A life in pictures – Jude’s long road to the Tour

Jude Palmer
Jude Palmer
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She may be self-taught but Jude Palmer managed to land the coveted job of Welcome to Yorkshire’s official behind the scenes photographer for the Tour de France. Catherine Scott meets her.

Jude Palmer admits the subjects of many of her pictures feature human emotions, often suffering.

Be it dementia sufferers, homeless people living rough on the streets or elite athletes pushing themselves to the limit, Palmer has photographed them all.

“I think I am possibly drawn to this type of subject. I like to spend time with people, get them to trust me so that I can really photograph their emotions,” she says.

It may be because Palmer herself has had a life full of trauma and perseverance that she is drawn to these subjects.

“I think life experiences make you what you are and the reason I can take the photographs I do is perhaps influenced by what I have been through in my life,” she says. It is hard to imagine the turbulent life Palmer has led as we sit chatting about how she landed the job every photographer wanted this summer – the Grand Départ’s official behind-the-scenes photographer.

She had a very troubled childhood, was abandoned by her mother when she was young and recently had to cope with a court case about things that had happened to her more than 40 years ago, things that she thought she had moved on from.

“The court case gave me closure on part of my life that I had blocked out. Although I don’t want to go into details again, I did talk about it after the case in the hope of inspiring others who might have been through something similar. I have been overwhelmed by the reaction from all over the world, many saying it had given them courage and hope.” Palmer now lives in Harrogate, a single mum with three daughters, and a successful career. But she knows it could all have been very different. The problems during her childhood meant that from being young she lived a nomadic existence.

At one point she was homeless, living on friends’ sofas until at 14 she moved to Yorkshire with a friend. She started doing an assortment of jobs, ending up working for a local newspaper, where she was taken under the wing of an advertising manager.

“I loved it and I was good at it and I had a great mentor. I was able to buy my first house at 21. It made me realise that hard work, determination and a bit of luck, really do pay off – and that’s something I want my daughters to see.”

Although she has had a turbulent life she doesn’t want to be defined by it.

“Lots of people have bad childhoods I’ve only spoken about it to try to explain why I take the kind of images I do. There may be kids out there having a bad time, but they need to know that everything is possible.” It is her troubled childhood which was actually the inspiration for Palmer taking up photography. “I had barely any photographs from my childhood and I didn’t want that for my girls,” she explains. “I wanted them to have masses of happy memories.” Four years ago, she decided to take her hobby more seriously and the long road to the Tour de France Grand Départ began. Despite having no training she started photographing things that interested her including a pantomime at Harrogate Theatre, a dementia unit and homeless project. Then Palmer heard that Magnum, one of the world’s great picture agencies, was offering places on a photo-journalism course. Unfortunately, 30,000 people had the same idea and she was turned down. A week later, the phone rang. Someone had dropped out and she was in. “I couldn’t believe it. It made me realise that I want to do more; to travel, even be a war photographer.” A strange ambition for a single mother of three. Another explanation could be that she became perilously-ill last year. She collapsed and was rushed to hospital suffering from septicaemia, pneumonia and meningitis. Her immune system was so compromised that doctors said she has been just four hours from death. “I came out of intensive care with an attitude I didn’t have before. I have no fear of anything. I live for the moment, because tomorrow it could all be gone.” Which perhaps explains why one day she suddenly upped sticks and went to Morocco, after someone bought her a bottle of Argan oil made by nomadic Berber women and she decided to investigate.

At the airport three men offered to give her a lift.

“I thought I’m either going to end up dead or we’re going to have an amazing adventure. And we did have an amazing adventure. I met a woman who ran this cooperative in the middle of nowhere.” It is this attitude which also paid dividends at a Welcome to Yorkshire Tour de France Grand Départ roadshow. “I said I’d love to do something during the Tour and was told join the queue.” At the next roadshow she collared the same woman. “I said give me half an hour and I’ll explain what I want to do. I said that I wanted to go behind the scenes of the Grand Départ, take the type of pictures nobody really takes.” A small part of the results of her year following the Tour can be seen in a book published by Welcome to Yorkshire. “It was an amazing experience.It was just me out there with a six year old Nikon trying to be in 13 different places at the same time The Welcome to Yorkshire team have my full admiration.”

But Palmer isn’t finished yet. In the New Year she will be working with one of the teams from the Tour do France documenting women’s cycling, something close to her heart.
“We are trying to show that women’s cycling is not a side show to the men’s cycling.”

She is also working with Help for Heroes and had hoped to go to Afghanistan, but at the moment it is looking doubtful. What isn’t doubtful is this woman’s determination to photograph as much of what she sees on the inside as she does on the outside.

You can have a personal photo shoot with Jude Palmer and a signed copy of her Tour de France book by bidding in our online charity Christmas auction.

It is just one of an array of lots – many of which money could not normally buy. All money raised goes to help the RNLI buy a vital launcher for Scarborough’s new state-of-the-art lifeboat. The second ten lots were revealed on Saturday and bidding closes at 5pm on Friday. To bid see www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/appeal. You can also keep up-to-speed with what’s on offer on twitter @yorkshirepost #YPxmasauction and or follow The Yorkshire Post’s Facebook page. Our online auction, in association with Cicada Communications of Harrogate, is not the only way you can help the Scarborough lifeboat to save lives. You can send a cheque for the RNLI to Scarborough Lifeboat Station, Foreshore Road, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1PB.

Please make it clear it is part of The Yorkshire Post Christmas Appeal.