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04/22/2011

HRH Freelance Photographer? The only Royal to get a freelance cheque from the Toronto Star.

Steve Russell - Staff Photographer


Well, if Royal Wedding Photographer Hugo Burnand discovers he is overbooked on April 29 or finds a higher-profile wedding to shoot, Prince William and Kate Middleton need only look one branch up the family tree for a photographer.

The Toronto Star Photo Department recommends HRH Prince Andrew, a Toronto Star-published and almost-paid photographer.

In the Toronto Star photographic print archive sits a picture of a cheque made out for $40 to Prince Andrew.

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In a folder of images sits a photo of the cheque.

The picture, taken in the summer of 1983, that warranted cutting him that cheque sits in the archive as well -- a photo of a wet Toronto Star photographer Mike Slaughter.

The Falklands War had just ended and Toronto Star reporter Ross Howard had gotten a tip that Lakefield College School had invited Prince Andrew to accompany the senior class on their canoe trip on the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. Prince had attended the college for an exchange term in 1978.

The Star sent Howard, the environmental reporter, because he was familiar with the river, along with photographer Michael Slaughter to cover the trip.

The Star team got outfitted and flew up on a float plane to Virginia Falls on the river. That spot, according to Slaughter, was "spectacular, it's a huge waterfall where everyone camps for a few days before portaging around it." They figured this was the best place to wait.

Camp was set-up complete with a makeshift "Toronto Star Nahanni Bureau" sign for their tent. The team waited for the school trip to come in, and when they did, Slaughter and Howard walked down to the water to greet the group.

"Man, oh, man, I remember when they arrived and we went down and introduced ourselves to the headmaster (Terry Guest), who we became quite friendly with by the end of the thing, he was pissed that we were there. He threatened to have us removed," remembers Slaughter.

Slaughter and Howard wrote a letter to Headmaster Guest promising that they would not bother or photograph the Prince while they camped at the spot, but they wanted to photograph him when they left to do the portage. They agreed, but, "he (Headmaster Guest) was so upset that we were there, we thought the Mounties were going to come in a helicopter and get us out of there."

Slaughter says he never saw much of Prince Andrew until one day, as he was leaving the outhouse. Prince Andrew saw him and quipped, "So that's where you guys hang out." They ended up talking a little bit.

Although Slaughter had agreed not to photograph Prince Andrew, he carried his cameras with him all the time. Once, as the Prince and his group were preparing for a hike, Slaughter went down to the staging area.

"He was dressed up and they would have been the most fantastic photos, but I did not pick up my camera to photograph him, and I think that went a long way to later on where he let me photograph him pretty much doing anything," he says.

It was a small campsite, and Slaughter and the Prince ran into each other a few more times: "He and I sort of got along okay, we talked photography and flying [Slaughter has his pilot's license], and stuff like that."

Slaughter, armed with cameras but careful not to photograph them, hung out with the group. "It was really difficult, it was a real chance to take, because they might have protected him and just left," he says.

As it turned out, on the day they left, Slaughter got to photograph the Prince packing up.
"He and I were talking," Slaughter recalls, "he was taking pictures and at one point, I was down shooting a low angle of him and he reached down and tussled my hair. I was like, 'Oh great, I've been knighted.'"

What about the picture that earned the Prince the $40 freelance cheque?

"I went down to the water in my swimsuit and cameras; the group was swimming. I think he asked to look at my camera, it had one of those old 500mm mirror lens on it. I got pushed into the water and then he shot that out-of-focus picture of me getting out.

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Prince Andrew's picture of a wet and out of focus Mike Slaughter stepping out of the water. The black and white print is off of a colour slide. The green grease pencil makes show the cropping and sizing for the paper. 

"It wasn't his fault that it was out of focus, it was a 500mm lens and I was pretty close," laughs Slaughter.

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The picture as it ran in the paper on August 4, 1983, it is credited HRH Prince Andrew/Toronto Star.

Years later, Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, and the word was that they would spend part of their honeymoon in the Northwest Territories.

Slaughter and then-photo editor Brad Henderson made arrangements, booking canoes and supplies all under a different name.

"Brad had gone up earlier to set everything up," recalls Slaughter. "When I got off the plane in Yellowknife, Brad was waiting for me. He was not happy, he said that the RCMP had contacted our managing editor, they knew what we were going to do and told him in no uncertain terms that there would be hell to pay. So we just went out drinking instead."

"They knew my name and and Brad's name and knew that we were going to try to this again. Obviously, that the Toronto Star went in and ambushed him at the Nahanni River did not go unnoticed in the power halls somewhere," says Slaughter. "That was kind of cool."

A couple years later, Prince Andrew returned to Lakefield College, and Mike Slaughter was assigned to cover his visit. "The headmaster from that trip, who was a really nice guy, pointed to me in the ranks of all shooters and said to Prince Andrew, 'Oh, and look who is here.' Prince Andrew points at me and says, 'I know you.' I think I said, 'I know you too.' That was the last time I ever saw him."

The Star sent Prince Andrew a cheque for his photo. They also included some colour prints of the trip for him, and a letter from Mike Slaughter. "I wrote that if he ever got tired of being a helicopter pilot, or I might have said prince, you could always be a freelancer for the Toronto Star," he says.

The cheque was returned along with a letter saying Prince Andrew does not accept such payments, and a thanks for the prints.

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The letter addressed to Toronto Star editor Gary Lautens from Buckingham Palace that accompanied the returned cheque and thanking the paper for the prints. 

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The Front page portion of the story from August 4, 1983.

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The double truck of Mike Slaughter's pictures. Appologies for the poor quality from the microfiche. In the picture on the upper right, Slaughter was taking pictures of the group with their cameras. When he picked up his Prince Andrew ducked behind the group!

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The Star would run Prince Andrew's picture of Slaughter a second time when the cheque and letter arrived. We did not send him another cheque for running the picture again.

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The picture that ran on the front page August 4, 1983, most likely shot with the 500mm mirror lens that the Prince used to photograph him.

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Prince Andrew portages to get around Virginia Falls on the Nahanni.

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Prince Andrew in the bow seat paddles with Headmaster Terry Guest.

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A dry and in-focus Mike Slaughter fell in love with a Florida girl and moved to the Sunshine State, where he is currently the Director of Photography for the Sun-Sentinel community newspapers division.

Prince William and Kate have chosen society photographer Hugo Burnand, who also was the photographer for Prince Charles' and Camilla's wedding.

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What a trip down memory lane, a wet, somewhat slim, Mike Slaughter.

Too bad the photographer didn't know what lens to use, other than a 500.

It was quite a coup as I remember, as I was at the Toronto Sun back then. Mike Peake, the company canoeist would have loved the assignment.

Not to be picky, because I thought the story was great! But we spell it "cheque" in Canada.

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