July 7, 2005. I was looking forward to today. Yesterday had ended on a high. London had been nominated as the Olympic City for 2012. I had two excellent assignments today; the first was an 8.30am photocall at the Natural History Museum to photograph a new diamond exhibition. The second was an exclusive look at how the Police were monitoring the security for the G8 summit from their secret control centre.
There must have been around 20 photographers waiting to photograph the diamonds. We were queuing to photograph the world’s largest uncut diamond. I was waiting patiently, macro lens and lights in hand, for my turn. As I contemplated getting a coffee, my phone rang; it was the PA office, for whom I was working today. “There’s been an explosion at Aldgate East tube station….get there. They’re saying it’s a power surge”. I caught every one’s attention as I started to pack away my gear, as a few colleagues were waiting to borrow my macro lens! Slowly, the others began to get calls.
As I rushed outside, got in my car and started making my w
ay as quickly as traffic allowed. The phone rang again, “There’s been a second explosion at Edgware Road tube. Go there instead as you’re closer”. My heart sank. This was no longer an accident as originally thought. How can there be two explosions on the tube in the same morning. I knew it must be terrorism. I began to think of 9/11. The first plane could have been an accident, but as the second plane hit…..
I was very lucky. The traffic was a lot better than usual and we got to Edgware Road quickly. As we got to the scene, we were greeted by a lot of silence. The emergency services were all busy. No screaming of orders, nor the sound of sirens. I must commend them on their professionalism. Unfortunately, the Police had erected their cordons, and there was no way to get close to the tube station. I did a quick walk around the roads, and decided which would be the best. Luckily I had picked the correct road. Within ten minutes, the first passengers walked out and down the
road, closely followed by the walking wounded. The first sight that drew me was a lady being helped by a young man. Her face was burnt and she had a white face mask on. She was barefoot, and had blood on her legs. I felt bad for her. I had an instance of battling with my conscience, feeling slightly uneasy at taking her picture. My press training kicked in and my camera was raised. For the next five minutes, all I saw was through the viewfinder. Concentrating on the images which were presenting themselves. My only thoughts being which camera to use for each image. I had three bodies, one
with a 300mm, one with a 70-200mm and one with a 24-70. It was a very intense five minutes. So many injured. The thing that struck me the most though, was I only saw one person crying. Everyone else was composed; there was no screaming, no running. Everyone, including the lady with the burnt face, and even the crying lady, were very dignified. I saw a gentleman, bandaged on his neck and head, blood on his face and shirt, still carrying his newspaper (now covered in blood) as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. It was amazing. This was the British spirit; the stiff upper lip talked of by Sir Winston Churchill.
The wounded were taken to the Hilton Metropole Hotel. I decided to sneak inside and managed to stay for several minutes, taking pictures of the wounded waiting for treatment. It must have been the world’s poshest triage area. The hotel’s security soon noticed me, and I was asked to leave.
After another ten minutes or so, it was obvious all the pictures to be had were taken and I made my way to the nearest Starbucks to wire on their WiFi. Although all the mobile networks (cellphones) were down, WiFi was still working…thankfully! After wiring I returned to the scene. As nothing was going on, I contacted the office. They asked me to check out Kings Cross station. By now, we knew that there were at least four explosions; three on the tube, and one on a bus.
As I made my way, a friend contacted me saying that he had heard of someone who had been evacuated from Leicester Square tube, following another explosion. This was minutes ago. I called the office to let them know, and I made my way. The streets were clear. No cars, no buses, no people. Just silent emptiness.
I got there to find that there was no explosion; just that the station, along with all others in London were closed. I found out later that it was a controlled explosion by the Army on a suspect package.
I got to Kings Cross. Police cordons were well and truly up. There was no access. The explosions were below ground and there was nothing to photograph. Knowing how long this day was going to be, I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee.
I was then sent to Tavistock Square, where the bus had been bombed. I had high hopes of getting an image as this was in plain sight. As I got there and saw the hoards of frustrated media, I knew this wasn’t to be easy. Again, the Police with their cordon tape had been out and had covered everything within sight with blue and white tape. I attempted to get into a high rise hotel, only to be greeted rather rudely by two security men. I was rather chuffed as another four joined them. Obviously they thought two goons weren’t enough!
After another hour or so, I had to admit defeat; there was no way I could find an angle. I called the office and was told not to worry, as one of our photographers had managed to get a good shot. “Can you get to Downing Street for Blair in 20 minutes?”. I said that it was impossible! I was sent anyway!
It was for a picture of the PM arriving at number 10. I had missed it. I got another call, “Can you go to Buckingham Palace, the flag’s at half mast”. Back in the car, and off I went. This was the last image I took today. A very sad and symbolic way to end London’s darkest day. My city had been targeted by terrorists.