George Bamby grabbed his first photograph of Coleen Rooney when she was 16-year-old Coleen McLoughlin, as the Liverpool schoolgirl was shopping.
“I got a tip-off. She was still in her school uniform, it was mental,” says George, who takes pride in his 20 years as a paparazzi photographer.
In the wake of newspaper allegations after husband Wayne Rooney’s arrest for suspected drink driving, Coleen, who is now 31, says she has “had enough” of “dangerous” paparazzi photographers – accusing them in a tweet of following her and her three children in the car.
“Following someone in a car isn’t dangerous, it’s what we do for a living,” says George, although he insists he never takes pictures of celebrities with children.
Whatever their methods, these freelancers’ unofficial and often unflattering photos feed the showbiz news cycle. So what is life like behind the lens?
“It’s like being a private detective,” says Devon-based George, 45, who travels across the UK so he can sell celebrity photos to tabloid newspapers and celebrity magazines.
“I’ve got disguises – wigs, hats glasses, false beards – everything from fishing gear to jogging gear, scuba diving gear.”
George aims for anything unusual or different.
He has recently photographed Dawn French while buying French crepes, David Cameron surfing in Cornwall and Poldark actor Aiden Turner vaping in-between filming on set.
“Get a picture of David Cameron on the beach and you can sell it all over the world,” he says.
He claims newspapers are prepared to pay thousands of pounds for a single photo, but is reluctant to reveal how much he earns. “I make a good living,” he says.
He admits bending the truth for a front page photo – on one occasion, he says, he asked a friend to give TV presenter Judy Finnigan a bottle of wine as a “gift”, before snapping a picture of the celebrity.
“A magazine rang me and said, ‘We think Judy’s an alcoholic, get us some evidence,” he says. “The headline was ‘Judy out of control’ – there wasn’t any truth in it whatsoever.”
But George has little sympathy for celebrity couples like the Rooneys. “They’re public property at the end of the day,” he says.
“Everything they do is scrutinised by the press and quite rightly so – they get paid millions and millions of pounds.”
George recalls how photographers raced to be the first to snap the teenage Coleen, after the press found out she was going out with football prodigy Wayne.
“We were going round Liverpool trying to find her,” he says. “We just got information off people and got tips.”
The Rooneys have kept George in business for years.
A decade ago, he camped in Manchester United’s training grounds, going undetected for three days, to get a picture of Wayne Rooney and his team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
It came shortly after the 2006 World Cup, when Ronaldo had appeared to wink after Rooney was sent off during an England v Portugal game..
“One morning the lads came out training and one of the balls landed in the bushes. John O’Shea literally picked the ball up from outside the door of my tent but didn’t see me.
“I had a little camping stove, but I didn’t do any cooking until the players left,” says George, adding: “I got the picture – £7,000.”
He relies on celebrities’ family, friends, agents and managers to give him tips – as well as his own luck.
George’s first photo came purely by chance – when he spotted cricketer Freddie Flintoff leaving a shop in Manchester with a bag of nappies.
“He got in his car, then he blew his nose into a nappy, so I took a photo,” he says. “I thought, that’s really good, and rang up the Daily Star and they gave me £500.
“I was doing nothing at the time, just working in a hotel as a porter carrying people’s bags.”
George thinks of his job as more of a hobby.
“Every day is different. It’s the thrill of the chase in the celebrity world – finding out things before everyone else.”
The story-chasing paparazzi have been known to get into scuffles with famous people, from Prince Harry to Liam Gallagher.
Harry Potter actress Emma Watson claimed a photographer tried to take a photo up her skirt during her 18th birthday.
Meanwhile, Buckingham Palace has asked the press to not publish paparazzi pictures of the royal children.
George admits the methods employed by some photographers are controversial, but he says: “There’s a difference between following someone and chasing them.
“The problem is you get loads of young kids who think ‘that’s a really good job’, buy a camera for £15.99, jump in a car and do anything they can to get a photograph.”
The job does not require qualifications – George left school by the age of 14 – but he says a thick skin and a network of contacts to supply tip-offs are essential.
George says he has been dragged into the back of a car by security guards “to terrify me”, but that he never let bad experiences put him off.
“I have two rules,” he says. “I don’t take pictures of anybody mentally unwell, and I don’t take pictures of celebrities with children with them.”
‘Hiding in bins’
There is no code of conduct to be a paparazzo, unless a photographer joins a body such as the NUJ, although newspapers are prohibited from publishing misleading photos or pictures of people in private places without their consent.
But George thinks photographers have become less invasive than when he first began taking photos in Manchester in the late 1990s.
“We’d hide in people’s gardens, wheelie bins, sheds, you could do anything you wanted,” he says.
George’s next job is in Manchester, where he is driving for four hours to – once again – snap Wayne Rooney.
“I got a tip-off,” he says.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41147422