Ten years ago and the New Year 2000 celebrations in London were being billed as the biggest ever fireworks display. Thousands of people were expected along the embankments of the River Thames from where the display would take place. Having already scouted along the Thames looking for a vantage point to photograph the “River of Fire”, I was offered an assignment from Time magazine. Now I could forget about standing around in the cold for hours as Time had had a room with a view!
The Picture Editor secured a position in Brettenham House, Time’s London office building. From a balcony on the seventh floor where the style magazine Wallpaper was produced we found a view over Waterloo Bridge. Here the River bends around on itself and we could see from from St Paul’s in the east to Westminster in the west. A few days before I prepared by shooting a few frames to get an idea of the scene and work out which lenses would be needed on the night. On Hogmanay I had the luxury of being able to wait in the warmth of the office. Millions of people had come into central London so moving around was going to be difficult. Occasional expeditions through the mass of people were made to photograph the big party – much of it happening underneath Waterloo bridge – and the throngs of people from my vantage on the balcony.
My agent at the time, Sygma, had arranged – at no doubt great expense – for a lab to remain open all night to process my and their other photographers’ films. A couple of rolls of the partying under the bridge were sent off early so they could
be scanned and transmitted to awaiting newspapers.
As the bells tolled in the New Year I started photographing the firework display. I set up two cameras on tripods and shot four rolls of film – around 140 pictures in 15 minutes. But it was the sixth frame on the first film everyone was raving about when I eventually returned to the Sygma office tramping across town on a carpet of broken champagne bottles.
That picture was used as a “double truck”, a double page spread in Time and also appeared as a double page in Hello! and was used by the Mail and Mail on Sunday newspapers. Other photographs from the night were used by the Observer.
A year later and the Sunday Times seemed to think it had all gone wrong. “It should have been a time of hope an renewal…” reads the headline going on to list a year of “farce and disaster” from the Concorde crash to child murder, from floods to the fuel shortages as reported on 11 September .
How could 2001 be any worst?