LONDON – Paparazzi, French media and a British royal: The publication of topless photos of Prince William’s wife, Catherine, has reunited the same players whose clash ended with the untimely death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a Paris 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.
The blurry photos, called a “grotesque” abuse of privacy by royal officials, show Catherine – the Duchess of Cambridge – wearing only a skimpy bikini bottom. They are the first to show Britain’s likely future queen with her bosom exposed.
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 and tailed them relentlessly in Paris.
This month, a photographer with a similar long lens captured Catherine and William relaxing in the sun at a private estate in Provence, a vacation spot near the French Riviera.
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 press – chastened by a deep scandal over phone hacking and other misdeeds – all shied away from using the photos.
Prime Minister David Cameron chimed in to support the royal couple’s right to privacy.
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 far tamer than those of a naked Prince Harry in Las Vegas hotel suite that were published in Britain’s The Sun tabloid last month.
A French lawyer who is an expert in media law said the royal couple had clear grounds for an invasion of privacy case. Last week, French first lady Valerie Trierweiler won a judgment of $2,580 after the publication of photos of her in a bikini.
“French magistrates take into account the victim’s behavior, when the person is flaunting themselves on camera. Kate Middleton will get damages because she’s not behaving in this way,” said the lawyer, Anne Pigeon-Bormans.