You have to feel for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Here she is, on holiday in Provence at a secluded chateau (owned by her cousin-in-law Lord Linley) with her husband, Prince William. This is their personal time together before they set off on an official tour of the Far East. So, the couple do what most young people do on holiday. They nap, they eat, they go for walks, they swim, and yes, they sunbathe on their terrace.
C’est normale, as the French would say.
What the royal pair do not know is that a kilometre away from their idyllic retreat is a public road. And that a paparazzo has taken up residence at the bend – from where you can see the chateau at a distance – with the biggest tele-photo lens known to mankind. So, a camera is clicking away as Catherine takes her bikini top off to get an even suntan; as she lowers her bikini bottom for William to smear sunscreen on her; and as the husband and wife cuddle each other, as people in love are wont to do when they think they are alone, away from the prying eyes of the public.
The story explodes weeks later, as Catherine and William are touring Singapore and Malaysia, when a French magazine called Closer (the puns just write themselves, don’t they?) publishes a topless picture of the Duchess on the cover, along with several others inside. The headline screams ‘Oh My God’ as readers are exhorted to take a look at Catherine as she has never been seen before – and will never be seen again.
Not surprisingly, William is incandescent with rage at his wife’s privacy being invaded in this manner and releases a statement saying that this brings back memories of the worst paparazzi excesses during his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales’ lifetime (it is no secret that the Prince blames the paparazzi pack for the death of his mother in a Paris tunnel 15 years ago). The couple file criminal charges against the magazine and the photographer in a French court, seeking jail time for those who have violated Catherine’s dignity.
Worse is to follow. Another tabloid, the Irish Daily Star, publishes the same photographs in Ireland with the editor defiantly announcing that Catherine was not going to be their queen, so they were going to treat like any other celebrity (Rihanna and Lady Gaga were the names he picked, even though these ladies have made their careers on the basis of being partially undressed – unlike the Duchess who has always been a model of propriety in her public appearances). And then, the Italian magazine, Chi, came out with a 19-page spread of the Duchess’ topless snaps, with a cover headline that read ‘La Regina e nuda’ (the Queen is nude) which was evocative without being strictly accurate while the story inside speculated on whether Catherine’s breasts were completely natural.
But what is the justification of publishing these intimate pictures of a woman enjoying some private time with her husband? Well, according to the editor of Closer, Laurence Pieau (who is a woman, despite all evidence to the contrary), she used them to show a young, modern couple in love. There was nothing shocking about the pictures, blustered Pieau – which begged the question: why the breathless ‘Oh My God’ headline, then? Chi editor Alfonso Signorini too insisted that the pictures did not violate Catherine’s dignity even though the magazine headline chortled: ‘Scandalo a corte’ (Scandal in court).
So far, so hypocritical. But all the bluster about press freedom and the inoffensive nature of the pictures notwithstanding, where does the law stand on paparazzi photos of celebrities? Well, the short answer is that it depends on where you are. In France it is illegal to shoot anyone on private property even if you are on public property at the time. But in Italy the law states that you can shoot people on private property so long as you are in a public space at the time.
Paparazzi excesses: Prince William has filed criminal charges against the magazine Closer and the photographer in a French court, seeking jail time for those who’ve violated Catherine’s dignity
But whatever the local law, the damage to Catherine’s image is already indisputable. The pictures have already appeared in three print outlets and they have proliferated on the Net. All that the Cambridge litigation may achieve is to prevent any further hounding of the Duchess by paparazzi out to make a quick buck. On the other hand, it may not. There is simply too much money to be made from carrying such intrusive shots (as the joke goes: I am so outraged by these topless photos that violate Catherine’s modesty that I can’t wait to Google them and have a good look). And even if the French court comes down heavily and hands out jail sentences in this case, there is really no respite for celebrities in an era in which everyone has a camera-phone at the ready.
Privacy laws are all very well, but what we really need is responsible media. The British press – which is self-regulated and adheres by a self-imposed code – has behaved impeccably in this respect, whereas media outlets in Europe (where privacy rights are enshrined in law) haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. But then, what do you expect when two of the titles in question (Closer and Chi) are owned by that old rogue Silvio Berlusconi.
Perhaps in this case, a bit of tat-for-tit revenge may be in order. Maybe some patriotic paparazzo from Britain can take it upon himself to get a few nude shots of the old goat, Silvio himself. I know, it won’t be a pretty sight. But there are times when you just have to open your eyes, fire up the camera, and think of England.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, September 23
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