Rankin's The Queen
Rankin has revealed that it took only five minutes to capture his famous image of the Queen

Fashion photographer Rankin has told how he took his career-defining portrait of the Queen smiling, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

He was only given a five-minute slot in which to capture the image at Buckingham Palace, he revealed.

"It's so hard to talk about the Queen because everyone has such preconceived notions of what she's like as a person," Rankin told Kirsty Young on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

"The day I was at the palace to shoot her, I saw her walking down a really long corridor with a really tall footman. They were laughing and I thought, that's exactly what I wanted her to be like.

"When I actually took the photograph, I started pretending almost like I was Austin Powers saying, 'mam, can you smile, mam? Please can you smile, mam?' Eventually I just got that one big smiling shot, and that was it.

"It's funny because my dad always said, everybody's the same, imagine it's the Queen. But the Queen has to do all the things normal people have to do."

"The Queen has to go to the loo too," interjected Young.

"I was going to say that, but then I thought, I don't think you can," replied Rankin, who numbers Kate Moss, Madonna, Daniel Craig, Tony Blair and Heidi Klum among his subjects, and who chose from a songlist that included Frank Sinattra, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones.

Of the Stones, he said: "My dad let me go and see them when I was 16, and I missed an exam at school and queued up at Wembley Stadium to see them live.

"Twenty years later I got the chance to photograph them. It was brilliant, they were so enthusiastic, so young, and down to earth. After the shoot they said come down and said, listen to us rehearse, and Mick Jagger sang Monkey Man to me."

Rankin, 47, was born John Waddle, and initially studied accountancy at Brighton Polytechnic before switching to take a B-Tech in photography at Barnfield College in Luton. He went on to found the fashion zeitgeist magazine Dazed & Confused with Jefferson Hack.

"Jefferson was, and still is, more painfully hip than I ever was," he said, recalling some the highs and lows of a career which had its heyday in the 1990s.

"I think people look back on the 1990s like the 1960s. I don't remember a lot of it, though I did go to a lot of parties and have a good time. I always thought I was a rock star. Although with me, I always used to go home, even if I'd been out till 6am. I don't think I was ever an addict, my drug of choice was always work.

"By the time I was 30 I had my son, Lyle, and by the time I was 33-34, I started to realise that being a father was really important, and what he thought of me was really important."

Rankin's most recent work, dealing with subjects who suffer from terminal illness, is to go on show in an exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, entitled Alive: In the Face of Death, from 17 May to 15 September.

"My parents died in 2006, and I really didn't deal with it all that well," he said.

"Neither of them believed in God, and that provided some finality. They said, 'There's nothing - you are just gone'. But it doesn't mean I don't miss them. You look in the mirror and think, I'm going to die. I'd better face up to it."

Rankin's appearance on Desert Island Discs can be heard again on the BBC website.