Day 4: Wednesday 3 November
I got tipped off about Princes Charles appearing at Kelvingrove Art Gallery for a car viewing, so I decided I may as well try my luck at the gates. Apparently it was a closed-off event, only for press on the list, but there was a slim chance I could ask for entry once there.
Getting to the first gate, camera slung around my neck to at least look the part, COP26 press pass on full display, security met me as I walked over. I told them I was with the media for Prince Charles’ event that day, and they directed me towards the other gate that enters from Kelvin Way. Arriving there, I braced myself for a little more in-depth quizzing, but apparently all they wanted to check was that my face matched my ID badge – not too much of a challenge.
"I braced myself for a little more in-depth quizzing, but apparently all they wanted to check was that my face matched my ID badge..."
Walking through the gates, it wasn’t as busy as I had expected. I knew the press list was closed off, allegedly, but I’d expected a pretty moderate group of cameras and reporters, given the Prince and the CEO of McLaren were both to be there. (And, later I found out, Leonardo DiCaprio and Stella McCartney.)
I walked up slowly, towards a monster of a car: a shock of orange, grossly-decorated, and completely offset by the Victorian architecture of the gallery behind it, I was surprised to find this was the McLaren Electric E model the Prince was here to see.
So I was in the right place, clearly, but I couldn’t spot any cameras at this point. There’s nothing worse than looking uncertain, so I continued over towards the car. Tucked around the corner, I saw a few where the car park met the front door of the museum. They were dressed more smartly than normal, maybe told that with a Prince in immediate presence, jeans wouldn’t cut it. There were maybe about eight people in total. Some had huge lenses on tripods and they squinted through them, shuffling them by millimetres to fix whatever they didn’t like about the shot.
Wandering over to an unoccupied gap in the line, I pretended to adjust my own camera as a means of keeping my head down. I had got in this far, but hadn’t really expected to. I’d not considered the humiliation of being found out and being police escorted from the premises, but at that point, I couldn’t get the mental image out of my head, already blushing in anticipation.
As I switched one of the buttons between the only two settings I used – automatic, and flash off – a tall woman in a dark coat and heels entered my line of sight. Carrying a register, I could see her scrutinising us, eyes searching for name badges, and then back to her sheet again. Oh shit.
"I switched one of the buttons between the only two settings I used – automatic, and flash off..."
She was leaning over at me. I turned the camera on and then off again, hoping she’d understand it’s best not to interrupt a technical expert in the depths of their craft. “And you are…?” she enquired, and I sensed her uncertainty. I hoped my grimace wasn’t too noticeable. “Lucy Dunn,” I smiled back at her, hoping my continued semi-distraction with the camera would cover the nerves.
“Ah - Lucy,” she said knowingly, looking down her list. “And who are you with again?”
“Em, The Glasgow Guardian." I wasn't sure whether it was better to emphasise “Glasgow” or “Guardian” in these circumstances. I was sure there were already people from The Guardian here – there must have been – and perhaps having “Glasgow” in our title would provide a little local authenticity. She paused. My stomach clenched.
“The Glasgow…” she nodded, pen touching paper, “…Guardian. Right. Thank you.” And she walked onto the next person. I exhaled. One of the photographers looked round at me, semi-laughing: "How on earth did you get in?!"
Prince Charles turned up almost exactly when he was supposed to – a welcome surprise given the unreliability of the United Nations at COP26. He was posh, and pleasant. He gazed at the hydrogen fuel cell for a while, and then at the car, taken around by McLaren’s CEO. He spoke to the driver and designer of the car, findings points to chuckle away and, I’m sure, orchestrating great photos.
I’ve never particularly considered going into photography in any sense; I know I don’t have the eye for it – my Instagram relies solely on story filters and staged pictures in dodgy lighting – and I’d much rather write, and get to talk to the subjects of whatever story is coming out. Over the course of the first couple of days, however, I began to understand why people did it. Besides the artistic aspect, it was fun being at the forefront of anything going on – literally. They got as close as they could, to the dismay of the many security and press officers that surrounded these famous faces, and it felt like a game of high-resolution Where’s Wally watching the cameramen constantly on the look-out for certain people, trying to predict where they would walk, and what they would do.
“Greta’s supposed to be in the West End today,” one of the photographers I’d met told me later that day in COP's media hub. “Somewhere called SW… SW3G?”
Greta and SWG3 made an unlikely, and slightly unsettling, match, but I remembered The New York Times had booked out the venue for most of the duration of COP. Was it worth heading along? Events were trickling off at COP anyway, and though she was appearing at the weekend marches, I doubted I’d get much a glimpse of her then. Plus, there was a very, very slim possibility she might answer some questions before the event, or that we’d even get into the event – priced at £400 per day – to see her speak, which would be really interesting.
Getting there, I saw two other photographers standing outside the venue. They weren’t the ones I recognised, but I wandered up anyway. “Are you here for Greta?” I asked. We made our introductions: one was from Reuters, and the other from AFP (Agene France-Presse). “What about you?” they asked. I told them The Glasgow Guardian – “local press,” I added.
Security wasn’t letting us into the event. And, in fairness, no wonder. If we had been able to get in without booking when proper attendees were being charged hundreds per day that would have been the real injustice. The two guys were frustrated.
“We need to get a contact at The New York Times,” one said. “Someone already in there who can pull some strings.” He looked at me. “Do you know anyone?”
“We need to get a contact at The New York Times,” one said. He looked at me. “Do you know anyone?”
I almost snorted. I started to laugh, but then realised he was serious. “Em…” I pulled out my phone, “Yeah, let me check. I might know someone.”
They watched me scroll through my phone. “Do you know anyone?” I asked, hoping to turn this attention off me as despite age and clear inexperience, they hadn’t seemed to gauge I wasn’t big-time. One shook his head, and the other sighed: “Only in their Paris office.”
I couldn't quite believe these two guys employed by international media outlets were relying on me to get them into a New York Times event to meet Greta Thunberg. This is bloody surreal, I thought. And then glanced back down at my phone. A memory had been jogged. We had been emailed about these events, but the press accreditation had closed before we had the chance to sign up. Just maybe… I wondered, clicking onto the email. I was right: the woman had left her number!
"I couldn't quite believe these two guys employed by international media outlets were relying on me to get them into a New York Times event to meet Greta Thunberg."
“So tell her there’s global media at the entrance, and we need to get access,” one of the guys urged. “Yeah,” another nodded, counting around the circle: “There’s only a couple of us, tell her the international press are outside.” There were more people around me now: a photographer from The Mirror and a journalist from Mail Online. And Getty were on their way, too. All significantly older, wiser, more experienced than me... and yet here I was, trying to sort them out.
A couple of negotiations later, and we weren’t allowed in - "typical New York Times", someone muttered - but my contact-producing had at least made me seem like I was supposed to be there. Another little bit of imposter syndrome crumbled away. We stood outside, hoping that Greta’s eco-ethics hadn’t been affected by Glasgow’s sub-zero temperatures and that she’d be walking down, not stuck behind the blacked-out windows of a car.
“She is walking,” one of the photographers confirmed a few minutes later, somehow producing her live location. Security started to look at us a bit shiftily. “Look, we’re not paparazzi,” one guy was explaining. “We just want a clean shot, and then we’re on our way.” I wonder if they get starstruck, I thought. It all seemed so clinical.
"I wonder if they get starstruck, I thought. It all seemed so clinical."
“She’s coming down on the right,” the photographer said. They got into position. I followed suit. We watched, and waited. I wondered if this was what nature photography felt like, lying in wait for some quick glimpse of an unsuspecting animal before it got scared away.
Slowly, over the hill, a small figure in dark jumper started to appear. There were three people with her, but she was walking separately from them all. She saw the photographers, and started to zig-zag the pavement. The years of fame had paid off: she tactically chose a lamppost in front of them to position herself in the line of, as she walked. Then she crossed the road, behind a large, parked truck; its driver was too busy unloading the contents to figure out what was going on.
One swore. Running as gently as they could manage, ever-conscious of security waiting to pounce, they moved in a pack around the other side, cameras snapping. She didn’t change her pace, just walked calmly towards the entrance. They must have got some good shots: there was almost no one else around.
I did wonder about it all, though. If she had chosen to walk to the venue, and to come to Scotland in the first place to lead protests, turn up to COP26, and speak at major events, she knew she was going to be on camera, and photographed, by both professionals and fans alike. And they were respectful, these guys. But it felt strange, too. She was young, and she wasn’t a politician. Publicity is good for the cause, but I wondered where the line gets drawn. Press photographers are definitely interesting people to be around, and you get to see a lot. Whilst they stand on firm legal ground though, the ethics of it still confuses me.
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