“I met David Hockney in 1966, at a University of California summer school where he was my drawing professor. I was 18 and he was a decade my senior. We fell in love and moved to London when I was 20. Before we left California, my father, who was into photography, gave me my first camera.
In this shot, taken in 1970, Cecil Beaton was having a break after taking pictures of David and me in the conservatory of his house in Wiltshire. He and David were telling jokes and bantering as I took their photo. David had become friends with Cecil when Cecil bought one of his very early paintings, but I got to know him as well. He was gossipy, bitchy and very witty – fun to be around but also a huge snob. As a little boy from California, I didn’t get a lot of his attention: as far as Cecil was concerned, if you were working class, you had to be famous.
We went to stay at Cecil’s quite regularly. People would come for dinner, or we would just read and walk in the garden. Cecil and I never discussed photography, but he did let me look through his albums, which dated back to the 1930s. He didn’t like being interrogated about them though; if I asked him about Greta Garbo [with whom he is said to have had an affair], he went completely silent.
There were a lot of parties back in those days. We were always having a good time. We used to dress up as dandies. Now, people talk of the huge significance of that era, but at the time it’s just your life. You don’t think of it in historical terms. Anyway, we thought the 1930s were much more glamorous; we loved old movies and art deco. Cecil’s generation, meanwhile, preferred the Edwardian period, so he dressed that way.
I like the way their poses contrast – they’re doing different things yet they somehow complement each other. It was accidental: I just happened to click at that millisecond and catch a fleeting rather joyous moment. Looking back today, I feel lucky to have known such wonderful people.”