We interviewed for you Omar Franchi, the only italian who, since 2014 (Multiply tour) accompanies Ed Sheeran as rigger and photographer (don’t worry, I didn’t know what a rigger was either, but we’ll learn it together). Omar is an indomitable soul, a guy who had to grow up fast, relying on his own strenght, often changing jobs and travelling a lot…
I will ask you right away, just to break the ice, what does being a “rigger” mean?
The rigger has a key role in the preparation of a show, that involves the show’s supensions, how everything it’s designed to be and to look like and to adapt all that to the structure of the building the concert takes place into. The weight of the structures hanging from the ceilings is meaningful, we’re talking about tons hanging above the heads of the artists and the audience and sometimes the dancers and the artists themselves fly above the spectators at remarkable speeds. You need to understand that the attention and the professionalism must always be at the highest level, as the communication with the local engineers to get the final okay. When the shows were smaller, just a couple of trusses (ceiling mounts) were enough and everything was ready. There’s a lot of work behind what you see at showtime.
Tell me, what do you like best about working as a rigger?
The most important thing of my work and, at the same time, what fascinates me the most, is the pre-production, so everything that comes before the creation of the real show: in fact, we start to work as soon as we get to know the tour dates by contacting the local authorities. Everything starts from the technical design, which is usually done by the lighting designer and from there each one of us begins working on their own part: we riggers calculate the weights (which will then be confirmed during various tests) and the production managers sends the project around the world to every local promoter. From this moment on, a discussion begins to ensure the safety and the right development of the setting up and dismantling of the show. It may not sound like a lot to do, but it’s something that takes months. It’s a beautiful job, full of excitement and satisfactions, but everything needs to be done with great professionalism. There are many responsibilities, but they’re part of the game and someone has to take them. If everything in pre-production goes as planned…well, then life is awesome! But obviously there are countries in the world where things don’t go exactly as they were planned and, therefore, we must be ready to face the unexpected so that everything can be done perfectly and in total safety. Don’t worry though, Italy is one of the best countries when it comes to this kind of stuff!
Now tell us something about yourself… How did you end up being the only italian in Ed’s team, and a very good one at your job, since you’ve been nominated among the five best riggers of 2017. 
I was born on the 8th January 1971 in Milan, where I went to school and finished high school. Unfortunately, I lost my dad in a car accident when I was young, so I was forced to work for his company and leave school, but I immediately understood that that kind of job didn’t suit me: selling bars and sheets of stainless steel…so boring! I came to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore so I gave up on everything and went to London for about two years (because of a girl I met, obviously!) and there I worked at Mc Donald’s to pay my bills and lived hosted by a family. I was nearly 21 when I came back to Milan and I changed a lot of jobs because I couldn’t stand to be trapped in four walls. So I decided to leave with my dear friend Max to start a new adventure with him, following my passion for scuba diving, until at the age of 25 we became part of the Ventadiving group (the scuba diving sector of the Ventaglio tour operator). After my first season in Sardinia as a PADI instructor I moved to Santo Domingo, in the Caribbean, for three years where I worked as a scuba diving instructor. What a beautiful life it was! We didn’t have mobiles, we wore shirts and flip-flops the whole year. I didn’t have much money, but that didn’t matter. In the meantime I met the girl that became my wife in 1997 and in 1999 Steven was born, our beautiful child who, however, hated sleeping, or would do that during daytime instead…so life started getting complicated for us and we decided to come back to Italy.
How did you end up climbing in pylons from scuba diving?
In Milan I met Gana, an excellent rigger well known in the world of concerts, both in Italy and abroad. At the time I didn’t have a job, a kid and a wife to support and he offered me to take me with him to show me the ropes of his job. In April 2000 I left with him for my first tour: “Il Viaggio” with Claudio Baglioni. The work was hard and tiring, but I liked it. From that moment on I started working with other artists such as Lunapop, Vasco Rossi, Eros Ramazzotti, Nek and so on…to be honest I can’t even remember them all. In 2003 Gana asked me if I felt going on the Bocelli tour in Europe, because he couldn’t do it and I was the only one who spoke English (Mc Donalds was useful in the end!) Bocelli’s production was 100% english at the time; his tour went great and that was it… until the production manager offered me to follow him with Rod Stewart, so I toured for five years with almost no breaks at all. The salary was great, but constant travelling around the world, always meeting new people led to bad consequences in my private life: the relationship with my wife was deteriorating until we divorced and I missed out on so much of my son Steven’s life…his communion, his confirmation, school events and plays and most of all his birthdays. But the mortgage was high and I had no alternatives; I couldn’t leave the job, so I continued travelling around the world as a tour rigger with other artists such as Elton John, Judas Priest, Pink, Kylie Minogue and many others.
That’s when I met Amie, the head of the costumes department for Kylie and her dancers and we started dating. I liked being in a relationship with her and because she was used to that way of life, she comprehended and completed me. In the meanwhile I went on tour with Judas Priest and she went in tour with Leona Lewis, FaceTime and Skype had become a daily appointment for us. Both of the tours end and we are still together, so either I go to UK to go visit her or she comes to Italy to visit me, as we’re always on anf off tours.
Do you remember the first time you ever met Ed?
Yes, it was in 2012 at Heathrow’s airport. There I met Bocelli’s tour manager and he introduced me to a red-haired guy. It was clear that they both needed sleep. His name was Ed, a nice guy. The manager told me that they were touring around Europe to promote Ed’s album, hoping that it would take off. “At the moment we’re performing in pubs and small clubs” he told me, so I replied “I hope you succeed, so if you need a rigger you’ll know who to call!” In 2013 I left with Iron Maiden for their world tour, which was great and I got confirmed for the next one. One day my phone rang. “Hi, how are you?” I answered and he said “Let’s take off, I need a rigger”. 2014, Multiply world tour, an amazing tour. 
Ed is the best: easygoing, down to earth…in short, he’s one of us. The work was going really well, but I had to leave the tour in mid-June 2015 for the birth of my baby Betsy (these days FaceTime works miracles). Betsy is a beautiful baby, she has Amie’s eyes and curly hair! I spent a few months home with my daughter and then Maiden calls me. So it starts all over again: another world tour, this time on their plane. Ed Force One. A good experience, 74 shows in 6 months, not bad. The thing that always intrigued me about travelling on a custom Iron Maiden plane is that every time we landed in any airport of the world, everyone stopped to take pictures and selfies to post them on social media…but I wondered…will anyone be delayed for an important appointment, are people desperately waiting for their luggage, that isn’t coming for “photographic” reasons?!? After the Iron Maiden tour, Ed Sheeran’s production called me to work for the Divide tour.
How did your career as a photographer start?
I wouldn’t call it a job, photography is still a hobby for me. I have always loved taking pictures and thanks to my job I get to see the world, so my camera is always the first thing I pack. I started taking photos for Ed, with the permission of his production staff, of course. The photos got very popular and two of them were even published in his official 2016 calendar. I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy and proud at the same time. I am always nearby or behind the stage during the show, so I have the opportunity to take pictures from angles that are off limits for most people. I have photographed other artists too and they seem to like my pictures, some ended up on their websites, such as for Judas Priest or on their blogs and social media, as for Anne-Marie. For James Blunt they even were on the official program of his tour! This year the photos for Ed went even further, as my shots are 9 months out of a total of 12 in his official 2018 calendar and one of my picture is on the tickets and the posters for the shoe in Poland. Seeing my photos on websites, blogs and famous artists’ official calendars is like a dream for me; they are seen by millions of people and reading positive comments and congratulations on social media makes me even happier and it encourages me so much to keep going. This hobby is really giving me some satisfaction I didn’t expect: I love taking pictures!
Tell us something about the Divide tour and the real Ed’s team…
Mmm… okay but just a little bit because by contract I cannot share stories and facts about the tour and the artist… We’re a team of thirty people (I’m the only Italian) and we’re all very close, we always play pranks on each others for birthdays and for each concert there are about forty to sixty guys from local production who help us setting up and dismantling all the equipment. So far the Divide tour has been a unique experience in my life: 112 shows and 1.7 million tickets sold in less than a year…he’s on top of the world! He’s a good man and he deserves everything he gets. The indoor part of the tour is over, but Ed never stops: he’s young, full of ideas and energy. We have already done the required technical tests for next year, so we’re ready to go!
See you next year in the stadiums around the world, along with my pictures, of course!
 Omar is in Jumpers for Goalposts minute 17.40 and 18.32 and obviously in final credits
Find Omar: Instagram https://www.instagram.com/omar.franchi.photography/ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/omarfranchiphotography/
Translation by Deborah Massini – Interview by Annalisa Santini, Ed Team Italia