Just as Prince Harry’s naked escapades in a Las Vegas hotel room began to fall under the radar, the royal family has found itself embroiled in a second scandal after a French magazine published topless photographs of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
But where Harry had already developed a reputation as a “playboy prince,” the duchess has, until now, remained virtually scandal-free, receiving widespread praise for her easy transition into royal life.
Confirmed as genuine by St. James’s Palace, the photographs, which appear to be taken from a distance by a long-lens camera, were taken last week while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were enjoying a private holiday within the confines of a private property: a French château belonging to Lord Linley, nephew of Queen Elizabeth.
The French edition of Closer magazine published the photos on its front cover, with a headline reading: “Oh my God! Les photos qui vont faire le tour de monde,” which translates as “the photos that will go around the world.” Further topless photos of the duchess are included in a four-page spread inside.
However, there remain questions over the legality of the magazine’s actions, given France’s particularly strong privacy laws.
St. James’s Palace has since issued an uncharacteristically strong-worded official statement, which reads:
Their Royal Highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner.
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.
Their Royal Highnesses had every expectation of privacy in the remote house. It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.
Officials acting on behalf of Their Royal Highnesses are consulting with lawyers to consider what options may be available to the duke and duchess.
It was also in France that Diana, Princess of Wales, who would have been Kate’s mother-in-law, was killed in a car crash, while pursued by paparazzi in 1997. At her funeral, Diana’s brother, the Earl of Spencer, famously called her “the most hunted person of the modern age.” Now, it appears Kate has taken her place.
The U.K. edition of Closer, under entirely separate ownership from its French counterpart, has firmly distanced itself from its continental cousin. A spokeswoman for the magazine said it “was not offered any pictures of this nature and certainly has no intention of publishing the photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge, which have been published in France this morning,” adding it “would never publish topless images of a member of the royal family on its cover or otherwise.”
According to the BBC, British newspapers were given the opportunity to publish the photographs last week, but all declined.
In wake of the Leveson inquiry on the practices and ethics of the British press, U.K. media have been particularly cautious with regard to the royal family. Despite their availability online and across international publications, British newspapers equally refused to publish Prince Harry’s naked photographs, with the exception of tabloid the Sun on the grounds that the snaps were already “in the public domain” and because the Prince “compromised his own privacy.”
Such justifications do not as readily apply to Kate, who had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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The royal couple are currently in Kuala Lumpur in the midst of a nine-day tour of Southeast Asia, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Somewhat ironically, the release of the photographs coincides with the couple’s visit to a mosque, where the duchess was modestly attired in a below-the-knee dress and a headscarf.
A press secretary for the couple said: “The duke and duchess remain focused currently on their tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu on behalf of [Her Majesty] the Queen.”