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Heathrow life through a lens

By Ayesha Durgahee, CNN
  • Dennis Stone has been a Heathrow photographer for 64 years
  • His work is celebrated in a book and exhibition at the airport
  • Stone is on friendly terms with some of the celebrities he photographs

London, England (CNN) -- In the middle of Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport, three BA check-in staff giggle and hug their colleague Ken Kauder. "Look at you, you were so good looking back then!" they say.

Ken Kauder, a special services executive charged with looking after celebrity passengers, stares hard at the photograph of himself, carrying a box for Jack Nicholson. As he holds up his phone to take a photo, he says quietly: "Cor blimey, I don't remember when that was taken."

"Sure you do, Ken! You're on display," Dennis Stone says as he puts one arm around his old friend.

Stone is the one that took the photo. He's been photographing the rich and famous, the glitz and glamour at Heathrow for 64 years.

The airport has published a collection of his images in a book "A Life at The Airport: A Heathrow Photographer" and a selection has been put on display in Terminal 5 Departures for passengers and airport staff.

Stone started out as a post boy when he was 14 and began as the airport's junior photographer two years later. He has been here ever since.

Video: Snapping celebrities at Heathrow
You're a public figure, so you have no rights whatsoever in my opinion.
--Dennis Stone

Heathrow claims that it is the only airport in the world to have its own resident press. Five photographers, with five Access all Area passes, have the freedom to roam through the airport's five terminals, landside in Departures where passengers check in, and airside where passengers wait to board their flights.

The Heathrow photographers are also allowed right up to the aircraft doors to start snapping as soon as they spot a celebrity.

Stone is not worried by suggestions he is invading people's privacy.

"If you use the press, the press is going to use you," he says with a shrug. "So you don't have any privacy, you've sold your public penny. Therefore, you're a public figure, so you have no rights whatsoever in my opinion."

Stone says he has never had a negative reaction or as he calls it "misunderstandings."

"They've had press coverage at the airport for years. Most of the celebrities know we are here, that they can be caught by us, so a bit of advice is look your best, smile and you'll look better in the paper!"

At 78, and due to retire next year, Stone is well known to some of the celebrities he has captured on film over the decades.

"Joan is my favorite - Joanie Collins. I've known her a long time. And Paul McCartney's another one who says ' Hello Dennis'. And Mick Jagger. Liz Taylor once said to me 'do you know what I fancy? Sausage and mash. So I said 'next time you're in town I'll take you'. And she said 'you're on'...we never got a chance to go but we still used to joke about it."

Not only has Stone forged strong friendships with celebrities, he is loved by the people who have worked at the airport for as long as he has.

BA Purser Sandra Keane-Marajkar on her way to Dubai stopped to say hello to Dennis. She's known him since 1977. "Lots of people who work at the airport - whether they're baggage handlers, cabin crew, check-in staff - know Dennis," she beamed.

"He was always in and out - because there were so many celebrities who used to fly out of Terminal 3 - because in those days it was Pan Am and TWA. He always had time for everybody, and if we were on the information desk sometimes he would come up and say it might be Robert Redford today, he would give us a little hint as to who was coming in."

Looking at the display of photographs brings back fond memories for Sandra. "The one of Joan Collins was really good, the one with Robert Redford caught my eye because that might have been taken when I was on the information desk. And then there's the old pictures as well - the old days - everybody always says that the old days were the best days."

As Dennis signs a copy of his book for Sandra, she tells me: "He is a lovely man, absolutely charming, always has been, always will be."

During his 64-year career, Stone has seen the airport grow and the planes with it. From Constellations, Viscounts and Stratocrusiers to Concorde and the Airbus A380 Superjumbo. "Oh, it's large." He says frowning. "I'd like to have a go on it, but I thought that when the first 707 came in, I thought - that will never get up in the air, but it did. The 747 was even bigger still," he sighs. "So I've seen them all."

Pointing to an old photograph of three pilots walking across the tarmac, Stone says: "That was when I was walking around the tarmac with nothing else to do - hanging around the airport. And I saw these three pilots coming out. 1956, that was. One shot. Boom!"

Staring at a old black and white photo with a row of Constellation planes, Dennis slowly shakes his head. "Photography is so much easier these days. I took that photo with my Pace Maker Speed Graphic, which I started off with as a professional photographer. You could only take two photos with this monster. Now with my digital camera, I can take 540 photos. The difference is incredible - the size and the weight. Today photographers don't know how lucky they are!"

The photos will be displayed at Heathrow Terminal 5 until September 5 and the airport is giving out 5,000 copies of the book.