Photographing the Queen: 'The most surreal moment of my career'

Story highlights

  • Polly Borland shot portraits of Queen Elizabeth II for the monarch's Golden Jubilee
  • Borland talks about her creative approach and how she went into a bit of a panic

(CNN)Five minutes. Just five minutes to take the most important photograph of your career.

Australian photographer Polly Borland found herself in that situation in November 2001. She had been commissioned to take the official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for her Golden Jubilee marking 50 years as British monarch.
    Borland, by then a renowned portrait photographer who had made a name for herself shooting celebrities for British magazines, was anxious.
      She'd asked plenty of questions in the four-month lead-up: What would the Queen be wearing? Which room would she be in? Borland chose a large, beautifully ornate cream room with gold leafing and rose-colored curtains, only to be told later that it wasn't possible -- the Queen had a meeting in there that day with the Japanese Prime Minister.
      Instead, Borland was offered "what I would have considered the most boring room of the whole palace," she said. "That's when I started thinking about the backdrops I had become known for."
      Photographer Polly Borland
      Borland had photographed British politician Peter Lilley against a disco curtain, but the sparkly gold backdrop behind the Queen had an even more surprising muse -- an adult toy and lingerie store.
      "I'd seen some fabric in an Ann Summers window display that was red glitter," Borland said. "I'd found out where they got it from and ordered a special gold glitter fabric from the same place.
      "I wanted a more modern take on the Queen. A much more Andy Warhol-type portrait, something a bit pop art. I asked for the Queen to dress in her crown, with all the glitter and gold. When that wasn't possible, I decided I'd take my own gold background. Also it was the Golden Jubilee, so it was a literal interpretation."
      Her Majesty wasn't fazed at all when she saw the golden glitter, although when she saw the iconic blue flower print by Finnish company Marimekko, "She went 'Oooohhh!' and was very shocked," Borland said. That photo, seen in the gallery above, didn't get official