HOME: NEWCASTLE UNDER LYME
DEREK Tamea sat and cried when he heard that TV presenter Jill Dando had been killed.
In the long list of famous faces he has photographed over the years the photo session with Jill had been one of the most memorable. And still to this day he gets emotional when he talks about it.
“She was just such an ordinary girl next door,” he tells me as we sit down to chat. “An extraordinary ordinary girl.
“I went to meet her at BBC Television Centre and was sat waiting in reception looking down at my camera when this flash of red appeared. It was Jill herself in a red dress coming to greet me herself rather than sending someone else to fetch me.
“We did some pictures in the TV studios and were laughing because one of the autocues nearly knocked me over. She was such a lovely person.
“I was driving between Sandbach and Nantwich when I heard she had died. I stopped the car and cried buckets.”
It is just one of many stories Derek has to tell of his long career as a photographer.
It was his father who inspired his interest in photography as he was a keen camera man himself and used to develop his own pictures in the kitchen with the black-out curtains up.
Derek was born in London in 1929, an only child. He went to grammar school and later completed two years’ National Service, mostly based in Austria, which he hated but admits it did him the world of good.
“Two things helped to shape me and my life. One was getting the cane in the fifth form at school for throwing a paper aeroplane just as the head teacher walked in the room. The other was National Service.
“My mother used to say I was a snotty- nosed grammar school boy as I was spoiled as an only child. When I came back from National Service I certainly wasn’t a snotty-nosed boy anymore. It did me the world of good.”
What he really wanted to do was be an actor but when he told his father the news was not received well.
“He said ‘over my dead body’,” laughs Derek. “It was the depression time and he wanted me to get a proper job.
“I can understand it now that I have children myself but back then I didn’t. To cut a long story short I ran away and joined a repertory company.
“I soon grew tired of it,though and returned home to face my father’s wrath.”
Derek got a job in marketing in the gas industry. It was a career that served him well, giving him plenty of experience and a nice living.
However, for Derek there was something more he wanted to do. He had become increasingly skilled as a photographer and he knew that he wanted to make a career out of it.
When the gas industry restructured in the 1970s he saw his moment.
“It was a case of carpe diem,” he explains. “Seize the day. I decided I would give it a go and that was that.”
By then he was working in the Midlands and took on a small shop in Market Drayton, Shropshire.
He photographed numerous weddings, which he admits were hard work.
Bread and butter work, however, was taking photographs of houses and interiors for estate agents.
“We were quite successful for a number of years. But it was a lot of hard work and I spent much of my time building it up.”
His big break came following a call from Attingham Park in Shrewsbury. The
estate was being handed over to the National Trust in the presence of Princess Alexandra, and Derek was asked to be the official photographer for the event.
Staff at Attingham Park had tried every photographer in the area but none had been available.
“I would have done it for free,” smiles Derek. “The photographers were turning it down as it was on a Saturday and they were keeping it free to see if any wedding bookings would come in.”
His acceptance of the job proved to play a pivotal role in his life as it led to a call from Buckingham Palace requesting him to cover a visit by the Queen to Tern Hill Barracks.
“I walked backwards in front of the Queen all day and thoroughly enjoyed it,” he recalls. “She was lovely.”
And suddenly he was in demand from celebrities and well-known faces from around the country.
He found himself with an ever increasing portfolio of pictures and so decided to show them to the public.
The exhibition was called Brief Encounters and toured Staffordshire for some time.
It featured such faces as actors Antony Hopkins and Nigel Hawthorne, politician Norman Tebbitt, who attended the same school as Derek, former PM’s wife Norma Major, author Jeffrey Archer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg.
One of the most enjoyable shoots was with former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.
“We did the formal pictures in the morning in his robes and then the more informal shots later on with his wife and dog. It was such an enjoyable day, certainly one of the best.
“Harry Secombe was also one of the most memorable. He was so ordinary and afterwards we sat and had tea and cake and put the world to rights.”
An idea from his young photography assistant inspired his next major exhibition around the time of the first woman priest being ordained. The assistant suggested looking into the subject of first women in more depth so Derek began doing some research into women who had achieved being the first at something.
It led to him photographing a variety of people, including the first woman speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd, the first woman in space Helen Sharman, gymnast Beth Tweddle and cricketer Rachel Heyhoe-Flint.
The exhibition, called Women in Focus, opened in London in 1998 with 150 photographs.
Since then, however, it has continued to grow and Derek has continually updated it with new photographs.
Derek was also involved with the BBC2 programme Country House, which went behind the scenes at Woburn Abbey.
Derek met his wife Wendy when he went into hospital with jaundice. He now has four children Mark, Heidi, Adam and Matthew and six grandchildren.
Derek retired from the business at the age of 65 and has continued adding to his exhibitions since - his work can be viewed at the Gatehouse Theatre and at the Ancient High House in August.
Music: Rackmaninov, classics and 1930s
Paper: The Telegraph
Holiday destination: Scotland
Food & drink: Sole Meuniere/gin and tonic
Book: The Bridges of Madison County
Pin-up: Jean Simmons
Love/hate: John Betjemen and Kipling poems/badly behaved children