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William the protector: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's decision to sue over topless pictures
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge return from the Pacific, Royal insiders
talk about the Duke’s decision to sue over the publication of images of his
7:51PM BST 22 Sep 2012
Last Saturday, as the Duke of Cambridge stood at the foot of a tree deep in
the Borneo rainforest waiting to be hoisted 130ft up into the jungle canopy,
he turned to the small group of media accompanying him.
With a wicked smile, he asked: “I don’t suppose any journalists would like to
go on up ahead of us?” prompting laughter from both his apprehensive wife
and the reporters. When assured that the harnesses, worn by the Duke and
Duchess, had indeed been tested by two journalists (myself included), he
smiled again, before joking about the potential “wardrobe malfunctions” he
was to endure for the sake of a photo opportunity.
It was a dramatic change in mood from the Duke’s barely concealed rage just 24
hours previously. Then, the couple’s Diamond Jubilee tour of Southeast Asia
and the South Pacific had looked in danger of being derailed by the
publication of topless photographs of the Duchess in a French magazine,
Closer. They had been taken a week earlier while the couple holidayed in
Provence, at a chateau owned by Viscount Linley, the Queen’s nephew.
The Duke is not one to hide his anger well, and his stony-faced demeanour said
it all as the couple visited a mosque in Kuala Lumpur shortly after being
told about the photographs over breakfast. Later that afternoon, the couple
– who had asked their French lawyers to scan the photographs and send them
via email – were shown the images.
They were, said aides, “hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and
a photographer” had “invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally
unjustifiable manner” and were consulting lawyers. But, while the Duchess
managed to smile and laugh her way through a tea party at the British High
Commission in Malaysia’s capital, the Duke appeared visibly shaken.
their plane at Kuala Lumpur airport, bound for the
tour’s next leg in Borneo, his thunderous mood was tangible. Teeth clenched
and avoiding all eye contact with journalists, he ushered his wife, as
quickly as diplomacy allowed, through the assembled dignitaries gathered to
bid them farewell. Aware of her husband’s barely concealed fury, the Duchess
laid a placating hand on his back.
“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,” said a spokesman for the couple, later
adding that “their sadness turned to anger and disbelief” as they learnt
more about the photographs, which they felt were “so intrusive at such a
completely intimate moment between a married couple”.
Just days after marking the 15th anniversary of his mother’s death in a Paris
car crash, for which Prince William has always held the paparazzi
responsible, he was confronted by the reality that the woman he loves was
facing a future of “grotesque” exposure despite his efforts to protect her.
His admission just two days earlier to a schoolgirl in Singapore that the
superpower he most longed for was “invisibility” suddenly became all the
Behind the scenes, the couple were initially furious, but after taking advice
from their team and making two swift decisions during the course of last
weekend to launch a civil case and then criminal proceedings in France, they
made a conscious effort to move on.
“The itinerary was packed and there was very little time in between
engagements for discussions,” says an aide. “They took advice and heard
options from us, but they were very clear about what they wanted to achieve
– to seek redress against the publisher and the photographer responsible.
“They reacted with anger when the pictures first came out, but they’re not
vindictive, they don’t hold on to their anger. They felt these particular
photos crossed a red line, which is why they wanted to take some
extraordinary action to seek redress against them, but once they felt the
law was able to take its own course, they were able to enjoy the rest of
“When they got to Sabah [Borneo], they were relaxed and cheerful, and if you
didn’t know there was this issue in the back of their minds, you wouldn’t
ever have guessed. They were utterly professional, but it wasn’t an act.
That was entirely genuine.”
With legal action underway by the time the couple reached the Solomon Islands
on Monday – after their lawyers had made a complaint to the French
Prosecution Department – their relief was evident, with the Duchess even
managing a wry smile when greeted by a group of bare-breasted native dancers
performing a welcome routine. By Tuesday, having won a symbolic victory in
their civil case – a French court had banned Closer from selling or re-using
the photographs, demanding the original images be returned to the couple –
they gamely took part in a dancing ritual with islanders of the tiny South
Pacific nation of Tuvalu, the last stop on their nine-day tour.
So, why had they chosen to act now? After all, there had been bait in recent
months that the Duke had not taken. British newspapers had been offered
photographs of the couple holding hands while strolling on the beach during
their honeymoon on a private island in the Seychelles; and of them walking
their cocker spaniel near their Anglesey home.
None of the photographs appeared in the British press. Amid the backdrop of
the Leveson Inquiry into the practices and ethics of newspapers, red-top
editors showed respectful restraint – unlike Paris Match, for example, which
ran the honeymoon pictures. On both occasions, the couple’s aides sent
strongly worded letters to editors, reminding them of their right to
privacy, but there was no direct action from the couple themselves.
Royal sources say that, while the couple were upset about those previous
photographs, the topless pictures took the breach of privacy to a new level.
“They felt that if they didn’t take this stance now they never would,” said
The couple apparently took the decision “together” to launch legal
proceedings, though aides often say the Duchess “takes her lead” from the
His decision reflects a pledge he made before their marriage, not just to his
wife-to-be but also to her family, that he would protect her from the media
and ensure that she would not have to suffer the same intrusion as his
mother. Prince William is believed to have reiterated this promise when he
formally asked Mr Middleton for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Shortly
after their engagement, he let it be known that there would be a “zero
tolerance” policy towards the paparazzi if he felt their privacy had been
“This was such a huge violation of Kate’s privacy – her control over who sees
her body is her most fundamental right – and that will have made William see
red,” says his biographer, Penny Junor.
“One of William’s characteristics is his obsession with privacy as a result of
watching what happened to his parents and his own childhood. Whenever he
went to theme parks, there were lenses on him and he hated that.”
While he understands that his mother had a complicated relationship with the
paparazzi, often courting them to her advantage, he believes that his wife
and most of those dear to him have never asked for publicity.
“For his own self-preservation, he must be allowed to have a private life and
protect those closest to him,” says Junor. “While Kate may have felt rather
more relaxed about what happened, he feels very strongly that his friends
and loved ones must not be intruded upon by the media and there is nobody
closer to him now than Kate.
“To William it is clear cut – Diana did meet her death with a group of
paparazzi behind her – and he despises the paparazzi, whom he views as
deeply dishonourable. He is a very honourable guy, and has promised to be
the most protective of husbands.”
Those close to the Duke also say that he is determined to shield his wife from
the feeling of being under permanent surveillance. He believed that taking
his wife to Viscount Linley’s château, nestled amid thick woodland and more
than three quarters of a mile from a public road, was as private a holiday
as he could give her.
“It’s hard to think where they could have gone that is more secluded in
Europe, and yet even there a photographer was concealed over a long period
of time, photographing them through a long lens and watching their every
move, and for that reason, this was just a step too far,” says an aide.
“There is something quite disturbing about the idea that every time they step
out of their doors, they are under continual scrutiny – no one should have
to put up with that.”
Still, the Duke’s reaction was markedly different from previous royal
responses to an invasion of privacy. “William is very much a generational
step-change from the 'never explain, never complain’ mantra that served the
Queen Mother, the Queen and Prince Charles so well,” says Andrew Morton,
Princess Diana’s biographer.
“I think he has a view of himself as a private person doing a public role, but
I don’t think you can be a part-time prince. If it had been Prince Charles
and Diana on holiday less than two years into their marriage, there would
have been 20 photographers after them, so actually William and Kate have had
a pretty easy ride so far.”
A royal aide says: “The Duke and Prince Harry have always said they don’t have
an issue with the mainstream media who they know are just doing their job.”
But the Duke’s strategy will continue to be to take action “as and when he
feels that red line is crossed”.
They realise, however, that the landmark injunction won in France will do
little to stop the spread of the photos around the world. Last week, the
Swedish magazine Se og Hør [See and Hear], published a three-page spread of
the pictures, including one showing the Duchess removing her bikini bottoms.
The Danish edition of the magazine also reproduced the images.
Closer does not hold the copyright; that belongs to the freelance photographer
whose identity is currently unknown. In the digital age, they will also have
to accept that the pictures will be readily available to an audience far
broader than the magazines’ readership.
“This is straight peeping tommery but, sadly, it is also part of royal life,”
says Patrick Jephson, the former equerry and private secretary to Princess
Diana. “It is one of those inevitable threats that have to be planned for.
“I am sure the legal action will have a deterrent effect but it will also
prolong the story. You might deter future repetition, but the photographs
are there on the internet.
“Lessons will be learnt. It is a sad reality in an ever more intrusive age
that being royal means having to be extra careful. You have to be prepared.
Shutting the door after the horse has bolted is not as good as preventing
the story arising in the first place.”
This week, it will be “back to business as usual”, say aides. The Duke will be
working shifts at RAF Valley; the Duchess will return to her charity work.
They would regard further publication of the images as “gratuitous” and
“deeply hurtful”, but “don’t intend to chase the photographs around the
“They always hoped this wouldn’t happen, but their view is the photographs
have been taken, and that’s deeply regrettable and upsetting. If they can
punish the perpetrators, justice will have been done.”
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