When Matthew met… Miley

Even though the city of Derby is relatively small on the grand scale of things, it often managed to attract some pretty big names in the entertainment world. And although I’ve never been the kind of guy to sit and watch E! News or pour over celebrity gossip magazines, there was always something rather satisfying about brushing shoulders with the stars.

As a professional photographer (yes, really) I always kept my cool, even when the celebs didn’t, and I always walked away with photographs I was pleased with. So today I thought I’d share the first of three ‘When Matthew met…’ series, starting with the infamous Miley Cyrus.

By the age of 17, Miley Cyrus was already a household name, especially for her Disney character Hannah Montana. I can’t say I’d ever seen the show; I was more intrigued by the fact she was the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus! Man, I recorded Achey Breaky Heart off the radio at least once a week until it dropped out of the charts.

Anyway, back to Madame Cyrus. Amazingly a small primary school in Derby had managed to persuade Miley’s PR team to stop by and pay them a visit prior to signing some CDs at the huge Walmart Asda store down the road. The school was full of 6 – 11-year-olds who had entered a competition to meet Miley face to face at the supermarket before she met the hordes of fans waiting for her. A nice prize for any fan, I’m sure you’ll agree. But unbeknown to the two winners (who still hadn’t been announced, Miley had rocked up to the school secretly and was hiding behind the curtains in the Assembly Hall!

Surprisingly, I was the only press photographer there, alongside an older man who had been hired by Asda. Keeping our voices low, he asked me what ideas I had for a portrait of Miley with the two winners. Looking around the room I spotted a table which could be used, before whispering my plans to him.

“I think I’ll drag that table to the front of the room and have her cuddling the two girls, with the rest of the children in the background cheering. That way everyone gets to be seen with Miley (and more parents will buy the newspaper the next day).”
“Great idea,” he agreed.

When the two girls were announced as the winners they were invited to the front of the assembly and asked how they felt. Of course they’d absolutely shat their pants at the thought of winning, but that was nothing compared to their reaction when Miley snuck up on them from behind. Having their backs to the curtains they were totally unaware of her presence – which can’t be said of the other kids who witnessed her poking her head out from behind the curtain and tiptoeing over to the girls. My ears were ringing for minutes after that, I can tell you.

Miley Cyrus, Derby Telegraph, Photography by Matthew James, Asda

And so began a short question and answer session, and the very first question was “What do you think of photographers?” Asda Man and I gave each other a brief glimpse, realising that this could possibly make or break the quick photoshoot that we were preparing. But Miley was clever enough to distinguish the difference between the paparazzi who make her life a misery and the other hardworking photographers out there. Phew!

When the questions were over, Asda Man and I introduced ourselves and I probably undid a few buttons on my corporate-looking shirt-and-tie combo before rolling up my sleeves to reveal my (forbidden by the boss) tattoos on my left forearm. My argument had always been that I could tidy myself up for the oldies and the boring, but reveal my colourful personality to the young or down-to-earth types. The last thing I wanted was to be seen as a dull bastard working for a small-town newspaper (which I enjoyed thoroughly, by the way). But just as I was about to divulge my awesome plan to the superstar, Asda Man quickly jumped in and started to explain MY idea!

I wasn’t having any of that, so, like a child in the playground, I interrupted him with such verbal venom that I half expected to spit a load out in to Miley’s pristine and heavily made-up face. Poor Miley didn’t know where to look as her eyes darted from one photographer to the next. I’m pleased to tell you, though, that I won our immature War of Words…

Miley Cyrus, Photography by Matthew James, Spondon, Asda, Derby Telegraph

American actress and singer Miley Cyrus visited Silverhill Primary School in Mickleover, after two students won an Asda competition.

I quickly sent the picture back to the editor and was briefed on the second part of the task: Asda. “There’s going to be a lot of other photographers there,” said Deputy Picture Editor Ian, “But I want a good picture no matter what. No excuses.” No pressure, then!

He wasn’t wrong about the other toggies, either. By the time I’d arrived, the isle in front of the signing desk was packed with bald men with goatees, young women on step ladders, and all the other photographer types in between. Normally Asda and the Derby Telegraph had had a mutual understanding, whereby the supermarket allowed our photographers unrivalled and unquestioned access to the B- and C-list celebs that often walked through the doors. But things were different this time; now a ‘real’ celebrity had come to play.

So I did the only thing that was possible to me: I climbed the cereals. By the time I was on the top shelf I’d left a trail of destruction behind me. All that was missing was a massive carton of milk to pour over the floor and we would’ve had ourselves some supper. But oddly no-one noticed. Being at the back of the crowd meant that I was still pretty hidden, but now I had a pretty good view of the same girl I’d been snapping up close and personal just one hour previously.

When I finally climbed down I smelt very very sweet indeed and suddenly had a hankering for some Frosties. So I left the paps to it and walked away with the sounds of men shouting, ‘Miley! Miley! Miley! This way, Miley. Miley, this way.” And yes: the floor did snap, crackle and pop, as you’d expect.

Miley Cyrus, Derby Telegraph, Photography by Matthew James, Asda


What made this job even more special for me was the absolute awe and joy it brought to my young cousin, Aine, who a few weeks later arrived from her home town of Shannon in Ireland. When she mentioned that she was a huge Hannah Montana fan, my mum told her I’d taken her picture recently and she hit the roof. Before driving round to see her I managed to print out a couple of copies for her bedroom wall, and the look on her face was just brilliant.

I’d love to see her mother’s face now that Miley dabbles in a bit of filthy twerking from time to time.