Jeremy Corbyn x NME

Jeremy Bernard Corbyn walked into the House of Commons today with the Opposition benches standing to their feet applauding him for an extraordinary election campaign that saw him win the biggest swing to Labour votes since Clement Attlee in 1945 & gain 29 seats to ensure the Tory party didn’t sit pretty with a majority any longer.  A man once vilified by his own party now walks with his shoulders back, head held high and a wry smile on his face to stand opposite the Conservative leader Theresa May.

I wasn’t a member of the Labour party in 2015 so I took no part in electing him as the leader the first time around but I took a liking to him straight away when I saw how passionate he was for fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, broken and forgotten.  He wasn’t in for an easy ride.  Only a year into being leader a motion of no confidence by his own MPs was installed.  He again had to stand to be leader of the Labour party.  This is when I got involved.  I didn’t like senior Labour MPs coming out to openly mock him when the Conservative government seemed to be growing in power every day and their austerity measures were destroying families/services up and down the country.  I was screaming “HE ISN’T YOUR ENEMY.  THEY ARE!” but alas the leadership contest went ahead.  I signed up to the Labour party, paid my membership fee and got my lovely little welcome pack through the post.  I was ready to fight for a politician that had stared down Margaret Thatcher to tell her that she was a “…disgrace to a civilised country!” before I was even born.

Me & my fiancée attended ‘Keep Corbyn’ rallies outside of Westminster where huge crowds gathered to watch Jeremy talk from on top of a firetruck (flanked by Dennis Skinner & Diane Abbott) to tell us that he wasn’t going anywhere and that he intended to lead his Labour party in government.  He inspired us all that day but I had doubts in the back of my mind.  A very small contingent of his MPs actually liked him.  I wasn’t sure how he would pull through.

24th September quickly came around and it was announced Jeremy Corbyn had won more than 60% of the vote (including mine) against Owen Smith.  Corbyn was leader of the Labour party again & ready to take the fight to the Conservative party.  Right?  No.

Six months of constant bashing from media outlets, bad showings in the PMQs & an ever more confident Tory party tearing into a broken Labour party Corbyn looked a little exhausted.  The opinion polls were absolutely dreadful for Labour - with some even showing a huge 20% gap between both parties.  Everybody in the Labour camp dreaded that May would call an election because we knew we’d get trounced.  

Lo and behold May called for a general election on April 18th.  She needed a strong mandate to push through a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ and to destroy the troublesome Labour party once and for all.  Polling day was set for June 8th.

History books will refer to this as the ‘defining turning point’.  

Corbyn broke free from his shackles and took his message to the streets of England, Scotland & Wales.  The Labour manifesto went down brilliantly with the electorate and Corbyn was pulling in crowds Oasis would’ve been proud of in the 90s.  I went to one of his rallies in Birmingham where thousands of people couldn’t get in but thankfully me & Sasha (my fiancée) managed to squeeze in.

“For the many!  Not the few” was chanted throughout the halls of the ICC.  The tide was turning.  People were warming to Corbyn and Labour’s policies.

A few weeks later along came a phone call I never thought I’d receive:  
“Are available tomorrow morning at 10am for a cover shoot?”
“Who is it?”
“Jeremy Corbyn”

I was meant to be heading to Southampton that night to shoot a festival the next day but after about 6 hours of frantic phone calls and emails I managed to get that covered so I could photograph Jeremy Corbyn for the cover of the NME.  Absolutely insane.  I quickly put together a little photographic reference sheet of great political figures that I wanted to nod towards.  It was my duty as a Labour member and photographer to make Corbyn come across as approachable, friendly but electable as possible.  No pressure.

I met my assistants and the rest of the NME team at a small café in east London.  I was told I would only have ten minutes with him so preparation was essential.  I shot a couple of test shots of my assistant to get the lighting right, moved all of the lighting just outside of the room (the video interview was going to happen first so the space needed to be clear) & waited for him to arrive.  We didn’t have to wait for long until he cooly got out of his car looking quite serious on the phone flanked by his team of media advisors.  As soon as the phone call ended his face lit up.  He shook everybody’s hand in the room and introduced himself to us.  The video interview went ahead and I waited in the wings taking a few candid shots of Mike, the editor of NME, interviewing Corbyn to help beef up the feature in the magazine.  Unfortunately for me the interview ran slightly over & now I only had five minutes with him.  The lights were quickly brought in, set up and I put him in place ready to shoot.  I said to him “I want you to come across exactly how I perceive you - friendly & approachable…” to which he replied with a smile on his face “Friendly & approachable?  If you read The Sun you’d have a very a different view of me!”.  I laughed and said “well it’s a good job I don’t read that rag then isn’t it?”.

I only had time for one set up so he sat across from me whilst I snapped away.  I asked for a slight smile whilst leaning on his hand which he happily obliged to.  Then I asked for a slightly more stern/mean look “maybe the look you’d give Theresa when you’re across from her in the Commons”, he laughed and said “like this?” and gave one of the most uncomfortable faces I had ever seen.  It didn’t come naturally to him, being mean spirited I mean.  So I got him back to his slight smile which he did with ease.  I looked on the back of my camera and knew I’d nailed the cover shot so I told him (to his media advisors delight) that we were finished after only three minutes of shooting.

Whilst I was packing down he turned to me and said “that’s a great beard by the way!” I thanked him whilst returning the compliment about his incredible beard in the 80s but mentioning “having a lot more head hair than me too, I’m going bald at 23!”.  I wished him luck, thanked him for all of his hard work and off he trotted into the distance.

The election was only a week away.  I had a new sense of hope.  The magazine front cover was published only a few days later which sported my favourite shot of the shoot with Corbyn looking friendly, approachable and electable.

The rest they say is history…and now Jeremy Corbyn walks into the House of Commons with his shoulders back, head held high and a wry smile on his face to stand opposite the weak & wobbly leadership of Conservative leader Theresa May.

Huge thank you to Simon & Mike at the NME for choosing me to shoot this incredible cover.  It was a truly huge moment so thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me to nail this.  Big love to my assistants Andy & Sasha - you guys always make my life easier.

Lastly, big up everybody that voted Labour!  This is just the start to topple a toxic Conservative government.  Be engaged - go to events, talk to your friends and talk to your family.  Let’s change the thinking in this country.  Let’s make this a country for the many, not the few.

Big love.

J x

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