Gary Barlow & the cast of The Girls

Often the first thing people ask me when I mention I do work for the Women’s Institute is whether I photograph people in the nude with strategically placed cakes. The organisation is far more than that of course, but the 2003 film Calendar Girls certainly heightened it’s popularity. Based on a true story, it centres around a WI group who pose for a nude calendar to raise funds for charity after the death of one of the lead characters husband. To date the group have raised over £3million for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.

Thanks to Gary Barlow and theatre director Tim Firth the story has yet another incarnation, this time as a West End musical called ‘The Girls’ which is showing at the Phoenix theatre.

I went along to photograph Gary with the central cast on stage after a matinee performance. Time was incredibly tight so that the stage could be turned around ready to start the evening performance later, so I had to quietly set up my lights backstage in almost pitch black darkness to the booming surround sound of the grand finale song. It was possibly the most intense set up circumstance I have ever been in, made yet more stressful by the fact that as soon as the song ended, backstage was flooded with people and I was urged to get on stage and do the shoot.

I had ten minutes, could have been seven, mainly spent in a permanent squat position against the iron curtain to try and use every centimetre of the stage floor so I could fit everybody in. Gary is a solid performer and knows exactly what to do in these situations so he happily moved around, even kneeling on the floor at one point so I could change the positioning, and of course the actresses were all used to the camera too. When the set up is stressful and time is ridiculously tight, it’s such a joy to have people who are unafraid of being photographed. The shoot ended, I manically packed down in equally as disorientating circumstances then went for a well earned wine at a sweet French wine bar round the corner with the writer.