CITYLIFE COVER STORY
Investing In Art & FNQ
By Danae Jones
Darryn Lyons is an unapologetically larger than life character – he has a face that is instantly recognisable. His rise to fame as the original Mr Paparazzi, photographing the world’s rich and famous and making an untold amount of money from his exclusive photographs throughout his career is what has won him global acclaim. His TV and radio appearances and his many high profile court cases with the likes of Liz Hurley, Hugh Grant and the Royal Family to name but a few, have seen him in front of the camera just as much as behind it.
But under all the loud and proud colour of his personality is a straight-talking truth seeker who is a big picture thinker.
“The colour comes from my positivity I think, I’m a very positive person. And without positivity I think your life is always going to be dull. I like what I do and who I am and I don’t think I care all too much about criticism.
“I like contributing to society
and I’m not scared of taking risks. I’d be the same person with $120 billion or 20 cents in the bank I think,” said Darryn Lyons.
After graduating dux from his school he has blazed an unorthodox trail for an academic, trying his hand at photography for the Daily Mail and other big name media outlets, before launching his own business, Big Pictures, where he excelled beyond belief internationally with his work and that of his fellow photographers whose work he on sold to the highest bidder. That work often landed him with great criticism from those captured doing things they shouldn’t have been.
“I think it’s a sad thing from a journalistic point of view. With all the wokeness of the world I think we are really losing our way with the honesty and integrity and the reason why celebrities really came out and sued me or anyone else for breach of privacy, is because they’ve always got something to hide. And I find that offensive, including with politicians today that get away with murder. You know if someone is pictured unawares and they were bashing their dog with a big stick (which happened by the way), if they were banging each other in the back yard, if they were having prostitutes in Las Vegas. You know people should be allowed to do what they want and there should be a certain amount of privacy in the world, I don’t disrespect privacy, but I do think the elite hide much trickery and much offensiveness that they think that they can push to the limit to get away with that doesn’t make a headline. And the fact of the matter is, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I think that the paparazzi was the biggest PR machine for anyone that was famous and in fact I also think they were the biggest PR machine in a lot of ways for the Royal Family. I think there are certain situations where privacy should be entitled, but you know what, if you’re out there and you’re getting your boobs out in the south of France and you’re sitting with someone you shouldn’t be sitting with, the world sadly are interested. Don’t shoot the messenger.
“The fact is they use it when they want it and then want to switch it off when they don’t. They’re lucky they’ve all got Instagram now as it’s made them their own PR machine and they can funnel all the bad stuff away,” said Mr Lyons.
From 2013 – 2016 he was Mayor of Geelong. He says he entered politics to give back when his town needed him. He took to it with an entrepreneurial attitude to pull his beloved community out of stagnation and economic crisis and shape a reinvigorated era. He spearheaded many ‘out of the box’ projects which put the town back in business and thriving.
His latest venture is a long time love — art. In the middle of the global pandemic he saw an opportunity to bring The Lyons Gallery to Far North Queensland. Art galleries with his namesake, filled with iconic pieces in Port Douglas, and then most recently at DFS Galleria in Cairns. His love of art and love of FNQ, the perfect melding for the new business venture which now has many more galleries set to open. The insatiable demand for art to adorn the walls of people’s spaces, the latest investment option for many.
“We’ve got another 12 galleries in production. We’re doing great work with the Sheraton and Marriott teams and the DFS Galleria Group around the world. We just completed a trial at the Sydney Rocks location off the back of Cairns. We’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now, it’s extremely busy. From the Blue Mountains to Far North Queensland to the West. I just think what we’ve brought to Australia, just the uniqueness and really contemporary art, our alignment with luxury and luxury brands, our alignment with great brands that love us. We’re about to finalise a great deal with Gucci in Sydney as well. So it’s really exciting. I think it’s got a lot to do with our walls making money project. People have all of a sudden woken up to what Lyons Gallery has brought to Australia, it’s what the Europeans have been doing for centuries. They invest very wisely, whether that be in their furniture or what goes on their walls in their homes. Actually every part of your life whether it be from a handbag to something you hang on your wall, actually has the potential to make you money. And in fact if you look at art over the period of the last decade, it’s way outshone the share market, which is a classic Australian thing to do right – ‘let’s buy shares!’,” he laughs.
“I think people are waking up to the fact that actually you know I don’t want to go to Harvey Norman and buy a pretty picture off the wall, if I can spend a little bit more, and it’s not a lot more for an investment piece, they can leave it in their will to the next generation and it’s something that’s going to appreciate in value. If you’re going to buy for a newborn baby a piece for the wall, when they turn 21, they’re literally going to be making a lot of money.
“If you invested in a Lyons Gallery Terry O’Neill piece in 2012 you would’ve returned up to 2022 in the last decade 512%. So it’s about buying the right piece. I’m not saying every piece in the Lyons Gallery is going to give you those returns, it’s not. But we have a great team of art advisers. We are fifteen advisers strong now, centralised and in our locations. Our team knows its stuff. But it’s about authenticity. If people want pretty pictures we stock them too. But we’ll tell people straight out, that it may be a beautiful picture, but it might not give you the big return on your investment. Or that capital growth you can get with other pieces. But you’ve got to love the piece.
“The potential of buying a Banksy for example, even if you’ve got say a hundred grand spare to spend on a Banksy right now. There was a Banksy that was bought for a million in 2018 that just sold this year for $21 million. If you buy the right names at the right times you can make big money long term. We work with brokers all over the world and you can actually come to us and say ‘I want a Banksy’, and we’ll say, ‘you should be buying this one’. So we offer several services, not only what we have in the galleries. I’ll be honest with you, art has been something that has historically been for the wealthy. That has changed. And that is what Lyons Gallery has brought. We’ve brought something for the middle class that are investing their hard-earned cash for their kids and their kids’ futures,” he said.
While Lyons Gallery doesn’t exhibit local artists, Darryn Lyons personally invests in and sponsors local artists and his gallery supports many emerging artists to get their first break into the gallery arena.
“We do a lot in the art space. The curation of the gallery is very much me, I have collected art for many years and I have experience in buying art from the last 25-30 years. I bought my first piece in New York when I opened my office of Big Pictures and I was very excited. I bought my first Warhol. And as soon as I bought my first I bought six, then I bought another two. You know, it’s been an incredible investment over a long period of time.
“If you open up an auction page in Christies or Sotheby’s, or Phillips around the world, our artists are there,” he said.
There are many notable moments in history where Darryn Lyons has played a leading role capturing celebrities on camera which will go down in history forever more. But one moment that stands out above all others is the night Princess Diana died in London in 1997.
Darryn Lyons was working in London at the time and one of his photographers was at the scene of the car crash and photographed the final moments leading up to Lady Diana’s death. Lyons was given the photos to sell to media outlets through his company Big Pictures, but after hearing of her passing, he chose not to sell them. He was offered many millions of dollars for the photos in the hours to follow the tragedy. It is one of those times in history where you remember where you were when you heard the news. The outpouring of heartache all over the world was palpable.
To this day those photos remain under lock and key and he says they will never be released while he walks this earth. You can tell he has very strong views about what happened that night, but chooses to speak very little about it. He was quoted in the Daily Mail following the inquest as saying “the official details of Diana’s death aren’t necessarily true. Some very strange things happened that night and I was part of many of the strange things that happened that night.”
One of those strange things was that his studio was broken into and terrorised when the existence of the photos came to light.
The photos have been at the centre of much conjecture as to whether the Princess of Wales was assassinated or whether the car crash was indeed an accident. Darryn Lyons gave evidence at the inquest into her death and has been widely published as saying that the night Lady Diana died was “the most traumatic time of his life.”
When asked about the circumstances and why he never took the money for the photos when he had taken money for many other exclusive photos previously, his respect and adoration for Lady Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry shines through.
“It was my gut. It was almost like I felt a higher force actually walked me through something that had never been walked through before. Piers Morgan who’s a great friend of mine was incredibly helpful through that decision making, he’s been a very good friend pretty much all of my career. He was a phone call in the very early hours of the morning about the pictures and News of the World and Murdoch Press were trying to buy the pictures at that stage. And we were talking millions. And she hadn’t died. We thought she had a broken arm and that was pretty much it.
“I remember the pictures to this day, you wouldn’t think the Princess of Wales was on the brink of death is the point of view. Dodi was a very different story. He died at the scene. As soon as I heard she had passed away, that was it for me. I just couldn’t do it. I still to this day have great pride in the conversation Piers Morgan and I both had that following morning when he not only reassured me that I was making the right decision, he reaffirmed with me the decision that should’ve been made. There was a lot of things that went through my head, there was the children, there was the relationship I had with the Princess of Wales, there was many many things that went through my head.”
And when asked what will become of the photos when he eventually leaves this earth, he leaves a glimmer of his plans to protect the interests of her beloved sons Prince William and Prince Harry.
“I mean look it’s history, it is historic. But I know the way the death affects the boys. I’m not going to go into the details of my will in this article, but I don’t think anyone has anything to worry about.”
Now his focus is firmly set on his art and spending more time in the Far North in what he calls “the land of the milk and honey.” He is extremely optimistic about what the region has to offer and he is one of many big names to officially call FNQ home now. He says as a tourism destination we go beyond the reef and the rainforest however, and tourism bodies need to think bigger when it comes to international marketing.
“It’s not all about waterfalls and the rainforest and reef. Of course that’s part of it, but there’s so much more to Far North Queensland. It’s like a big day spa,” said Darryn Lyons.
The accreditations list is as follows;
Chris Levine ‘Lightness’ – Lyons Gallery
(Pop art image of woman wearing bitcoin mask)
Margot Laffon ‘Miss Bitcoin’ – Lyons Gallery
Sharon Stone Instagram Post – Douglas Kirkland ‘Marilyn In The Sheets’ – Lyons Gallery
(Audrey Hepburn peeking through shutters)
Michael Möbius ‘Tiffany Blue II’ – Lyons Gallery
(Underneath images of Darryn in the gallery with multiple artworks in the background)
All pieces available through the Lyons Gallery.