Royal Photographer Was Initially Told Not to Capture Queen Elizabeth's Arrival with Prince Andrew

Richard Pohle says he defied orders when he was the sole photographer inside Westminster Abbey for the Service of Thanksgiving honoring Prince Philip

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew. Photo: Richard Pohle/Getty

The photos of Queen Elizabeth's controversial arrival to a service honoring Prince Philip on the arm of disgraced son Prince Andrew nearly weren't taken.

The Times' Richard Pohle was the sole photographer inside Westminster Abbey on March 29 for the Service of Thanksgiving celebrating the life of Prince Philip, who died last year at age 99. Although it would mark the 95-year-old monarch's first public outing since a number of health setbacks, including testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this year, Pohle was informed by a Buckingham Palace press officer was he wouldn't be permitted to take pictures of the Queen until she took her seat.

"Naturally, I balked at the order," Pohle wrote in a recount of the event for The Times.

"To an outsider this may seem reasonable. 'What's the problem,' you may ask, 'the Queen should have some privacy in her advanced age.' I agree, but when the BBC is broadcasting the entire event to the world I think I should be able to take a picture as the only official photographer," he added. "How would she arrive? There was some speculation that she might arrive using a buggy or even a wheelchair. If I had no picture of that I would have the entire British media asking why not."

Service of Thanksgiving for Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew. RICHARD POHLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Then news emerged that it would be Prince Andrew escorting his mother into the service, just six weeks after he settled a sexual assault lawsuit with his accuser Virginia Giuffre.

"This changed everything," Pohle wrote. " 'I absolutely need to photograph this,' I said. The arrival of the Queen was now the major news event. I could see them wavering but they repeated that the no picture order 'came from the top' and that 'it wasn't up to them.' "

The photographer argued that BBC was filming the event for broadcast and he should be able to capture still photographs of an event that would be aired on TV, prompting a press officer to make a phone call and agreeing that he would be allowed to shoot the arrival.

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth. Richard Pohle - WPA Pool/Getty Images

But the drama of the event didn't end there. Pohle was positioned across from where the royal family members were seated, so when attendees stood for the Queen and Prince Andrew's arrival, he was unable to see them.

"Desperation dictated I do something quickly. As the choir started up I jumped off my footstool and moved quickly to the aisle between the rows of seats opposite where the Queen would walk," he recalled. "Suddenly moving from an official position while on a royal rota is the most cardinal of sins. I brushed past the press officer and could feel a hand reach out to try and stop me but I rushed past and crouched in the centre of the aisle."

When the clergy walking ahead of the mother and son turned at the end of the aisle, Pohle got the shot of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew that quickly circulated around the world.

"I knew it would be the main picture from the ceremony that the news outlets were looking for. I went back to my official position passing the frowning press officer and whispered an apology," he said.

Service of Thanksgiving for Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew. RICHARD POHLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Can't get enough of PEOPLE's Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!

Royal commentator Robert Jobson told PEOPLE there was uneasiness among senior members of the royal family about the Queen's decision to be escorted by Prince Andrew, "but she insisted."

"It shows she wholeheartedly loves and believes her son," Jobson, the author of Prince Philip's Century. "As she did when she made a statement about Camilla being Queen's Consort, many people will now accept the Queen's word and judgment."

Related Articles