It’s a royal knockers-out

Pardon the deliberately lowered tone of the headline, but we must dip a toe here into the murky depths of tabloid intrusion and a very British obsession with bared flesh. Kate Middleton, an attractive if thin Berkshire woman of 30 whose official title is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge – or has been since she married, with her eyes wide open, Prince William, His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus, in April 2011 – is currently on holiday. It is a working holiday, in the sense that she didn’t choose it, or plan it, and while on it, much of her time is being spent doing things she wouldn’t normally choose to do, while being photographed doing it. This is the life she chose.

Although her role in life is now predominantly played out in public, by her own choice, and much of what she does during the day is arranged specifically to be seen by the public, she is, like anybody entitled to private time. Of course she is. What she does in private is nobody’s business, unless it is against the law, at which point her qualification to represent this blighted nation before the rest of the world would be called into question. To my knowledge, she has not broken the law, and seems, if anything, quite nice.

However, last week, during some private time before embarking upon her current, paid, working holiday of Southeast Asia, she relaxed at the private chateau of Viscount Linley – which is his whole title – son of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon. (Linley’s daughter was a bridesmaid at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April 2011.)

The royal couple called it a “second honeymoon”, according to the press, who must have been fed this information. And why not? The Chateau D’Autet in Provence, is set “amid 640 acres of ­lavender fields and woodland”. The temperature while they were there reached 31C (88F). Perfect weather for sunbathing, like normal people do.

During a spot of sunbathing, among friends and family, it seems that Kate took off her bikini top. We know this because a man photographed her in this state of undress with a long lens. As far as I know, he is not the first photographer to use a long lens. Again, as far as I can tell (as I haven’t seen the photos, other than on photos of the cover of Closer on the newsstands, which are on the internet), Kate went topless outside, on the verandah or balcony of Linley’s chateau. Now, outside on private property may be private on paper, but if you are outside, in the world, that privacy is harder to apply in actuality. The result of this confusion: scandal. And the second example of illicitly-documented young, royal nudity in two months.

In August, Prince Harry – sorry, His Royal Highness Prince Harry of Wales – took his clothes off in a hotel room in Las Vegas, during a game of what was reported as “strip billiards” and, seemingly, unsupervised. (One imagines the young royals are usually chaperoned for most of the time.) Photos of this nakedness were published in this country in the Sun, and the paper seemed to get away with it. He was naked in private, behind closed doors, but, unfortunately, among a bunch of other people who did not necessarily respect that privacy. Frankly, you take your kit off in a hotel room with other people in it, especially when phones are cameras, and you run the risk of photos being published. This, presumably, is why Clarence House didn’t attempt to sue anybody after the fact.

With Kate, it’s different, apparently. The French version of Closer magazine splashed the pictures (“Oh My God,” it squealed, in the international language of exclamation) and the magazine is being sued. The Irish edition of the Daily Star has also reprinted them, with an Italian magazine, Chi, threatening to do the same now. (Richard Desmond, the notoriously prurient and censorious owner of Northern & Shell, which publishes the Express and the Star, and co-publishes the Irish Star, has threatened to take his ball home and withdraw his stake after the publication of the snaps.)

So … before I comment on the whole hoo-hah, may I just state the following facts:

  1. I am a republican. I do not believe in the royal family. Which is not to say I do not believe that the current royals are descended from previous royals, or that there is such a thing as royalty, or that the current House Of Windsor goes back to 1917, before which it was called the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. I know that the crowned heads of Europe are all historically sort of interrelated, and that cousins have always been marrying, and that by this complicated series of fluid exchanges does Kate Middleton now get called Her Royal Highness as if perhaps we still live in the 15th century. I also know the powers of the constitutional monarchy are limited. I still firmly believe that by the state funding these decorative ambassadors, who are some of the richest landowners in the country, is wrong. I do not think the royals should be guillotined, merely stripped of their public funding and asked to fend for themselves, like the other aristocrats with all their assets.
  2. The world we live in is a coarse and ugly one, and no matter what the outcomes of the Leveson Inquiry, and the News International criminal prosecutions, it is unlikely that our newspapers will suddenly stop being interested in famous people at any time in the foreseeable future. The celebrity culture is here to stay for as long as it sells papers and advertising. I find it unedifying. But for as long as we all flock to the newsstands and the websites to seek out grubby gossip about people who are only by the smallest margin more famous or richer than ourselves, the papers and the websites will continue to print it, within the bounds of the law.
  3. Exhibitionism is now standard. Where once this country was renowned, and mocked, for being stuffy and sexless and tongue-tied and shy, we now seem to flaunt ourselves and our emotions with abandon. We make more noise. Sometimes this noise is cheering, as heard at the Olympics, and can be good noise. Sometimes it is simply shouting, as heard on trains and buses and in the streets after 11pm in cities, or in the afternoon if the sun’s out. (I passed through Euston station yesterday and a man, with his top off, was slumped at the feet of his friends at an outside table on the piazza, shouting at the world.) I am not John Major, or Mary Whitehouse; I do not wish a return to Victorian values, but my abiding prudishness does seem to make me feel increasingly out of step with modern thinking. This is my problem.

With all this said – and I hope I have painted a depressing enough picture for you! – I will say this: Kate Middleton is an idiot. Why, when she is the wife of the future King of the United Kingdom and the 16 sovereign states of the Commonwealth (gosh, even typing those words makes me feel a bit queasy), would she take her bikini top off when she is outside? It was the daytime. The clue that she was no longer inside, away from prying lenses, was that there was a sky above her. Prying lenses work best when there are no bricks between them and the subject. Paparazzi scum have been plying their trade since the 1960s when the term for their profession was coined in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (in which news photographers harass a visiting film actress, and, in a neat reversal, one of their scrum travels out to photograph a sighting of the Madonna at a church). Fellini said that the word Paparazzo “suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging.”

Kate’s husband, William, is the bereaved son of Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales, herself hounded by the paparazzi, who were certainly on her tail when her car crashed in a Parisian tunnel, killing her, in August 1997. If ever a new royal knew what she was getting into, it was Kate Middleton. I am not Kate Middleton. But if I were, the one thing I would make sure I never did, ever, was to take my top off outside. Just in case. (We might remember that no topless shots of her late mother-in-law and arch publicity-manipulator Diana ever came to light, so we have to assume that she never went topless outside.)

It is a tragedy that a 30-year-old married woman cannot take her top off on the balcony of her bridesmaid’s parents’ chateau in Provence without being photographed from a very long distance away by a man who makes his living selling his photographs to magazine and news agencies, but there it is. I feel sorry for her up to a point, as her freedoms, as a holidaymaker in the South of France, have been curtailed in a way that an ordinary woman on a balcony’s freedoms would not be. But then, she is a member of the royal family, and I stopped feeling 100% sorry for her the day she agreed to join this unlikely and surreal firm of interrelated people.

Closer’s editor-in-chief Laurence Pieau described the photos as “beautiful” and claimed that they’d not printed anything degrading: “There’s been an over-reaction to these photos. What we see is a young couple, who just got married, who are very much in love, who are splendid. She’s a real 21st Century princess … a young woman who is topless, the same as you can see on any beach in France or around the world.”

Hey, I’m quaint enough to still be against Page 3. I don’t think women’s breasts should be shown in newspapers which can be seen by children and impressionable teenagers. This is the kind of 1980s woolly liberal I am, and if grown women want to be topless on beaches around children and people they don’t know, that must be their right. And with the internet, you might argue that what’s on the third page of a newspaper doesn’t matter any more. (I think it does.) We all agree that Kate Middleton has not committed a crime. When I first heard that topless pictures of her had been printed, I assumed these were from the days before she was married, from some scummy ex-boyfriend or something. If they had been, I would have had full sympathy for her, as she can’t really have known she was always going to be a “21st Century princess”.

But she slipped up. The world outside the walls of her chateau – a safehouse – is a sleazy one. She should know better. Don’t feed the trolls. The trolls have cameras.

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18 thoughts on “It’s a royal knockers-out

  1. The paparazzi person must have been beside himself when s/he got the shots. Regardless of the seedy nature of that profession, from a dramatic point of view I quite like the idea of this photographer shaking with delight at what was happening.
    It all comes across as something otherworldly. Royalty seems at once objectionable yet without real importance. If they disappeared life would not alter one jot.

  2. Kate Middleton is an idiot? That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? Hate the Royals if you must but cut the poor girl some slack. She’s new at this. Signing up for something doesn’t suddenly make you all knowledgeable and discerning of every possible exploitable moment. This isn’t the Matrix.

    And, am I understanding you correctly? Are you saying because Harry was naked indoors with loads of people with camera phones it’s excusable but because Kate was outdoors “amid 640 acres” of private woodland at a private home with her private friends it serves her right? It’s not like she was parading through town square topless. How could she not feel safe when she’s that isolated. Also, if bearing breasts on this balcony was so obviously ludicrous why didn’t anybody stop her? There were other more experienced Royals present were there not? Let’s remember her exposure came at the hands of some dirty old man with a “long lens” (I’ll bet it was) skulking in the shadows. That’s creepy. And an invasion of privacy regardless of who you are. She wasn’t aware of him. But because she should have been, that makes her an idiot? I don’t know. Naive maybe, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call her an idiot.

    • If I do something stupid, you can call me an idiot. I don’t see her, as you do, as “a poor girl.” She’s 30. She’s been hanging around the aristocracy and the royals for years, and she’s been with William for long enough to know how high up the “wanted” list she now is by the world media. Harry’s an idiot, too, but he’s not married to the future King, and he’s single, and a soldier, and a “bit of a lad”, and as I noted, nobody was threatened with legal action when his pics came out. My guess: the Palace wrote it off as a young man being an idiot.

      I do not “excuse” Harry, but there is no need to excuse him. He had a game of strip billiards with some drunk mates in a hotel. He did not kill anyone, or rape anyone.

      A good question you ask: why didn’t her friends and family stop her from baring her breasts? I don’t know. They should all know better. Fame is thrust upon some people who didn’t seek it; others are desperate for it; but marrying into the royal family, like it or not, buys you untold riches and comfort, and untold misery and forfeiture of freedoms.

      We all think the long-lens man is dirty. I made that clear. If she doesn’t know that that men like that are dirty, and that they skulk, she ought to learn it. (I don’t think Harry gives a toss, by the way. He’s currently in a war zone; he’s doing something most of us would never do, and he may as well have a target painted on his back, so he’s clearly a man who loves danger.)

      There’s a lot of hypocrisy around this Kate topless story. I prefer to speak honestly. I think she’s been an idiot.

      • ok, I retract “poor” and “naive” from my Kate Middleton file. I’m still not convinced she did anything wrong. I think Mr. Roberto (below) is on to something. Maybe she knew the risk and did it anyway. Maybe sunbathing a la francaise was a subconscious f*ck-you to forfeiture of freedom…

  3. Have to say that I disagree with you here. You seem to be arguing that Kate’s decision to marry the 2nd in line to the throne removes her right to privacy – the same right that would absolutely correctly get me thrown in jail if I went around taking similar photos of no-names without their knowledge. So I have to ask when do you start to gain sympathy? Would it be wrong if the man she had chosen to marry was 10th in line? 100th?
    Seems to me like it’s an extremely arbitrary distinction you’re making regarding who is fair game and who deserves privacy. As you say yourself, any photos like this existing from before she was a Princess would be wrong – I just don’t agree that her marrying into a particlar level on the “royal scale” alters that so significantly.

    • Point of order: I am arguing that Kate’s decision to marry the future King removes her right to act as if she hasn’t. Remember, if it was up to me, there would be no royal family, and you wouldn’t be able to marry the future King, so she can’t blame me. The reality of the situation is that she lives a life that most of us will never experience, for better or for worse, and within that reality, she must know that a long-lens photo of her with her top off would create not just world news now, but a diplomatic incident. Which it has.

      I do not believe she, or anybody, is “fair game” to the prying lens of a photographer. But since that grubby world around her exists, and it does, she can either ignore it, and deal with the ugly consequences, or adjust her behaviour and avoid those consequences. I am merely arguing that not taking her top off on an outside balcony might have been the clever option.

      To, as you put it, “gain my sympathy”, all she has to do is recognise how rotten the world is, and act accordingly. To reiterate, I would ban Page 3. I see no public interest in what a famous woman’s breasts look like and would rather the media was interested in politics and not celebrities, but that is my utopian fantasy. We do not live in that fantasy. Don’t try and paint me as some hard-hearted bastard. I didn’t take the pictures. I do not hate Kate Middleton. But the publishers of the pictures do hate her.

      • My apologies if you took my reading of it that way – I completely agree with your viewpoint that no one should be fair game to uninvited photos of this nature. The thing is, the fact that the royal family are pursuing legal action suggests that, even in this grubby world, they don’t think this was justified or acceptable, and that she has a reasonable expectation of privacy when sitting on private property. Would she still be an idiot if the photos had been taken through a window? Or if they’d been taken via a hidden camera on site?

        Again, if the photographer had tried to take this photo with a handheld camera from a metre away, he would have been locked up (at the very least for trespassing!) and no one would have complained. The criminal complaint and surrounding fuss are entirely justified in my eyes and that viewpoint would seem to be contrary to the approach taken by this blog?

        • You open a window, you’re in public view. You close the window, you’re not. Legally, it boils down to whether a photographer can “trespass” with a camera lens.

  4. Great piece – everyone should read the 3rd point again because I don’t think enough people are factoring this into the debate.Kate Myddleton showed she is something of an exhibitionist as soon as she decided to take her top off, whether she realises it or not.If she thinks that some people won’t want to see or take a picture of this, then that does indeed point to a high level of stupidity.For further reading, Peter Preston is another one who gets it right in his article in the Observer.Let’s think about how the royal family are seen outside England – in America they’re an ongoing soap-opera.The editor of the paper in Ireland says ‘she’s another celebity like Julia Roberts,Rihanna or Lady Gaga.’

  5. Not poor and not a girl. I don’t think she’s naive either. You don’t marry a future king of England by accident do you? She chose this life, and Diana’s (I hate how you get coerced into using their first names) death proved that the paparazzi have no scruples & no limits. Andrew Collins’ point is simple: don’t take your top off outside if you want to be the queen. And don’t expect the world’s public to only be interested when it suits you.

  6. There is, of course, a 3rd option (aside from her either being stupid or rightfully expecting privacy): perhaps she knew there was a small risk of being photographed, but decided it was fairly small, and took the chance. Or: she’s not too bothered about being seen (although ‘The Palace’ might be). It’s 2012, and (some) women don’t seem as bothered about being seen topless as they might once have been, especially in socially-acceptable contexts like beaches or holiday resorts. If I was her I’d be annoyed, but not necessarily furious.

    On the other hand Harry is probably a bit pissed off whoever leaked the photo of him. If you’re going to play a game of naked billiards with someone, then you should at least have the decency not to take photographic evidence. Then and again, they were drunk, and he’s probably not that bothered either.

  7. Your summation is pretty similar to what I said to my wife at the time. If you (or your husband) are in the slightest bit concerned that somebody might see your breasts, despite the fact that half the population of the world has very similar ones, don’t take your clothes off while you’re outside. It’s not like anybody ever died from tan lines.

  8. The other thing that really irks me is that it’s a pretty reasonable assumption (if only in my world) that a large number of those bleating about invasion of privacy, blah, blah, blah, are precisely the same people who go out and buy the papers and magazines that print countless pictures of so-called celebrities. If these halfwits simply stopped buying said publications the paparazzi would soon disappear up its own telephoto lens. I realise that I appear to be imagining a similar ‘utopian fantasy’ to AC.

  9. If this man was going about photographing unknown women sunbathing topless without their consent and was profiting from the pictures then I don’t think anyone here would be blaming the women or arguing that they hadn’t been violated. I think we’d all agree that he’s a shit and that anyone who would buy those photographs or seek them out on the internet is a shit.

    There is nothing wrong or improper about sunbathing topless. I’d imagine the number of people who think there is is diminishing. We all have a right to do it or to not do it. But we choose where and when we do it. And as long as we’re not doing it in an inappropriate place, we have a right not to have our bodies photographed and sold for the titilation of shits. Lots of women go topless on beaches, that doesn’t make it OK to walk up to them in the high street and rip their tops off. Maybe that’s a leap from what’s happening here; I don’t think it is.

    Maybe that’s why I’m baffled by the response to this. I don’t see that it matters whether she’s a royal or not. She shouldn’t have to put up with this. Yes, ultimately it’s the fault of the people who think that because they want to see her breasts, and her breasts have seen sunlight in a secluded place, then they’re entitled to see her breasts. There is no logic to that.

  10. This blog post is still not sitting right with me weeks after you posted it. I hope I can articulate why without you hating me or blocking me for life. Mr. Collins, you have a voice that is heard by many. You have over 35,000 tweeps, and probably more blog subscribers. I get that you are free to express your opinions. But where does social responsibility fit in when your word is broadcast to so many who clearly respect your opinion? By suggesting Kate is without the right to privacy the second she steps outside is perpetuating the same mentality that compels people to buy the stupid magazines that pay the pervs who take the photos. You’re communicating your approval: she’s fair game the moment she’s outdoors – stupid girl, how could she not know that? You might as well say, “snap away, pervy shadow man, serves her right.” This is the twisted thinking that pervades the paparazzi, smarmy publishing tycoons and bored people. Not a grouping I think you belong in. But I do think you just helped sell some magazines.

    • There will be no hating or blocking! You disagree with me, that’s fair enough. But I fear you overestimate my influence as an opinion-former. I am happy when I have an opinion and people agree with it, but it’s not a prerequisite for being my friend! I may be followed by 35,000 people on Twitter, but only 495 subscribe to this blog. On a good day, about a thousand visit, so let’s say it’s that much for an eye-catching blog entry. I’d go out on a limb and say that those thousand people are not so easily led that my opinion will change theirs.

      If I helped sell magazines, a magazine would employ me. Don’t forget, by following me on Twitter, or following this blog, you are merely tuning in to the unpaid hobby of an unemployed journalist.

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