In 1977, Neal Preston found himself on the road photographing Led Zeppelin, Queen, Kiss, Peter Frampton, and the Bay City Rollers. “I used to have this Halliburton briefcase,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Those ostentatious gold briefcases that were very popular back then. I used to have all my laminated backstage passes in the briefcase at all times, because I never knew where I was gonna have to be.”
After photographing them for the first time in 1976, Preston was asked to join the Queen tour the following year. He’d continue to go on the road with them consistently, all the way through the Eighties. “I’ve kind of been with them ever since,” he says with a chuckle.
His new book, Queen: The Neal Preston Photographs, documents his years with the legendary band. “It was a really good match of photographer and subject,” he says. “We all became very close, especially me, Roger [Taylor], Brian [May], and the crew. I can’t discount my relationship with the crew because when you have a job like mine, the crew really holds the keys to the kingdom. I’m proud to say that Queen had the greatest crew I’ve ever worked with by far.”
Many of Preston’s photos capture intimate moments with late frontman Freddie Mercury, including shots of him applying makeup and stretching backstage. “The thing about Freddie is, no one enjoyed being Freddie Mercury more than Freddie Mercury,” he says. “Besides being obviously as flamboyant as one can be, he never, ever had a cross word for me when I stuck a camera in his face. He loved being photographed and he loved being the center of attention.”
“I have a saying that like to use,” Preston adds. “Which is: there’s three people in the big record business, and if you’re a photographer and you can’t get a decent picture of one of these three people, you should sell your cameras and go work at the sanitation department. Those three people in no particular order are Freddie, Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with all three.”