David Bailey, photography and the East End
Snapper to the stars David Bailey is thinking hard for the first time in his interview with The Wharf, his face slightly scrunched.
"That's a different question," he says. Note "different" - not good or interesting, or even difficult, yet coming from Bailey any near praise, no matter how flippant or fleeting, is appreciated.
His assistant had warned me he wouldn't give me an easy ride.
"Obviously" was the first word out of my mouth and it was seized upon by the 74-year-old, famed for photographing the famous, the glamorous and the dangerous.
He mockingly - yet fairly - asked why I would start a question with such a word.
But he was finally on the back foot when asked which photo of the thousands he'd had published first came to mind when the exhibition on the East End - currently taking place at Compressor House by Royal Albert DLR - was proposed.
"A different question," he repeats and then nods to the main desk, behind which is a picture of two ladies, both laughing and each holding a drink.
"It's those two girls. They were stuck somewhere in my brain. That's in the Rio Club, a drinking bar. I remember distinctly the wallpaper. I didn't know them. I proposed to the one on the left but she turned me down."
Did you know her name? Through his boyish laughter he shakes his head.
"They're probably young you know? Only about 19 and 25. People had a much shorter shelf life in those days."
Recent press photos taken of Bailey, one of the East End's favourite sons, show a man stern and perhaps bitter with age.
Once you meet him you get the feeling he's chosen such a look for the camera. Because in real life he laughs, he jokes and he mocks. Not making for the most compliant interviewee but nevertheless an entertaining one.
He is a man whose passion is his art and he doesn't waste time thinking about subjects that don't entertain him.
The Olympics for example - a great world event that is shining a light on the area of his youth and encouraging billions of pounds of investment.
"I don't know about the Olympics," he says at the beginning of the interview, his gaze wandering around the room. "In life you make decisions about what you're interested in and I'm only interested in the arts really. Where would I fit the Olympics in that? I respect what they do and it's great what they do but it doesn't particularly interest me."
His mind wonders and he breaks off. Something has distracted him.
"I've put the wrong eye in that picture," he says, looking at the advert for the show. "I use my left eye and I've put my right eye in. That's a bit of a f***- up."
It's his metaphorical eye rather than the physical one he loves to talk about - his eye for detail - so we return to that. He points to a nearby wall, where there are two men captured on film.
"I didn't know them. They were just faces around the East End."
Bailey points to a close-up of a grey haired man smiling. "He's got a great face. He looks like a Medici banker."
And then glances at a photo of a club in which another photo appears on the wall - one of a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
"That place was firebombed 10 minutes after we left," said Bailey. "It was a gambling place owned by Reggie and Ronnie [Kray] in between Aldgate and Whitechapel."
He took photos of Reggie's first wedding although he says he never received money for it, nor did he ask and his relationship with the twins is well chronicled.
Bailey sees it as just part of his East End background. It's a background about which he appears blase yet it seems to have shaped so many of his characteristics and is the basis for so many of his stories.
"I had to like it," talking of his childhood in East Ham. "It's where I lived. You don't know any different. If you're born in a stable then you like stables.
"My mum was posh. My dad spoke Yiddish and rhyming slang but my mum thought that was rather common."
"She always said 'don't get a tattoo'. She wasn't against it artistically or morally, she said the police would always know who you were."
And he's looking off into the distance again, laughing that boyish giggle.