Darryn Lyons: paparazzo, reality TV star, now mayor of Geelong, Australia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 9:38pm

Darryn Lyons has been called many things - heroic war photographer, parasitic paparazzo, reality TV star - but his latest title may be the most shocking yet: Mr Mayor.

The 48-year-old Australian, whose Big Pictures photo agency in London helped to usher in the modern paparazzi era with its ruthless pursuit of celebrity pictures, was recently elected mayor of his hometown of Geelong, just south of Melbourne.

Sporting his signature mohawk haircut and fur-lined mayoral robes when visited at home for a photo shoot, Lyons believes his penchant for flair is just what the city needs.

"At the end of the day, if you want to sell Wilson tennis balls, who would you want to have doing it? Roger Federer. If you want to sell a restaurant, you want Gordon Ramsey," he said in an interview at city hall.

Whether or not Lyons is on a par with that company, Geelong needs all the help it can get.

The city of 180,000 people is struggling with the flight of thousands of manufacturing jobs, placing Lyons improbably at the centre of efforts to save one of Australia's major centres.

Born the youngest of three children to a middle-class family in Geelong, Lyons began working as a photographer for local newspapers straight out of school.

In 1988, Lyons says, he arrived in London with just A$500 in his pocket. A chance meeting with media baron Rupert Murdoch landed him a job with the Daily Mail, a British tabloid for which he photographed the Balkan wars.

In 1992, Lyons founded Big Pictures and turned his sights on celebrities. At its height, the company had dozens of staff photographers around the world and made him very rich.

Among his treasures - in addition to the private jet and yacht - are the last photographs of Britain's Princess Diana as she was dying, which he keeps locked away in a safe.

His success led to a star turn in 2005 when the BBC aired Paparazzi, a behind-the-scenes look at his company. That led to further slots on reality TV shows like Celebrity Big Brother and Dragons' Den.

Although Lyons was one of Britain's most recognisable faces, his business was battered by the global financial crisis and collapsed in 2012, leaving him at a crossroads.

Early last year he decided he'd had enough of the celebrity lifestyle and, together with fiancée Elissa Friday, returned triumphantly to Geelong.

His campaign for the election held last November was attacked by the business community, whose members took out negative ads in Geelong's main newspaper. But he won easily and has since become popular.

"I see the mayor's role as a marketing tool," Lyons said with a broad grin. "The people of Geelong, mostly, love it as a marketing tool."