Living the dream

December 1, 2016

Living the dream

Boasting portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Michael Parkinson, Robert Mugabe and Ewan McGregor, and jet setting around the world to capture the perfect travel destination, Phill Jackson has a portfolio most photographers would dream about. Here, he reflects on his 20-year career behind the lens.

“I photographed Prince Philip so many times he just shouted at me every time. The Queen was always very nice, but she wouldn’t give you anything – you might see her three days in a row and she’d never give you anything, you were still one of the muppets with the camera.”

As Phill Jackson spins stories about encounters with the royal family and A-list celebrities, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else. But hailing from a poor, working class family in north London, being a high flying photographer would never have seemed like a possibility.

Phill left school at 16, which he says was common in the UK at that time, and went on to complete a three-year carpentry apprenticeship. But with no work available thanks to the recession, during which time Margaret Thatcher was in power, 19-year-old Phill spent a year backpacking the globe.

“When I came back, there was still no work, but Maggie Thatcher was giving all of the working class the opportunity to go to university. I’d just come from travelling with a camera, so I thought I’d try and get into a university with my portfolio, and I did. I came from quite a poor family. There were seven of us in a three bedroom council house with one toilet, one bathroom, no shower, so to be given a full grant to go and study away from home was a great opportunity.”

Upon finishing uni, Phill began looking for a job as a photographer, which was pretty slim pickings in those days – the only options were medical photography, cruise ship photography or police photography.


“I got a job as a Met Police photographer and I’d go in of a morning and log on and my jobs would come up, quite commonly it was stabbings, shootings, murders, rapes, all the really nasty stuff. After three years it was loading up a bit too much, it was really nasty crime day in, day out.”

Phill left the police force and took up a job with a commercial agency, where he stayed for another three years.

“I went from photographing a murder on the Friday, starting at the agency on the Monday and I was photographing for a travel destination in Europe on the Tuesday.

“And I remember one day, I flew in in the morning from South Africa into Heathrow, and flew out of Gatwick to Florida that afternoon. It was brilliant.”

Having been commissioned in every continent except Antarctica, Phill says his bucket list dream would be to capture the pristine white landscapes – a stark contrast to the overcast urban setting he was used to in London, and the bright, sunny beach days he’s grown accustomed to since moving to Noosa nine years ago with his wife and two children. Now a highly sought after commercial and portrait photographer, Phill’s approach remains the same.

“It’s nice to be able to give someone an image where they really see themselves.” he says.


Turning each page of Phill’s portfolio, I begin to wonder what it’s like to have an insight into the lives of the world’s elite.

“The Lord Chancellor at the time was a guy called Charles Faulkner, he was the head of the whole judicial system in the UK and I photographed him when it became the Royal Courts of Justice. The Queen was there and I’m photographing her coming in and he stopped and patted me on the shoulder, with this huge entourage of really senior people and royals behind him. So you do get some who are quite nice.

“Then on the other hand, there was the time I photographed Robert Mugabe. I knew he was a nasty character and I struggled with my conscience to photograph him, if I had my time again I wouldn’t do it. I photographed him in west London, where they were expecting us, the journalist was there doing her thing I was taking portraits, and as he got up to leave, his security barged myself and the journalist out of the way.”

Phill lets out a laugh as he leans back in his chair in his studio in Maroochydore and shakes his head, reminiscing about his former high flying self, but now with his feet firmly on the ground, Phill is turning his focus to capturing the raw, real and honest among us – those a little more down to earth.

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