pro, although we were doing lots of shots a mile apart so we had to run through our lines over walkie talkies which often went out of range.
‘I think the attention to detail in the film is superb and Naomi is convincing - in one scene, I stopped in my tracks because it was as if I was talking to Diana herself.’
But a brief meeting with the real Jason helped bring a sense of reality to his own role. ‘When I met Jason on set, albeit for a few minutes, it was invaluable because he explained the enormity of the moment before the kiss photographs are published. He was was very worried about the repercussions and changing the course of history, so I’ve tried to get this across; how he was deeply worried for Diana and how he saw it going off the rails as a result.’

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