“One of the greatest! When I was offered the opportunity to fly down to Santos, Brazil and take photographs of Pelé I jumped at the chance. Pelé, absolutely. Pelé in Brazil, name the date!”
By 2013, Terry O’Neill was pretty much done taking photographs. “I wanted to enjoy retirement. I’d worked non-stop since the late ‘50s and I was tired. Plus, I had a few health scares that really made me understand that I wasn’t a young man anymore. A few years ago, I transferred my photography archive over to Iconic Images, run by a great friend of mine, a friend I trust completely, so I knew that my work was in good hands and I could relax—and watch football.”
But in 2013, O’Neill was eased out of retirement when an opportunity came his way too good to miss. “There are still a few people who can get me out of the house,” he laughs. “If Elton (John) or Eric (Clapton) call, I’m happy to go. Obviously, when I had the chance to take Nelson Mandela’s photo, that was a once in a lifetime moment. As a lifelong football fan, it doesn’t matter who you cheer for or who you root for, Pelé stands alone as the greatest footballer that has ever played the game.
“A group of us went down to Brazil. And Pelé didn’t disappoint. He was great and was living like a king! We decided to take the portraits down by the beach, a beautiful setting. At first, we did the transitional kit shots, it was Pelé after all, but I was just finishing my book All About Bond , a collection of all my work on the sets of those films, so I thought why not ask Pelé to put on a suit and dress him up as the James Bond of football.
“It is really one of the best things about the career I’ve had. Sure, I’m asked all the time about what it was like in the early ’60s, just starting out. But I was the same age as the people I was taking photos of. When it came time to take a photo of someone like Muhammad Ali or Pelé, it was an honour.”
Extract taken from ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’, available signed by Terry O’Neill in the Iconic Store.