Local lensman recalls dinner with Prince

Prince in concert in 1995. Picture Charles McQuillan.
Prince in concert in 1995. Picture Charles McQuillan.

The shock news of the death of legendary musician Prince brought some poignant memories back for a Ballymena photographer who was lucky enough to have dinner with the star.

Whilst working at the Ballymena Times, Charles McQuillan travelled to the star’s home town of Minneapolis, snapped the famous Paisley Park recording studios and had dinner with Prince himself. The singer was found dead at his Minnesota home last Thursday.

Back in the early 1990s when Prince was at the height of his global fame, Times photographer Charles was a big fan of his music and applied for a press pass for a concert in Cork.

Charles sent his images from that gig to a Prince fan club in London and he was amazed to learn that the musician not only saw them but was impressed. He said: “Turns out Prince had seen the photographs and approved them, that got me the gig.”

From there Charles was invited to Minnesota and spent time at the famous Paisley Park recording studios and got to see the famous vault, which contained hundreds of tracks.

Charles said: “It was surreal, I had been covering standard bookings in Ballymena and then I was thrown into this incredible music scene. I was taking photographs of Paisley Park and I got to the see the Vault, which people were never sure if it existed. All they needed to do was speak to me because I saw it.”

After taking photographs of the studios, Charles headed for a club in downtown Minneapolis where the star was waiting.

He added: “I was invited to dinner with Prince and unfortunately I was running late. When I arrived Prince was already at the table. He had a glass sitting in front of him with three straws in it, and he was sitting beside two good looking women. We made eye contact and he nodded at me and I nodded back, that was the level of communication. It is pretty cool to say I was late for a dinner with Prince.”

In the next few years Charles - who now works for picture agency Getty Images - would photograph the musician on a number of his tours, he was even lucky enough to travel on his tour bus between shows. A big change from covering events in his home town of Ballymena.