Shooting Celebrities: Northampton celebrity photographer reveals exclusive behind the scenes footage

Local photographer, Lou Boileau, shares his experience of taking powerful portraits of iconic celebrities including Hugh Bonneville, Rik Mayall and Keith Floyd

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 5:33 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 5:37 pm
John Thaw photographed by Lou Boileau.
John Thaw photographed by Lou Boileau.

Celebrity photographer Lou Boileau from Northampton has photographed many graphic and powerful portraits of some iconic celebrities from the world of entertainment - including actor and comedian Rik Mayall, actors John Thaw and Rob Brydon, actress Jane Asher and even our home grown writer Alan Moore.

He was recently approached to display some of his portraiture in the newly refurbished Northampton Museum and Art gallery. No stranger to museums, nine of his celebrity portraits hang in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Last year, he went to the home of actor Hugh Bonneville, who starred as Roald Dahl in the recent film “To Olivia” and in the hit TV series Downton Abbey.

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Hugh Bonneville photographed by Lou Boileau

Lou, recalling his visit, said: “I shot him outside his house and he was just great. I said to him I want to photograph you with different facial expressions: tearful, happy and sad and he just did it. He said, ‘I have never done that before for anybody.”

In March this year, Lou photographed iconic sailor, Sir Robin Knox Johnston CBE – the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world in 1968 - for a personal project entitled, 'British Icons'.

His stylised photographs stand out in contrast to the tsunami of airbrushed photoshopped images sweeping over Instagram and magazine covers these days.

Lou said: “I like to use the word ‘melancholy’ to describe my style. I Iike the quietness in the picture, the silence rather than always the full blown colourful shot.

Rik Mayall photographed by Lou Boileau

"There is very little retouching in my work. I try to keep it subdued and desaturated – it’s the feel I like.”

In a career spanning over 30 years, Lou has become known for capturing the character and essence of the celebrities he shoots.

One portraiture currently on display in Northampton museum is of a Dutch actor made up to play the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. The pockmarks in his face are revealed beneath his caked white make up.

Lou said: “That’s his character – that’s what lies beneath the mask and adds to atmosphere of the shot. It adds a rather creepy frightening feel to the picture.”

Keith Floyd photographed by Lou Boileau.

Another is of actor Rik Mayall from the cult TV series, “The Young Ones,” who holds two fingers up in an irreverent V sign.

Lou said: “Rick Mayall was fantastic to shoot. At the end of the shoot as I turned to go I said, 'thanks very much,' and he jokingly put his fingers up in the V sign and I took the shot. It was a hugely popular photograph.”

A seasoned professional, in the early days of his career, he encountered a few challenges to capturing the his subject’s character.

Lou, recalling one of these, said: “The most awkward moment I encountered was with actor Alan Bates, one of my first shoots as a photographer.

“Back then, I innocently asked Alan how he would like to be photographed and he went mad, he went crazy. He said, 'What the hell are you on about?' You come here to my home, you are the photographer, the producer, the director, the camera man, it’s down to you to do everything. It was a big lesson I learnt.”

Another interesting character Lou photographed was the late celebrity chef, Keith Floyd. He said: “I was to shoot him over two days in a boutique hotel in London. Everything that could have gone right went right and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.

"He should have been on GMTV in the morning but he had stayed up late that night in the bar drinking expensive nightcaps. The next morning, I was watching GMTV and the presenter said we can’t have Keith Floyd on that day - he has gone down with the flu.

"He came downstairs shortly after and later that day we were supposed to be shooting some fitness shots in Hyde Park. We got him a white track suit and a bike. As he was cycling through Hyde park, we noticed he had a drink in his hand.

“We got the shot done though and Keith was a great character."

The ultimate professional, the commercial and portrait photographer’s career went from strength to strength. He has undertaken assignments for the BBC, MacLaren Racing, Bloomsbury Publishing and Avon; held numerous photographic exhibitions; produced two books and pursued personal projects ranging from “Behind the Scenes in London theatres to his latest project, 'British Icons'.

In this project, he exploits his evident penchant for honest and powerful portraiture by capturing people who have achieved noteworthy achievements.

Lou said: “Post lockdown, I am busier than ever but I always find time for one on ones portraits. I like shooting people who have done noteworthy things."

Lou Boileau’s work is available as Ltd edition prints to purchase at https://www.louboileau.com/ and can be seen currently in The Northampton Museum and Art gallery.