Terry O'neill was born on July 30th, 1938 in the East End of London. His career as a photographer evolved by chance from his original ambition to become a jazz drummer. Leaving school at fourteen and after completing his national service, his ambition was to travel to America to study with the greatest drummers there. Thinking that the best way to travel frequently and inexpensively to the U.S.A would be to get a job as an air steward for BOAC, he applied; however, the airline at the time had no vacancies for stewards but suggested he took a vacancy in their technical photographic unit, which he combined with time at an art school and creating an interest in photojournalism. This led to Terry Oneill embarking on freelance work at London airport where, working with his Agfa Sillette, he looked out for interesting subjects in the passenger terminal.
His first scoop was a photograph of a distinguished looking gentlemen sleeping, which turned out to be R.A.B Butler, the then home secretary for Harold Macmillans government. The picture was bought and appeared on the front page of the Sunday dispatch, leading the editor to offer Terry O'neill a job as a reportage photographer at Heathrow. This was followed by three years in Fleet Street, with Terry O'neill at twenty-one, making him the youngest photographer in Fleet Street taking pop pictures for the up-tempo Daily Sketch.
One thing led to another and Terry O'neill quickly became a significant image-maker. He was one of a group of talented young photographers who helped create the photographic icons of the 1960s and the buzz that became Swinging London. The peer group that emerged in this decade alongside Terry Oneill included David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy from the East End, with Patrick Litchfield and Lewis Morley from different backgrounds.
Terry O'neills marriage to Faye Dunaway amongst other connections helped contribute to his success and profile internationally, particularly in the U.S.A from the 1970s onwards. Throughout the years he has photographed many great names from the world of celebrity, including Rod Stewart, Bridgitte Bardot, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Audrey Hepburn, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Paul Newman, Kate Moss, Elvis Presley and bands such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, U2 and The Beatles. In more recent years, he has taken photographic portraits of the Royal family and Tony Blair's family. He has received commissions from important American based international magazine, 'Life' while in the U.K his work is frequently seen in the glossy pages of the Sunday Times.