Snappers To The Stars
Blackpool twins David and Darren Nelson are a dynamic duo when it comes to capturing images of the world’s most famous people. Here, Alma Stewart finds out more about their glamourous career including working with BBC hit show Strictly Come Dancing. Photography: David and Darren Nelson
There can’t be many people who can say they have been in the company of some of the most famous artists on the planet, but identical twins Dave and Darren can. For more than two decades, they have attended the most seminal events to capture photographs of the stars.
The pair, who attended Warbreck High School in Bispham, have enjoyed a varied and interesting career. Both were nightclub DJs achieving a run of 17 consecutive years on Blackpool’s Golden Mile. As twins, they have been invited on to a number of TV shows such as Supermarket Sweep, This Morning and Vanessa, so they are no strangers to the showbiz world. But the glittering photography career started with more humble beginnings.
Dave said: “Once I left school, I got on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) at Dixon’s camera shop. I got to learn all about how cameras worked and started taking pictures of some of the concerts in Blackpool which at the time, were plentiful. I would then post the negatives through the door of the town’s newspaper, The Blackpool Gazette and eventually ended up working for them two days a week. I would also loan a video camera from the shop and film weddings at the Winter Gardens, a bit of a first at the time.”
With a passionate interest in lighting, Dave found himself organising the lights as a ‘Light Jockey’ at the Sands nightclub. A member of the Territorial Army, Darren covered his shift while Dave was away on duties. The pair were both in the club one day when the resident DJ walked out and so the twins were told to go and buy some records and host the evening – they never looked back.
Darren said: “We invented games where men were the butt of the joke instead of the women which proved really popular. The Sands residency opened the doors to other venues, guest slots and even work on an entertainment cruise ship featuring all of the top acts of the day.” They went on to DJ at Shades, Jellies, Sequins and the Yellow Submarine, Darren going solo at the Flagship Bar and Preston’s Fives.
Darren also pursued a career in stand-up comedy and created stand-up alternative comedy club at Blues in St Annes – the first of its kind on the Fylde Coast – with the pre-fame headliner John Bishop who Darren had met in a heat of Comedian of The Year. He is a Guinness World Record holder as part of a total of 102 stand-up comedians who appeared at the Comedy Balloon event held at the Dancehouse, Manchester, in October 2001. Darren was also a finalist in ITV’s comedy competition, Take the Mic. Now he is the go-to photographer for local stage school and talent agency, Scream Theatre Schools.
Dave, while working at Jellies, started to send prints off the News of The World’s weekend ‘party pics’ section. Being in Blackpool, a number of stars would appear at various places, so Dave persuaded them to pose in an entertaining way which was different than the usual posed shots.
Through a local charity event, Dave’s photos ended up in OK magazine and from there, Dave was the photographer of choice for events and built-up friendly relationships with picture editors all over the UK. He said: “Twenty years ago I got to know the artists particularly as there were only a small number of them outside of London. I knew Girls Aloud really well for example and went on to photograph the likes of Liberty X, Ed Sheeran, Adele and Ellie Goulding before they were famous.”
As work grew, Dave found he couldn’t be in two places at once and so Darren was brought in to help. Together they cover a full year of events which started with the Radio 1 Roadshow and includes Glastonbury, the RTS Awards, BAFTA awards, NTA Awards, Inside Soap Awards, World Music Awards, the VE Day concert and The Brits. During these events they have captured all the big stars – Kylie Minogue, Prince, Amy Winehouse and Dave even captured the last photo of Michael Jackson’s last stage performance. Dave, and sometimes Darren, would cover all the OK magazine parties in and outside of London for 21 years.
Dave added: “We were honoured to be asked to photograph ABBA live on stage at Voyage, their show in London. It could possibly be their final appearance on stage together.”
Of course, the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing show will be televised live from Blackpool’s iconic Tower ballroom this month. When the show started in 2004, Dave photographed the show in the studio. Now the show is so huge, the BBC have taken on the role of the publicity, but Dave still manages to snap the cast when they are in Blackpool and also when they take the show on tour. Dave said: “As I have been involved in the show from the beginning, it’s a real pleasure to be still involved, particularly when they visit Blackpool. Everyone involved are so nice and it’s a great highlight of the year to meet up with them all again.”
So what has changed over the 20 years they have been capturing images? “It’s all immediate now.” Darren said: “Dave sends the photos from camera to computer and I quickly check them and send straight to the picture desks of the newspapers and magazines. Before digital technology, photos would need to be processed before you could see the full detail but now the image is there straightaway. There is no time to get it wrong.”
Dave concluded: “It’s really important to be known by your peers in this industry – there are only a small number of people doing what we do and you don’t see many new faces. Darren and I have built up a reputation for getting it right every time. We take time to talk to people and build rapport and I think that has stood us in good stead. We have met some wonderful people – simply too many great people we have met from stage screen and music to name but one. There aren’t many people we haven’t photographed and we’ve had some fantastic experiences all over the world. Long may it continue!”