Lessons to be learned from topless royal pictures

As a former agency hack, a wry smile creases my face when I hear the editors of British national newspapers speaking of their disgust and dismay at a French magazine’s decision to run with topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Call me a cynic, but their stance couldn’t have anything to do with the imminent publication of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, could it?

The reaction reminds me of the BBC’s attempts to distance itself from those awful print journalists in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the demise of the News of the World.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order, in my book. As is the decision by Richard Desmond to try to close down the Irish Daily Star newspaper after its editor chose to publish the same images.

Another case of jobs and a news title being sacrificed, amid feigned outrage, to protect commercial interests.

Turn the clock back a few years, before the paranoia, and I dare say all the UK tabloids would have paid good money for said images of Kate Middleton.

What’s more, the British public would have bought the papers in their millions and poor Kate’s picture would have been adorning the walls of more than a few workshops and garages.

Let’s face it: for two decades or more, topless or scantily-clad women have been the staple currency of tabloid newsrooms – and members of the royal family haven’t been immune.

I was a cub reporter back in August 1992 when the Daily Mirror published topless images of the Duchess of York having her toes sucked by American businessman John Bryan while on holiday in a remote villa in the south of France.

Each to his or her own, I guess.
True, the episode did little for Fergie’s marriage to the Duke of York, but she recovered her reputation sufficiently to be flogging Wedgwood to the Yanks a few years later.

No matter how embarrassed or angry Prince William and the Duchess are right now, the truth is that this incident will blow over.

Their reputations are intact. Indeed, the French mag’s indiscretion seems to have simply served to endear the newlyweds even more to many people as they are, quite clearly, the victims.

There are understandable, continuous comparisons between the heir-to-the-throne’s wife and his late mother – Diana, Princess of Wales. There always will be.

The way in which the tabloid press dogged Diana throughout her marriage to prince Charles, and the involvement of the paparazzi in the tragic accident which led to her death, obviously means that Prince William’s relationship with the media will always be strained.

But we shouldn’t forget that the late Princess of Wales used and manipulated the media as and when it suited her, and so all is not as black and white as some would have us believe.

Let’s be clear: the photographer was wrong to take the pictures of William and Kate and the French magazine was wrong to publish them.

It is wrong now as it was wrong 20 years ago with Fergie.

What has happened in Aix-en-Provence was a gross invasion of privacy in a country which, ironically, is held up as a shining example because it has some of the world’s toughest privacy laws.

By the same token, the British press was right to refuse to publish the images of the topless Duchess.

You see, it’s one thing to justify printing images of a naked Prince Harry fooling about in a hotel room when they have already been seen by millions of people on the internet.

It is quite something else to expose the future Queen to such scrutiny when the images of her were taken by stealth in a private moment where she could have reasonably expected a degree of personal freedom.

There are several lessons to be learned here. Firstly, members of the royal family should not disrobe in public – and what I mean by that is basically: “Don’t take your kit off outside”. No matter where you are.

It may not seem fair and it may not be right, but the Duke and Duchess are – next to Brand Beckham – arguably THE most popular celebrities in Christendom and thus will spend the rest of their lives under the scrutiny of camera lenses – some of which will have a very long reach.

The second lesson to learn from this is that draconian privacy laws simply don’t work – as evidenced here. Those penning the final pages of the Leveson Inquiry report and recommendations would do well to take this onboard.

I’m all for the British national press cleaning up its act.

Indeed, I think it has and will further because the phone-hacking scandal is a genuine watershed moment.

However, we must be careful not to turn the pursuit of better standards into a witch hunt because a toothless, neutered press really would be neither use nor ornament.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

1982: The year I realised there was life beyond Sneyd Green…

Let’s turn back the clock 30 years. Yours truly was tubby, aged 10, and at infant school.

I was still happily playing with a tin of toy soldiers and nipping over the railings for a game of footie on the high school playing fields of a weekend (goalkeeper, obviously, because this asthmatic didn’t do much running about).

Then things changed. This was the year I looked beyond Sneyd Green and started to take notice of, well… other stuff.

I think this was because 1982 was a momentous year – for all sorts of reasons.

Indeed, I’m convinced it was the events of those 12 months which switched me on to current affairs.

No, I’m not talking about the arrival of the BMX or the ZX Spectrum home computer – I had neither.

Nor did I go in for Deely Boppers, ra-ra skirts or leg warmers – which all made their bow in ’82.

I’m not talking about the launch of Channel 4 with its first edition of Countdown, either.

No, what struck me when I watched the evening news was the crushing misery of real life.

Unemployment hit three million for the first time since the Thirties and I learned what a dole queue was.

Of course, there was no bigger story than the Falklands Conflict – which unfolded before our eyes on television from April to June.

For a starters, my mum suggested we stop buying Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies because of their country of origin. She only suggested it, mind.

As a 10-year-old I recall being worried as Maggie’s Task Force sailed off but I didn’t really know why.

The Falklands Conflict was the first ‘war’ which us Brits witnessed via nightly updates on the TV news.

For anyone who saw them, even a youngster like me, there are certain names and images which will be seared into your mind.

Mirage fighter planes, Exocet missiles, Harrier jump jets, Goose Green, Mount Tumbledown, the blazing Sir Galahad, the sinking General Belgrano.

For the 74-day duration of the conflict pictures were beamed into our living rooms every teatime – exposing for the first time the full horrors of war to us back home.

In the end, we won, but the cost was steep: 255 British military personnel, almost 650 Argentine military personnel and a handful of Falkland Islanders died.

Last year I met Simon Weston OBE – the remarkable survivor of that fire on the Sir Galahad – at a theme park in Cornwall of all places. He remains an inspiration.

Television also provided other vivid memories of that year for me.

In October I was one of more than 120 pupils at Holden Lane First and Middle who huddled around the school’s only beast of a TV and watched as King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose was raised from the murky depths of The Solent.

This was history at its most exciting and I was hooked for life.

I also watched virtually every game of the World Cup in Spain and very nearly completed the Panini Sticker album for the tournament – eventually giving up on a couple of Hungarian midfielders.

It was a year to be Italian and I recall the Boys’ Brigade lads playing football on the grass up at Wesley Hall Methodist church (trees for goalposts) all wanting to be Paolo Rossi.

1982 was also a year of contrasting royal stories. There was joy for the House of Windsor when Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to her son and future heir to the throne Prince William in June.

But a month later I remember being horrified that the Queen had spent 10 minutes chatting to intruder Michael Fagan when she woke up to find him sitting on the end of her bed.

Ten-year-old me was genuinely concerned about Her Majesty’s safety for several days after that.

Thirty years later and our Liz is approaching her Diamond Jubilee so I guess I needn’t have worried.

Happy anniversary, your Majesty.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Let’s enjoy a knees-up we’re all (sort of) invited to

I’M DETECTING a lot of apathy, a good deal of cynicism and just the faintest aroma of outrage about the forthcoming royal nuptials.
There are plenty of people only too keen to tell you why they don’t give a monkey’s about two super-privileged individuals tying the knot.
Others will cry foul at the public money being lavished on this grand affair to celebrate the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton during this time of austerity.
Then there are those to whose only interest is that they may get a day off work – or be paid extra for going in on what has been declared a national holiday.
I think this is a real shame and that some people are rather missing the point.
The royals are, as always, an easy target for critics but I have to confess I have a real soft spot for the monarchy – unlike many of my colleagues, it seems.
I guess this dates back to the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 when, as a five-year-old, I attended a party down the street at Marie MacDonald’s house.
It is one of my earliest happy memories – a blur of Union Flag bunting, triangle sandwiches, cakes, jelly and ice cream, and lots of sunshine.
Four years later, I was one of the generation of Potteries schoolchildren who collected coins, ceramic money boxes and first day covers of stamps commemorating the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.
My mum’s still got them all.
Even to a young lad from Sneyd Green, Diana seemed like a breath of fresh air for the House of Windsor and like so many others I fell under the spell of the awkward, pretty princess.
When the fairytale ended in divorce and very public recriminations I felt saddened – not only for those involved – but also that those fond memories of national togetherness had been scrubbed away.
Suddenly all the memorabilia seemed cheapened and the reputation of the royal family irredeemably tarnished.
Over the years, through my job, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Prince Charles, Prince Edward and even the late Princess Diana herself.
Granted, the latter was a brief conversation during a Sunday afternoon visit to Alton Towers with the two young princes but it is still indelibly stamped on my mind.
When Diana died I wasn’t afflicted by the strange, paralysing phenomenon of the national out-pouring of grief.
In truth, I found the whole spectacle of people shedding tears for someone they didn’t personally know rather bizarre and unnecessary.
However, I felt sorrow at the tragic waste of life and my thoughts turned to those left behind – principally Princes William and Harry.
Say what you like about their silver-spoon upbringing and their unique forces careers but I have an awful lot of time for the two lads who followed that gun carriage flanked by Welsh Guardsmen which carried their mother’s coffin through the streets of London.
Yes, they enjoy a lifestyle the rest of us can only dream of but, in truth, I wouldn’t swap places with them for a life so regimented and microscopically-scrutinised.
Having said that, I admire the monarchy and I’m truly glad we have one.
It is one of the few things which makes the United Kingdom different and yes, it does the tourism industry in this country no harm whatsoever.
The royal family is also, like sport, one of the few things which has the potential to bring us together in celebration and foster a sense of national pride. Heaven knows we need a little bit of that right now.
So forget the mealy-mouthed nay-sayers. Forget business owners. Forget the unions. Forget the arguments over Bank Holiday pay.
Let’s enjoy April 29 for what it is – a wedding to which we are all (sort of) invited.
Let’s buy some new crocks with pictures of Wills and Kate, stick up some flags and be happy for a young couple in love.
Yours truly will be at his daughter’s school in the run up to the big day, hosting a celebration party for 200 children with cakes and jelly and bunting.
They won’t care about the cost to the taxpayer or who designed the bride’s dress.
But they will be happy for the happy couple – and make a few memories that might just last a lifetime.