Photographer David Levenson: Me and the Queen, our 25 seconds, the untold story…

H M Queen Elizabeth poses for a portrait in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in London on March7, 2006. © 2006 David Levenson for TIME.

Editorial photographer David Levenson posted this series of images and the story behind them on his Instagram feed – here he has allowed the PPHP to publish it for the record.

Back in 2006 I had an assignment for TIME magazine. I was given 25 seconds with the Queen to shoot a portrait. At night. No lighting set up allowed. In a room full of mirrors…. and then her family walked in….

H M Queen Elizabeth poses for a portrait in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in London on March7, 2006. © 2006 David Levenson for TIME.

Me and the Queen. Our 25 seconds, the untold story… here is the portrait I shot  – above-  and the story behind it…
TIME in London called me up to do an assignment, the brief of which was “we have a pass for you to do the Queen with Brazil’s President in Buckingham Palace. Probably as they walk past you. Shoot something different- go wide…” I turn up, to find that I am the only photographer, which I thought a bit odd. I was led through the Palace by a PR to an ornate room of gold and mirrors. Right she says, the Queen will come in and pose for forty seconds… My blank, startled expression said it all… You are shooting for the cover of TIME aren’t you?, she said. The reporter from TIME had unbeknownst to me and the picture desk made the request, had it granted, but just said, send a photographer… In a dark room at night, all I had was a little Canon flashgun, that was on the blink… A little old lady wandered in with her handbag. Your Majesty, could you stand in the centre of this carpet, I asked. First test flash bounced straight back at me, from the many mirrors. I bent my knees. “Oh you photographers are funny” said the Queen, mimicking my bending body. Twenty seconds said the PR… I shot again, and waited for the flash to slowly recharge… Four frames on a 21mm and I stepped back on to someones toes. Princess Anne… If looks could kill… I meekly apologised. I then realised that all the rest of the Royal Family was walking in, gin and tonics in hands. I swivelled and fired off a two more frames. Times up said the PR, and bundled me out the door… into a room heaving wall to wall with people. Any photographer will know the difficulty of manoeuvring through a crowd with cameras. I knocked into everybody, and every time I said sorry…. it was to Tony Blair or the Archbishop of Canterbury or some Lord or other. Surreal. Back outside I looked at the back of the camera. Half a dozen frames in a total of 25 seconds, start to finish. And the very next day – my flashgun blew up….

• David is a on the PPHP team