Often commissioned by Corporate & Government Clients for Portrait Sittings. I’m no stranger to photographing headshots of prominent business, legal and political officials. Non of these sittings have been more unique than a photoshoot with Sir John Major, former Prime Minister of Great Britain.
I wrote to Sir John in 2016 to arrange the sitting and we decided to shoot in the Autumn of that year. However, Brexit came upon us and the sitting was postponed. Sir John, being a remain campaigner had to take time out. It wasn’t until July 2018, that the sitting could finally take place.
To prepare for my sitting, I began by studying Sir John’s portrait sitting with Yousuf Karsh, before watching his interviews and parliamentary debates on Youtube. I also read Sir John’s Autobiography to get a sense of his character and career as Prime Minister.
Preparation complete, my plan was to capture Sir John as the elder statesman, thoughtful and reflective. I found Major to be an extraordinary sitter. Speaking about his career, I was able to direct Sir John as he mediated on the past. One of my aims as a portraitist is to record the figures of our time, and this sitting certainly represents living history.
Major became Prime Minister after Thatcher’s reluctant resignation in November 1990. He presided over UK participation in the Gulf War in March 1991, and negotiated the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991. He went on to lead the Conservatives to a fourth consecutive electoral victory, winning the most votes in British electoral history with over 14,000,000 votes in the 1992 general election, albeit with a reduced majority in the House of Commons. Shortly after this, even though a staunch supporter of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), his government became responsible for British exit from the ERM after Black Wednesday on 16 September 1992. This event led to a loss of confidence in Conservative economic policies and Major was never able to achieve a lead in opinion polls again.
Despite the eventual revival of economic growth amongst other successes such as the beginnings of the Northern Ireland peace process, by the mid-1990s, the Conservative Party was embroiled in scandals involving various MPs (including cabinet ministers). Criticism of Major’s leadership reached such a pitch that he chose to resign as party leader in June 1995, challenging his critics to either back him or challenge him; he was duly challenged by John Redwood but was easily re-elected. By this time, the Labour Party had abandoned its socialist ideology and moved to the centre under the leadership of Tony Blair and won a large number of by-elections, eventually depriving Major’s government of a parliamentary majority in December 1996. Major went on to lose the 1997 general election five months later, in one of the largest electoral defeats since the Great Reform Act of 1832.