I first visited Cuba in December 2002 to photograph at Jazz Plaza Festival and because, for many years, Cuba had always fascinated me with its history and pivotal place in world politics. Hemingway’s connections, Winston Churchill was there in 1885, cigars and rum. Oh and the music, the great music, Dizzy Gillespie visits, Jaco Pastorius played there with John McLaughlin and Tony Williams. Reason enough whatever the right order. No matter. I’d been e-mailing someone there whose details I had been given by a friend months before – and who had given me the impression that he had connections with the festival organisers. Almost at the last minute I found he wasn’t really that close to them – so was, in effect, going on a flyer, no accreditation but I can be persuasive. Everything was booked, the flight, the hotel – I was definitely going.

It was a 10 hour flight and I arrived early evening took the bus to the hotel – La Florida on Obispo, checked in and went out to explore old Havana. I was wired.

Came back and the band were still playing, dancers still dancing in the hotel and I was in the zone.

Next day I walked down to Plaza de Armas to the book stalls, visited a lot of the beautiful buildings and galleries and was heading back to the hotel when I saw crowds in one of the squares, military vehicles, limos and lots of very big security men around.

I knew it would only be for one man – Fidel. I couldn’t believe, waited for around 30 minutes and he emerged from attending a children’s Christmas choir service.

I had the 90 mm on the Leica, not quite Korda and Che Guevara but we do have Fidel being interviewed under the boom mike in a crowd of media and minders. I wish I had been closer but my survival instinct told me it was best not to move around too much – those guys were not going to take any prisoners so near to the Comandante en Jefe.

That was my first day in Havana, I needed a mojito, maybe two

To be continued.

Fidel Castro Havana f2002