Ray Bellisario, a photographic journalist who stalked the royal family for the best part of 20 years, protested until his recent death about the way that I, and other journalists, wrote about him.
Ray Bellisario followed the royal family and took unofficial photographs of them for more than 20 years, much to their annoyance. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images
In an email to me six years ago he said: “I regard you as a friend but I am profoundly offended by being labelled ‘paparazzo’. I want to be recognised for my real work as a charitable, concerned journalist who covers stories such as the Bhopal gas disaster, Aberfan … and famine in Africa and India.”
However, Ray, who has died aged 82, could never escape the tag he so disliked, nor could he shake off the notoriety he gained as the first British “pap”, documenting the activities of the royals in a period when newspaper photographers were expected to show due deference.
The Prince of Wales driving his Aston Martin in Kensington, London, in 1971. Photograph: Ray Bellisario/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Born the youngest of 13 children in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, to Italian immigrant parents, Giuseppe and Assunta, who sold ice cream from a handcart, he was 18, a fledging freelance photographer with the Fox Photos agency, when he happened to come across the Queen in 1955 sheltering under an umbrella on the rain-soaked streets of Truro in Cornwall.
Royal aides regarded his picture, a charming portrait of the young monarch, as unauthorised and intrusive. It proved to be the opening shot in a long battle between the determined Bellisario and the palace. He went on to obtain candid photographs of the Queen and her supposedly estranged uncle, the former King Edward VIII, of Princess Margaret in a bathing suit, Princess Anne falling off her horse and Prince Charles water skiing in 1970 while sitting on a chair balanced on a table top.
The Queen taking photographs at a horse show at Windsor in 1973. Photograph: Ray Bellisario/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Several members of the royal family did not attempt to conceal their dislike for him, none more so than Prince Philip, who was reputed to have asked the Queen if the troublesome photographer could be sent to the Tower of London, to which the Queen supposedly replied: “Not any longer, dear.”
After Bellisario’s book, To Tread on Royal Toes, was published in 1972, he cheekily sent a leather-bound copy to the Queen “from a devoted and loyal photographer”, although as a socialist and republican he was not at all loyal. The book was returned with a wonderfully sniffy note from the Queen’s private secretary, which said: “Her Majesty does not accept the book and it is therefore being returned herewith.”
Prince Andrew at the Badminton horse trials in 1969. Photograph: Ray Bellisario/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Bellisario did not confine himself to images of the royal family. Among thousands of photographs in his archive, which was sold off to raise money for charity five years ago, were shots of Winston Churchill, the Kennedy family, Sophia Loren and a delightful set of portraits of Brigitte Bardot in a London pub in 1968.
After turning his back on the royals in 1975, he covered the conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Western Sahara and the Nigerian civil war. He also made regular trips to Cuba to teach journalism at the University of Havana. His activities were severely restricted after 1990, when he used a wheelchair because of a spinal condition, and he then became a doughty fighter for disability rights.
He is survived by three children and eight grandchildren.