I have had the extraordinary blessing of photographing some of the world’s most beautiful women. I first met Kelly in the late 70s in nightclub somewhere in Soho, leaning against a pillar gently swaying to the music.
We started talking and she said ‘Are you Clive Arrowsmith the photographer” and I said “Yes’ . After a long and animated conversation I managed to persuade her with my comedic antics to come back to my place to carry to on the conversation and to listen to some sounds.
We drove back to Kensington in my red Gordon Keeble through the rainy streets of London, which were virtually deserted in those days at that time of night. We talked and laughed so much, she was so warm and fun to be with. We exchanged ridiculous anecdotes about fashion and the crazy people we both knew. I passed out in a chair laughing and she fell asleep on the couch (but no hanky-panky, I hasten to add) we were just great instantaneous friends.
I woke up the next morning in the chair and it was quite late and Kelly was asleep on the couch. We then had a breakfast of coffee and cigarettes, in my kitchen I told her she had a great look and that we should take some photographs. She was not the traditional type of model with that angular look, she had more of an actress’s face and she was blessed with a fresh beauty like a perfect bloom. Sometimes you know you are looking at the face of a star, I felt like that with Kelly, Sienna Miller and Famke Janssen, who I also photographed early in their careers.
I said “I am starving, let’s go to lunch”, so we shot off to St Lorenzo’s which was my haunt at the time and that of ex Beatles, Rolling Stones, politicians, writers and anyone who was creative. The minute we walked into San Lorenzo all eyes were on Kelly. As soon as we sat down an array of rock stars, actors and characters came over to the table ostensibly to say ‘Hello’ to me but really to find out who she was. All the movie directors and producers had their eyes on Kelly and then she went on to have huge success in Hollywood and as a model. I went to the bar and phoned Willy Landels to tell him I had met this most amazing girl who we needed to shoot for Harpers.
Willy was the Art Director and Editor of Harpers and a vibrant Renaissance man who I had worked with on location in India, Venice and Urbino and numerous other locations. I had done lots of cover shoots for Harpers. I arranged for us to pop in and say hello after lunch and the minute he set eyes on Kelly he looked at me and said ‘Divine, let’s do a cover.” This again was in the days before anyone had to exchange multiple emails just to agree on the model, hair, make-up and stylist and the joys of email chains. A more spontaneous time where if you had established a great working relationship as we had you just got on with things.
There was an unspoken faith in each other and the work. There was a freedom of expressing yourself in a non-conformist way that now seems to have faded into a more commercial proposition where every detail is micro-managed. The way of working was different you would say ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea’ then ‘Oh, great, what is it?’ followed by ‘Yes, let’s do it.” There was a level and trust, excitement and fun in the work that meant it could also change. You could be spontaneous. When British Airways asked me to do a calendar campaign, I said “Let’s use Kelly.” and I suggested photographing her in the bath wearing a straw boater. They wanted something sensual but not vulgar. I’d showed them the Harper’s shots and they said, ‘Great let’s use her.” They were concerned that she might not want to do a nude shoot but I explained she would wear a swimsuit and have lots of bubbles in the bath.
Later I shot Kelly for Vogue in a white towelling dressing gown and wet hair and as she came out of the dressing room I said, ‘Don’t put any make up on you look fab just like that.”
The last time I shot Kelly was in the above photo, with the big mid 80s hair during her Weird Science promotional visit to the UK. Her life was then shaped by Hollywood and I gather things went a little bit Hotel California for her for a while. She left Hollywood to raise her children, so I am glad she got out if it. I was saddened to hear she had endured domestic abuse though. I spoke to her over the phone a few years ago and she did mention it to me. I was inspired to hear that she was doing so much to help other people heal from such difficult experiences too. As my teacher the Dalai Lama says, ‘My path is kindness’ and my own thoughts are, that kindness paves the way to happiness. Thank you, Kelly