I love the North East. It’s my home and, as a teenager, the scenery here is what first inspired me to pick up a camera.

In my early twenties, I left to tread the sadly far too well-worn path to London, although in my case I was following a girl and not a job. That’s where my career in photography began to take shape but it’s not where it really took off.

My decision to return to this region is the best I ever made. In 2000, I moved home and started out as a junior photographer on The Journal. I learned a lot, very quickly, and here I am now with tens of thousands of pictures under my belt and celebrating 25 years behind a camera.

For the last 14 of those years, I’ve been working as a freelance photographer, producing event photographs, PR shots, weddings and more. The variety of the job is amazing and it’s the people here who interest me the most. Looking back on my earliest pictures, there’s not a soul in them and that seems very odd to me now.

We’re not short of inspirational places to take photos here but it’s the character of the people, famous or not, that makes for really great images.

Photos by Barry Pells for the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign: Cheryl Cole
Photos by Barry Pells for the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign: Cheryl Cole

I’ve loved taking photos of the Royal family over the years. However, it’s North East ‘royalty’ who make my favourite pictures. And, as a Newcastle United fan, especially our local footballers.

There have been a few embarrassing occasions when I’ve worked with Alan Shearer doing photos for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, because people say I look quite like him. One lovely lady who was fundraising for the charity even got us mixed up, which made my day because Alan’s a hero of mine.

I did a few pics with Jackie Charlton over the years, too. He’ll be a big miss from North East life. He could be a scary character at times and he didn’t beat around the bush.

Photos by Barry Pells for the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign: Jack Charlton with Lady Elsie Robson
Photos by Barry Pells for the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign: Jack Charlton with Lady Elsie Robson

The first time I took his picture I was working at The Journal and was invited to his home. I knocked on his door and after about five minutes an upstairs window opened and Jackie poked his head out and said: ‘Aye, who are ye and what do you want?’ I said I was here to photograph him for The Journal. He said he was running late and invited me into his ‘den,’ which was his office.

He left me in there alone for about half an hour then came back and started looking through piles of paper and faxes saying he didn’t know what or where his next appointment was. In the end, I got about 30 seconds to do his photo before he left for his appointment.

I called the picture desk to let them know I was finished and get instructions for my next job. This turned out to be the grand opening of a fish filleting factory in North Shields. Being opened by none other than Jack Charlton. His face was a picture when I turned up!

I know I’m very lucky to do what I do. This is a fantastic region to work in. The people here have such a strong sense of local identity and a will to succeed, even against the odds, and that makes for great stories.

Photos by Barry Pells for the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign: Ant and Dec with Dec's brother Dermott Donnelly
Photos by Barry Pells for the Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign: Ant and Dec with Dec's brother Dermott Donnelly

It’s a fascinating way to make a living because, genuinely, no two days are ever the same.

And I’ve been very lucky to be involved photographing incredible local events, built up great client relationships and met lots of really interesting people.

It’s not hard to get a smile out of a Geordie, or find a beautiful place to take a photograph, and that warmth and humour makes my job so much easier.