Most of us struggle to carve a single career for ourselves, yet in the 47 years he has been in London, Adrian Gibb, now practising as a photographer in south London, has fruitfully turned his hand (not to mention feet) to dancing, acting, modelling and photography.
Born in Johannesburg in 1949, Adrian was seven when he first picked up a camera and began snapping his brother Paul. He shows me an impeccably preserved album of black and white photos that begins with a young boy in a straw hat relaxing on the spacious grounds of a farm. The photos have a nostalgic quality that capture the tranquillity of the scene and its subject: ‘he was quite easy to shoot because he’s placid,’ says Adrian.
At 14, Gibb’s talent for dance was noted and he won a place at Madam Legats, a prestigious ballet school just outside of Tunbridge Wells. This marked the beginning of a global education through Stuttgart’s Corder Ballet and Johannesburg’s Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal. Then it was back to England for jazz-inspired classes from Arlene Phillips. ‘I wanted to make the craft work,’ said Adrian of the discipline he applied from a young age. ‘Eventually I did’.
With this foundation, it was a small leap into an exciting professional career that saw Adrian rubbing up against truly famous faces: Robert Redford (A Bridge Too Far, 1977), Tom Baker (Logopolis, 1980) and David Bowie (1984 Floor Show). At his peak as a model, he was the face of Burberry.
Yet photography remained Adrian’s deepest passion. His opportunity to return to it emerged in the late Eighties when during modelling a shoot, he ducked behind the camera for a stint. The results were so good that his agent encouraged him to keep going. ‘It’s gone full circle’ says Adrian whose photos of Tamera Beckworth in a daring Galliano had me gawping like the village idiot.
What has driven you from a very young age to be creative? You started at seven and don’t seem to have stopped since?
‘When I went to primary school in Rhodesia I loved drawing painting and it was almost second nature.’
Who are the most interesting people that you’ve worked with over the years?
‘I did the 1984 David Bowie Floor Show in the Marquee Club, which most bands played in, and he was afraid to fly so NBC came over here to shoot with us. We were crammed into the same dressing room and he was just a lad, he was great. It was during Ziggy and he was having his hair done in the dressing room all the time. He was down to earth.
‘Marianne Faithfull used to turn up in twin sets for rehearsal. She fell off the stage twice. She recorded in a nun outfit which David Bowie designed for her with no arms. With this big hat. She had no arms. She fell off the stage (chuckles)…no, she was great as well.‘
How did you get a part in Doctor Who and what was your role?
‘Well I was doing Cabaret in the Repertory Theatre and, at the same time, I decided to write to the then director of Doctor Who and sent some pictures and a note saying “please can I read for this part?” I didn’t hear anything for weeks so I phoned them up and I managed to speak to his secretary and she put my picture on the top of a pile and the next day I read for Peter Grimwade, the director, and I got the part.
‘I did a story called Full Circle (1980), playing Rysik on that particular episode, and then the director asked if I would be prepared to play a character called The Watcher in a story called Logopolis (1981), which I did. I wasn’t actually seen as I was sprayed in bandages and muslin and all that. I was like The Invisible Man. I played The Watcher during Tom Baker’s last episode as Doctor Who before Peter Davison took over.’
How does it feel to have been part of such a cult success as Doctor Who?
‘You get fans who worship the cult of Doctor Who and I still – even now – get fan mail . They send me photographs which I sign and send them little notes back. Even now. It’s such a wonderful series.’
Do you think it was easier to forge a creative career in the ’70s and ’80s?
‘I would say it is harder now because there are fewer reps and so many people who want instant fame, a saturation.’
Is there anything in particular that you would like to come out of your photographic career?
‘It’s time to focus on a legacy of published artistic work; books, prints and postcards.’
What inspires you with your photography? What are you trying to capture?
‘Moments in time. Something I see on the bus or someone’s reaction to something. Someone very still but they’re thinking. I like to get those thoughts on camera, something that comes in a split-second. A reaction, co-reaction. Sometimes a situation of people inter-reacting. I capture that moment. People and different characters inspire me.’
As you’ve grown older, have your aspirations changed? Do you want a slower pace?
‘Your hunger and creative instinct doesn’t diminish. The sense of urgency eases when you have had a good career. You pace yourself differently.’
You’ve been in London since you were 19, with occasional forays abroad. Do you find London to be a source of inspiration?
‘Absolutely, I find London very exciting. It’s such a lovely, creative force. You can do whatever you want.’
Are there any particular places you go when you need inspiration?
‘I like the Tate Modern – that inspires me always because it’s not just the artwork, I’m a people watcher. When I go to galleries, I also watch the people who are looking at work. I like the ICA in The Mall for films. I used to go and see Andy Warhol’s films, I used to see Fassbinder and also walking around Hyde Park and Highgate Cemetary. I like cemeteries, old cemeteries, they inspire me.’
What do you dislike about London?
‘Traffic. Being held up on a bus or a tube. Getting around, it’s the worst.’
Adrian’s work has been published in the book One: Contemporary Male Nude. He currently does headshots for models and actors. To book him or view his work visit adriangibb.co.uk