LONDON – Paparazzi, French media and a British royal: The publication of topless photos of Prince William’s wife, Kate, has reunited the same players whose clash ended with the untimely death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a Parisian car crash.
William, who has long harbored a grudge against the paparazzi who chased Diana in the days and hours leading up to her 1997 death, was clearly infuriated. The royal couple hit back with an immediate lawsuit against the popular French gossip magazine Closer, which is owned by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Mondadori publishing empire.
The blurry photos, called a “grotesque” abuse of privacy by royal officials, show Kate – the Duchess of Cambridge – wearing only a skimpy bikini bottom.
St. James’s Palace officials sharply criticized the magazine moments after the photos hit French newsstands, comparing the intrusion on the young couple’s privacy to the tragic paparazzi pursuit of Diana, which many believe was a contributing factor in her early death on Aug. 31, 1997.
The parallels between the past and the present were eerie. Diana was hounded by paparazzi who took telephoto shots of her vacationing on a yacht with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and tailed them relentlessly in Paris.
Earlier this month, a photographer with a similar long lens captured Kate and William relaxing in the sun at a private estate in Provence, a vacation spot near the French Riviera.
Instead of challenging the authenticity of the blurry photos, palace officials said they appear genuine – and should never have been taken, much less published.
“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,” a St. James’s Palace official in London said in a statement.
The British media – chastened by a deep scandal over phone hacking and other misdeeds – all shied away from using the photos.
The photos, which were not available on English newsstands, appeared to unite many Britons behind their royal family. Much of the anger seemed to stem from the fact that the royal couple were at a private residence when they were photographed.
Royal officials have stressed that William and Kate should not be photographed when they are not in public. They have complained before about candid pictures of the couple walking their cocker spaniel puppy Lupo on a wintry day in north Wales, where William is based as a military search-and-rescue pilot. The palace has also complained about an Australian magazine’s use of photos of the couple on their honeymoon.
Laurence Pieau, the editor of Closer, defended the decision to use the topless photos, telling the Associated Press the pictures were tasteful.
“For me, those pictures were not shocking. Just a beautiful couple, an in-love couple, in the south of France. Kate is the girl next door,” she said.
She also dismissed accusations that the pictures invaded the couple’s privacy.
“This terrace looked out on a public road and they were visible from the road. So they were not particularly trying to hide themselves,” she said.
Pieau added that she found the pictures of Kate far tamer than those of a naked Prince Harry in a Las Vegas hotel suite that were published in Britain’s the Sun tabloid last month.