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Ministructures: Meet the man behind Pink Floyd’s iconic Battersea Power Station album cover

Artist Lucy Sparrow has made mini versions of London’s iconic buildings out of felt for our Ministructures series. For each landmark she creates, we find a Londoner with a story to tell about it. This week, we meet director Aubrey Powell, 66. Aubrey co-founded Hipgnosis, the design company behind some of the most iconic album covers of the ’70s – including Pink Floyd’s famous ‘Animals’ album cover, shot at Battersea Power Station.

You must have had a pretty exciting life.
‘I’ve worked with some incredible artists – Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, Yes, The Who, The Rolling Stones. And Pink Floyd, of course.’

Tell us the story of that ‘Animals’ album cover.
‘Roger Waters [from Pink Floyd] called up one day and said “I’m thinking of doing something with Battersea Power Station” – he lived close and could see it from his window. At that time it was still in full working order, with steam coming out of the chimneys. The band had just had an inflatable pig built for a tour. Roger and I both looked up at the Station, and said, “let’s fly the pig between the chimneys”. Just like that.’

But the shoot didn’t quite go to plan, did it?
‘That day there was the most incredible, Turner-esque sky. But for some reason, the pig wasn’t inflating. I shot the Station anyway, because the sky was so amazing. Eventually they managed to inflate the pig and hoist it between the two chimneys. It was all set up and ready to go when the chain broke and the pig sailed up 20,000ft, ending up right in the centre of Heathrow air traffic. At which point Pink Floyd left the site.’

Good thinking. What happened then?
‘All flights from Heathrow were cancelled, and I was arrested. We put out an announcement on the radio telling people to look out for 40ft long pink, inflatable pig, and the RAF sent out a crew to look for it. At 9.30pm a man rang up. He was a Kentish farmer, with a broad accent. He said, “Are you the guy looking for a pig? It’s scaring my cows to death in my field”. It was front-page news: Pink Floyd couldn’t have got better publicity if they tried.’

And you got the shot eventually.
‘Battersea let us come back, but we had to take a sharpshooter in case it flew off again. The day when we finally shot it, the sky wasn’t as impressive as it had been, so I added the pig to the photo from the first day. It’s actually a completely faked photograph.’

You helped make this building world famous. How does that feel?
‘I’ve got an apartment in Pimlico Road that happens to overlook the power station, so I see it every time I’m in London. I do feel an attachment when I look at it, because it helped make my career. When I put together the cover I had no idea I’d be here 40-odd years later, talking about it. But the Power Station has become as much an icon as St Paul’s, the London Eye and Westminster Cathedral. It was even in the Olympic Games opening film – it’s enduring.’

What do you think of our baby Battersea Power Station?
‘It looks like a cow lying on its back. I like that it has a sense of humour.’ Interview: Flo Wales Bonner

Check out Aubrey’s website at aubreypowell.com

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