Steve Weinman meets Patrick Lichfield - the top photographer and fanatical diver who is determined that these two worlds should meet only on his terms.
Thomas Patrick John Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield, had been visiting the Ocean Leisure store in London, ready to part with money. In the cubicle, he slipped out of his clothes and into a new wetsuit. "I zipped it up, but it didn't feel right at all, so I walked into the shop."
He assumed that the sideways looks he got from customers was down to his well-known face. "Then the young lad who had been serving me came up and said: 'It would probably help if you put it on the right way round!'"
Lichfield laughs uproariously, which he does a lot. Let's face it, his lifestyle would leave most of us the right side of cheery.
His father was Viscount Anson, his mother Princess Anne of Denmark. Educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, he served as a lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards before becoming known as the Royal Photographer, the man allowed to wear jeans around the Palace, the man with the enviable job of photographing the "100 Most Beautiful Women in the World" in the early '80s, and a succession of tasteful nudes for the Unipart calendars.
His family seat is the splendid Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, and he has a flat in London, but he spends as much time as possible on the tiny Caribbean island of Mustique. In between, he travels widely and dives whenever he can.
Shirt-sleeves rolled up to reveal a seahorse tattoo, Lichfield explains how, as a boy, he came close to diving for Britain. Springboard diving, that is, but he missed out on a place in the Olympic team. He loved swimming, but not under water, and considered snorkelling frustrating: "No sooner do you see something under water than you have to come up again."
It was only in the early '80s that he learnt to dive, when a dive centre, Mustique Watersports, opened on the island where he has a holiday home.
"I was practically the first person to enrol. The most important reason why I started diving is that although I only smoke cigars now" - here he pauses to puff alight a large cheroot - "I used to chain-smoke cigarettes. Diving stopped me smoking them. I'm really glad, because the amount of air I use has changed dramatically since then!"
His air consumption must have been fearsome before, in that case, because he still seems to use the stuff like it's going out of fashion. His tendency to sing under water doesn't help: "A terribly silly thing to do, but I enjoy myself down there and I sing like I do in the bath!"
Before he learnt to dive, he'd had opportunities while on photo assignments to go diving but had feared it would be an indulgence. "My trips tended to be fast and extremely complicated in terms of organisation, worrying about the sun, about 18-year-old models, stylists, make-up and hair. The last thing I had time to worry about was recreation.
"Now the first thing I check out are the diving possibilities, and I try to build in an extra day or two."
He points to a wallmap peppered with black dots. "They all represent major assignments, but one dot can represent 50 visits to Los Angeles, or Sydney, or Perth, and an awful lot of places that have very good diving.
"In the tropics, photographers can't work in the middle of the day because the light's so awful, but of course it's great for diving. I encourage the others to do it, too, because one of my difficulties is trying to stop girls getting sunburnt, and you don't get sunburnt under water."
Photo shoots apart, lecture tours on cruise liners have allowed him to dive in Cuba, Western Australia and around the Pacific. "Most of the passengers are terribly old, but often the crew like to dive.
"I'm incredibly lucky. I often find myself in places that most people would have to pay a fortune to visit."
Once qualified as a diver, Lichfield started taking his teenage son and daughters under water. This helped him sharpen up his own diving. "Children pay no attention to buddy discipline. They do such silly things."
They would torment him by ignoring his instructions when diving one of the local wrecks. "I said: 'Whatever you do, don't go inside it', so of course they went in. There's nothing you can do under water. There's no signal for 'You're an idiot!'"
"I'm slightly hoping that the children get a fright," he says, with no apparent trace of sadism. "Nothing too unpleasant, of course, but I think it's quite good to get a bit of a shock.
"Teenagers are likely to forget things - like doing deco stops. We have to take things like decompression very seriously, because we can't treat emergencies on Mustique."
Lichfield is a great believer in the salutary lesson. "It may not be pleasurable, but it's very instructive, like the first time I felt myself getting a touch of nitrogen narcosis. Knowing your limits in everything in life is important, but particularly in diving."
He has had his share of frights. Once his air ran out at about 30m. "I got to my buddy and grabbed his octopus. At times like that you forget the absolute necessities, and I didn't purge it. So I got a lump of sand in my mouth and decided to go up. Luckily, the girl next to me gripped me by the ankle, and after a bit of hyperventilating I calmed down and buddy-breathed my way up. That was a good lesson."
This was followed by another, although one more likely to happen to high-profile folk. Lichfield and a buddy were on a small boat ready to dive when they saw a yacht approaching and decided to wait for it to pass. "Then there was an almighty bang, and we both thought we'd been shot at. We threw ourselves to the bottom of the boat and the yacht sailed off.
"It hadn't shot at us - my high-pressure hose had burst and there was a most godawful fizzing. Thank heavens I hadn't gone in!"
But his worst experience occurred four years ago when he dived a series of caves at around 20m in Western Samoa. "There was a rather tacky dive shop, and a few of us were scrabbling for the best BCs. I got something I thought was OK, and because I was the most advanced of the group the instructor told me to bring up the rear.
"Halfway through the second cave I suddenly had an explosion of air in my BC and shot upwards. I couldn't find the dump in my hurry. The next thing I knew I was right up on the ceiling. I figured that the others would have to come back."
They did - he could see them, 8m below, but they didn't think to look up. "What could I do except tap on my tank? But they didn't hear me."
The six divers disappeared; then, after an agonising interval, returned. "I thought, this is the last time they'll do it, so I shook a fin off and dropped it. Thank God one of them saw it, came up, stuck a knife into my BC and gave me his regulator.
"From now on, if I'm going on a cruise ship or diving in a developing country, I take my own equipment," he says with feeling.
"The only disappointment I've had with diving is that it hasn't extended my photography," says Lichfield. "Normally I never move without a camera, but under water I find it's an encumbrance."
But it wasn't always like that. During the Vietnam War Lichfield worked for Life magazine, though not in the war zone. "All its photographers used Nikonoses because you could throw them in a puddle and they'd still work. I used to wade into the sea with mine and take silly pictures, half-water and half-straight. They weren't terribly interesting, but I thought, one day I'll get good shots under water."
He went for it when he qualified as a diver. "But the best pictures were the ones where the flash didn't recharge. Most professional photographers don't like on-camera flash. It's too flat a light. I decided that silhouettes and God's light were more interesting. I switched to black and white and started shooting against the light and experimenting."
He studied the work of top underwater photographers. "I thought, if that's as good as you can get, fine. At its best it's brilliantly good, but still quite samey. It's very hard to go beyond a certain creative level."
He digs out a set of underwater colour snaps sent to him by some people he had taken diving a few weeks previously, and we share a mean laugh at the sort of murky, out-of-focus, wide-angle shots that are, sadly, only too familiar.
"A picture's supposed to be worth a thousand words, yet most underwater photos need a thousand words to explain them," he comments. "Diving's a recreational sport which I enjoy almost because I'm unable to photograph."
But when it comes down to it, I suspect that Lichfield steers clear of underwater pictures because he likes to be in control. "As a studio photographer I can control so much, and I get frustrated at not being able to communicate under water. Nature doesn't co-operate.
"I just can't get my hands on the creative side of underwater photography. People expect photographers to always take good photos - but I don't always take good photos!"
The rigours of British diving similarly fail to appeal. "I took on an assistant in my studio who happened to be an ex-professional diver, and we went off to dive Scapa Flow. When I discovered what divers in Britain put up with - the visibility, the temperature, the discomfort - I realised what a seriously committed bunch you are."
But there is always Mustique, home to some 200 residents with surnames like Jagger and Bowie who between them own the island. There is one hotel, and villas to rent when the owners are away.
It is, needless to say, not cheap to visit, but Lichfield maintains that the island's exclusivity is a myth. "Mustique isn't smart, though some pretty smart people live there. Actually, all they're there for is to get away and not have to wear posh clothes.
"Nearly everybody who arrives there is amazed that it's so simple. The diving is too - there's nothing very grand about it, and all men are equal under water anyway."
Strong currents characterise the island's diving, much of which is around offshore islands and rocks. Its main wreck, and one of Lichfield's star dives, is the 130m cruise ship Antilles, which hit a rock in 1970. It lies in up to 40m of water, but can be dived only half-a-dozen times a year.
"It was lucky nobody was killed when it went down, and it left us with a wonderful permanent dive site. Nobody could tow it off the rocks, and it burned for six weeks. Now it's a haven for fish.
"We have wonderful, healthy reefs too - there's a lot of life to see on Mustique, and luckily it isn't getting crowded, like the great dive sites of the Red Sea."
And Lichfield regards more than five divers as a crowd - what luxury! "There's something rather depressing when you're doing all that communing with nature and suddenly come across a gang of 20 divers from a Club Med boat or something."
His most memorable dives around Mustique have been on the walls, and sometimes he has heard humpbacked whales. "It's such an eerie sound. I used to do parachute drops in the Army, and free-falls, and one of the great things is the lack of noise up there. You get that down below, but when you hear a whale it's a very close-to-nature experience. I've seen them too - very, very distant."
He also enjoys night-diving. "The island has practically no electricity and there's nothing around it, so the sky is absolutely black and you get wonderful sights under water."
Lichfield looks forward to decades of happy diving ahead, inspired by old friend and former judge Sir Harold Cassell, who also has a home on Mustique. "He's 80-plus and I said to him: 'What's it like being an old man diving?' He said: 'It gets better. It's one of those brilliant experiences.'
"As you get older you have to give some things up. My life at 59 is littered with discarded projects. I still ride my motorbike but I've had to give up lots of things I used to love - cricket, rugger, sky diving.
"Having something like diving that you can do into your 80s is just wonderful."
Appeared in DIVER - February 1999