Just what does a royal family have to do for a quiet life these days? After a jubilant Diamond Jubilee year and Olympic summer that saw the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh fulfil their duties with grandeur and aplomb—including the monarch appearing in a James Bond skit, no less—how has it come to this? A legal battle against several magazines, something that breaks all manner of conventions and protocol, and a new wave of discussion as to what the monarch and her family’s relationship with her subjects should be.
And things were looking so much brighter. More than a year after the British people had fallen in love with the next generation of its sovereign’s household, a series of paparazzi nightmares has plunged its shaky relationship with its adoring public back to a darker time. A time of constant intrusion, leaks, realpolitik and, of course, the grim denouement, the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
First there was Prince Harry, never far from the headlines, and the pictures of his drunken, naked tomfoolery in a Las Vegas hotel with a group of young women that were published at the end of August. The pictures themselves were actually taken by a member of the hen party Harry and his retinue had befriended in America’s ‘Sin City’; so many were quick to point out it was not the media which was at fault, but an oleaginous member of the public seeking to exploit her access to a private party.
And more importantly, many defended the young royal’s behaviour as simply that of a young man with a high-pressure job enjoying some time off. That Harry is back on the frontline in Afghanistan now for his second tour with the British army’s Household Cavalry is testament to this backing: if this young man is willing to serve for his country, just like his brother, father and uncles, while so many men his age do not, does the wayward prince not deserve a little bit of slack for doing no worse than any other single man aged 28 would, given the opportunity?
Never one to miss a trick, Las Vegas tourism officials were quick to leap to Harry’s defence, proclaiming him a true son of its neon coat of arms. An advert placed in USA Today screamed: “We are calling on you, the defenders of what happens in Vegas staying in its rightful place—in Vegas. We are asking for a shun on those exploiters of Prince Harry. We shall boycott partying with (whoever exploited Harry). No bottle service. No bikini-clad girls.”
But Harry’s indiscretions seem a storm in the royal teacup compared to the antics of French magazine Closer, which printed long-lens, topless pictures of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, at a private villa with her husband. The stark difference being that whereas the Sun was the only British media organisation to print the Harry pictures—its rice-paper-thin defence being they were available on the net and it was only allowing older people and those too poor to have web access to “participate in a national discussion”—no British newspapers have published the Kate pictures as yet.
Here opinion is split, surprisingly, firstly as to whether the pictures themselves—published by Closer in France, and Chi in Italy—are anything different from what happens to many other celebrities; and secondly, whether Kate and William deserve any sympathy for a perceived lack of street smarts with the media. This is genuinely puzzling, as on the one hand, with the phone-hacking scandal and Leveson inquiry into media ethics, it seems the British public desires a sober media culture, but on the other hand, they have little time for celebrities complaining.
Many pundits questioned Kate’s naivety in not somehow assuming she was constantly under the watch of a snapper up a tree, a view that jars somewhat with the reality that she was on as private as land possibly gets, in a home owned by a friend of the family, in France—a country with some of the strictest privacy laws in the world. Was she really at fault for changing her clothes in front of her husband in such a scenario? As Guardian journalist Lucy Mangan said: “Apparently, because she signed up for a role in public life when she got married, Middleton forfeited her right to any kind of private and/or clothed one.”
This goes directly against what media commentator Roy Greenslade says, that British papers would be hesitant to publish. “I don’t think a British newspaper or magazine would dare to publish,” said the professor of journalism at City University, London. “It would be in breach of the editors’ code of practice and you’d need to have a public interest reason for overcoming that.” He went on to say that the fact that Kate is popular would be detrimental to public perception of any British outlet that published them.
So how do these paradoxical viewpoints occur? How is it the British public love the royals yet seemingly have such little sympathy for their plight? Well the answer is actually the same as before: hypocrisy. Just as those that laid flowers on Diana’s makeshift memorials up and down the country 15 years ago lambasted those cursed photographers that chased her and Dodi Al Fayed to their deaths, then went out and bought the 20-page special supplements the next day—many that tutted their disapproval at Closer, Chi, or Se Og—the Danish magazine that published bottomless photos of the Duchess—walked off and googled the pictures on their smartphones.
Such is the vicious circle with the royal family, people will read practically anything about them—and yet do not want to be tainted with contributing to their discomfort. So how does one reconcile these contradictions? The royal press machine is a far more slick operation than it was in Diana’s days and perhaps they could look to other celebrities in how to combat such an insatiable appetite. Perhaps they should cut out the middleman and start a royal blog, updated daily by several members of the household complete with pictures and Twitter feeds—and then ask people to sign up? Kate’s private parts should remain private but if everyone wants a piece of her, maybe she should be the one dishing them out.