Make no mistake, this is no laughing matter; photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge topless, taken by paparazzi for French magazine Closer, have been printed and distributed across Europe this morning, London time. You’d have thought the French media would know better by now.
By now, everyone knows the story: Prince William and his beautiful wife Kate, holidaying in France, had their privacy invaded by French photographers, who made off with footage of the Duchess sunbathing, topless, in the supposed seclusion and privacy of the château of a relative.
There seems to be some disagreement over the level of “access” required by the snappers; the paparazzi protest that the royal couple were visible from the street, whilst seemingly everyone else involved in the matter have made it known the photographers would have needed to hide in the garden to get a clear shot.
Either way, it hardly matters.
William and Kate are said to be “in disbelief” and “deeply saddened” by first the existence, and now the publication, of the photographs — euphemisms indeed, in royalese, for deep anger and outrage.
And sources close to Buckingham Palace confirm the royal family is indeed enraged at the latest fait accompli of the French paparazzi — and quite rightly so.
The editor of Closer, Laurence Pieau, says the couple were “visible from the street” and the images are “not in the least shocking.” She said “they show a young woman sunbathing topless, like the millions of women you see on beaches,” adding that the reaction was “a little disproportionate.”
It’s true that, in ordinary circumstances, a picture of a topless woman would hardly be shocking; all of us have seen such images, and even those of us who are reasonably conservative by nature would ordinarily be unfazed at the minimum, or — depending on the context — even suitably impressed.
But that’s just the thing: it’s all about the context, and the circumstances in which the images were obtained. Certainly, Closer did not take these photographs on a beach frequented by millions of young women.
Indeed, the sheer lack of respect — and, indeed, contempt — toward the monarchy and toward the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge personally that has been shown here is without precedent.
In spite of Pieau’s pious protestations of normality and ordinariness, her photographers weren’t exactly strolling down some country lane when they chanced upon the opportunity for a happy snap: this was planned, by people who knew what they were looking for and where to find it, and in all likelihood waited around for hours until what they were after presented itself.
This isn’t the carefree Harry, William’s erstwhile younger brother, who thrives on attention and openly invites publicity; this is the future Queen of the Realm and her husband — the future King — who is savagely protective of his privacy, and determined that the mistakes that cost his mother her life are never repeated.
And the point must be made that whilst this particular band of paparazzi weren’t chasing William and Kate around Paris by car at 100mph, the apparent forethought and cunning with which this exercise seems to have been executed is, in many ways, no better.
To their credit, newspapers in Britain have refused to publish the photographs in question; even The Sun — ordinarily happy to titillate and tease, and indeed recently the publisher of photographs of Prince Harry’s own antics sans clothes — has left well alone.
It remains to be seen whether our own media instruments in Australia follow suit (I have already seen the pixellated versions of the photographs being splashed around like confetti) but The Red And The Blue, certainly, will neither publish the images, nor provide hyperlinks to other sites that do so (and any comment strings that do so will be deleted as soon as I see them, so be warned).
In a tackily-contrived piece of marketing spin, the Closer website says the pictures are of the couple “like you have never seen them before. Gone are the fixed smiles and the demure dresses. On holiday Kate forgets everything.”
This more than finds a suitable response in a statement from the Prince of Wales’ office, Clarence House, which says in part: “The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the duke and duchess for being so.
“Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.”
Kate Middleton, or Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is a very pretty girl; yet she is entitled to her dignity in a circumstance such as this, and — not least, given her actions and the couple’s activities were entirely private — entitled to the observation of same.
What she does not deserve is to have her modesty and that dignity violated by a pack mentality on the hunt in the form of paparazzi looking for the easy and unknowing prey.
There is, to reiterate the point and to be clear, a big difference between the recent incident involving Prince Harry and his bevy of beautiful girls — who were actively and openly looking for publicity, with or without their clothes on — and this incident involving William and Kate who, quite clearly, were not.
It is significant that Closer is owned, indirectly, by the playboy media tycoon and former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi? I’ll leave that to others to judge, but there seems to be, at the minimum, an irony somewhere in that little nugget.
I was no fan of Princess Diana, and was relieved when she and her conspiracy theories and her bitterness parted ways with the royal family.
But she didn’t deserve to die the way she did; hounded, literally, to the end of her life by the same kill-hungry pack mentality so characteristic of paparazzi.
I still remember waking, that morning in August 1997, to the news she had died; killed in a high-speed car chase that all evidence suggests was the direct result of the photograph-hunting actions of the press pack.
It’s little wonder that the rage and anger — among the royal family, throughout Britain, and among right-minded people across the world — is palpable.
It isn’t about a photograph of a pretty girl with her tits out, contrary to whatever the redoubtable Mme Pieau might think.
It’s about standards and decency, respect for the institutions and the people who constitute them, and the risk that one day, the whole thing could go so tragically badly again, as it did in a Paris road tunnel in August 1997.
I’m stridently opposed to any form of censorship of the Press; there are reasons for that, and we can discuss those another time if people wish to.
Their offsiders in the photography department, however, are another matter altogether; perhaps it’s time for a binding code of conduct to ensure this sort of thing never happens again, and thus never threatens to spiral out of control — with potentially cataclysmic consequences.
Leave the Duchess of Cambridge alone; hounding her will achieve nothing.
In the meantime, lawyers for the royal family are said to be preparing to hit Closer at law like the proverbial ton of bricks; I look forward to watching that particular episode play out with great relish.