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News > Lifestyle > A Life of Exploration

A Life of Exploration

Anthony Osmond-Evans (Sc 56-61) on a life well-lived
At school I was a keen sportsman, and this continued with Real Tennis, which I later learnt at Petworth. I was most fortunate to have a brilliant partner, John Ward, and we won the 1976 Manchester Invitation World Doubles.

In the 1980s, I had travelled round China, a country with which I had fallen in love whilst working for Johnnie Walker Whisky in Hong Kong in the 60s, when Sir David Trench (SH 29-33) was Governor. I greatly admired the artistic skills of the Chinese artisans in fine porcelain and woodcraft - steeped in Confucian culture.

Behind every successful person there is always that element of luck. In the summer of 1983, I rose early and looked out of my bedroom window in Guilin, Southern China. Soldiers were arriving at a stadium in a small football ground behind the hotel. A sombre tone and martial music prevailed. I knew something serious was happening.

Villagers were herded in, clearly traumatised. Twelve prisoners - placards hanging from their necks, were paraded in front of soldiers and officials. Later, I discovered the prisoners had been accused of serious crimes - from GBH to murder.

Justice was dealt with summarily and swiftly. Heads bowed, the guilty were marched away and shot. The cost of the bullet - $1 - was then charged to each family. Macabre!

By good fortune and well-hidden, I took some great photographs with a telephoto lens.

You create your own luck. Gary Player famously said: “It’s funny, the more I practise the luckier I become.”

Ten thousand people were similarly executed in 1983 throughout China (0.1% of the nation). Clearly, the Politburo brooked no opposition and the peasants were kept in line. 

(China had annexed Tibet, with its gentle Buddhist Religion. In the Northwest region, 1 million of the Uighurs (Muslim) are today in camps for 'correctional training'. In 2032, Hong Kong - with its British law and financial centre - will be fully integrated into China).

When I returned to London - desperately guarding my precious films through customs - I prayed the X-ray machines had not damaged them. I rang my good friend Brian Nicholson, managing director of the Observer to tell him I had photographs of these executions. 

He said: “F***ing Osmond-Evans. Trust you to capture these, when we are desperate for photos for a feature (Sir) Donald Trelford is running in next month's supplement! Will you accept £5,000 for the world rights?” My photo did come out all over the world - Mort du Matin in Paris Match for instance.

With all that money, I went straight off to buy the latest Nikon equipment. My life as a photographer had really started in earnest. 

During the 80s, I successfully founded Good Connections, which introduced Heads of Industry to major Service Companies.

In 1989, one major client was Sir John Baker, the head of National Power. Over cricket at Lords or during the dinner interval at Glyndebourne, I showed him the best photographs from my world travels. This led to my photographic book, National Lights, to showcase his new public company.

Lit up buildings are the best visible manifestation of electricity, but I nearly got arrested one night when a police car drew up on the A6 as I was photographing RAF Fylingdales (the then giant listening-in domes). I said I was quite legitimately outside the security perimeter, but It didn’t help when I also mentioned that I had had a private dinner with the Foreign Secretary the previous night! The sergeant grabbed his walkie-talkie and told his superior “Chief, we've a right one ‘ere - says he had dinner with the foreign thingy last night.” After much bureaucratic unravelling, I was allowed to continue.

From then on, my publishing career never looked back. In 1995 I published China The Beautiful, with a Foreword by Sir Edward Heath - much respected by the Chinese government.

The book was the result of a 6-year adventure in China, starting from Harbin in the North with its ice sculptures (minus 40 in Winter). My camera battery died after each shot and I had to warm it up in my ‘crown jewels”. I then travelled the Silk Route to Samarkand, to the sub tropics in Southern China and to Lhasa at 12,000 ft in Tibet.

Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd told me: “The awe-inspiring photograph of the Potala Palace set against the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas makes me realise how insignificant our own lives are”.*

Through Douglas, I arranged for Sir Edward Heath to present my book to the Government Heads at an Emperors Banquet, which I hosted in Beijing. 

Next, I published India The Beautiful in 1997 to celebrate 50 years of Independence from the British Raj.

In order to obtain Sponsors for all my books - mainly from industrial giants - I needed to meet heads of industry. In Bombay (nowadays called Mumbai) I stayed at the best hotel, The Taj Mahal. I had deliberately booked on the fourth floor of the old colonial wing, as did those leaders I had in mind. I took the lift to breakfast at 7 o’clock. Leaders are frequently early risers. 

In those days, suits and Old Boy ties (often easily recognisable) were de rigeur: OT, Old Etonian, The Guards, MCC, Hawks Club. These ties gave me my opening gambit “I see you are an Old...”

For an hour I never left the lift. My ploy had worked. Thirty 'Breakfasteers’ invited me to London. Ten were to become Sponsors of my new book.

Whilst in Calcutta (now Kolkata), I visited Mother Teresa by appointment, but she politely said she didn’t want a photograph that day. I said that was ok, and we sat on her veranda whilst for an hour she held my hands between her own tiny gnarled hands. Probably the most peaceful hour of my life in a turbulent world.

On leaving, I presented her with a £1,000 cheque. She said: "Now, about that photograph, Dear!” Alas, the sun had dropped leaving her in shadow. If I went down to my driver for the flash, I would lose the moment. So I just raised my camera, held on grimly and prayed. I got the picture.

I then published, at the Millennium, a book on Britain with an elegant foreword by Douglas Hurd. Prince Charles wrote to me to say how much he had admired my book about the country he loved.

In 2012, I was commissioned by Boris Johnson to publish a coffee-table book, The Spirit of London, in honour of the London Olympics and to celebrate The Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Boris wrote the foreword and presented it to every Olympian. The book shows an OT dinner at Skinners Hall and includes Gibbo. Forty-thousand books were sold.

Previously this millennium, I had published three books, The Magic of Monaco, which was commissioned by HSH Prince Albert; The World’s Finest Spas, commissioned by Rolex; and 50 Remarkable Years, with a foreword by Chris Patten and an article by Frederick Forsyth (PS 52-55), which celebrated HM The Queen’s Golden Anniversary.

I have just completed the photography for the 8th book, The Rider’s Balance, by my lovely partner, Lady Sylvia Loch. Sylvia is, arguably, the world's leading authority on Classical Dressage and has that special gift of brilliantly conveying her teachings through her books and demonstrations.

This year, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon. My club, the Explorers Club in New York, is celebrating this amazing achievement at our annual dinner next week. Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man on the moon, is one of our most honoured members - as is Elon Musk, whose company, SpaceX, has just docked crew Dragon with the International Space Station. Sir Edmund Hillary has been our late President.

Our annual dinner starts with a buffet of barbecued crocodile, green Iguana, goat eyeballs, tarantula and cockroaches! Whatever, lots of protein!! 

One has to be invited to become a member and my invitation was for exploratory work on the Tibetan plateau. By way of reciprocity, one has the use of the famous Bucks club in London.

By way of an amusing aside, I was having dinner some years ago with the King in Bhutan and he was complaining about the fact that he was currently married to 4 sisters, who gang up on him. I volunteered: “Sir, there is one bit of good news.” He enquired: “What on earth can that possibly be?" I responded: "You only have one mother-in-law!”

Envisaged for the future are books for HH The Aga Khan on his wonderful gardens around the world; Westminster; and The Old Rectories of England.

I am extremely fortunate to have two successful daughters, both of whom enjoy challenging PR careers. Nicola is currently with Tusk Elephant Charity and Saskia was formerly with M&S. Saskia has also given me a delightful granddaughter, Florence, aged 4. 

Today, we all live in a highly complex world with major religious differences, not to mention power hungry despots and political leaders. I learn that Iran with its Nukes is hellbent on annihilating Jerusalem and Israel, thus giving it direct access to the Mediterranean. 

After an extraordinary life, I am in my last chapter - hopefully a long one - but I do fear for the future, especially for my children and grandchild. 

However, Tonbridge will still be here, and I am much reassured by the words from the great school song:

"This is the school, my school: I am a word in her story…
Though I die and mine own forget me, my name is here - and I live
For teacher and taught touch hands and part, but the School, the School remaineth - 
Greeting Tonbridge, Tonbridge!
Farewell, Mother of sons!"

First: Wellington Arch, taken whilst whizzing around in a taxi, by Anthony Osmond-Evans
Second: The Potala Palace, Lhasa, by Anthony Osmond-Evans
Last: Portrait of Mother Teresa, by Anthony Osmond-Evans

* The former home of the 14th Dalai Lama. One of my prized posessions is the padlock to his Master Bedroom.

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