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Paparazzi Pictures: Harassment or a right? Neither, Really.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Kate Middleton outside her flat on her 25th birthday.

How much is too much? A lot of people are wondering just where the line is between the public's desire to get photos and the privacy owed the Royals. It is a tricky business and relations between the press and Royal Family are not always cordial.  One particular event sticks in the mind.  In 2005, in the run up to his own wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles, Charles was caught on microphone whispering to his sons his intense dislike of the media.  Whatever the justification or lack thereof, it was not his finest moment.  The boys stood and smiled cheerfully, but it certainly raised the question, "What are the Royals really thinking?" and frankly left a rather sour taste in many mouths.  Clearly the Windsors have cause for a certain jaded attitude given how brutal the past thirty years have sometimes been, but are they ever a little too jaded to see the predicament in the real light?  Essentially, I believe that the Royals are at times unjustly offended by the desire for photos, and in turn that the public unfairly holds a double standard when it comes to privacy.  There is fault on both sides, but the middle ground is not black and white. I am certainly deeply aware of the historical richness that the Monarchy lends the land, see earlier post, but as a realist it is important to understand that not everyone feels the same way about the Monarchy and so this question must be approached from the angle of practicality and reality.

Unhappy Prince.
The first premise must be agreed on--that royals are neither celebrities nor private people.  On some level, it seems William admits this since the very reason he gave for not proposing to Kate years ago was that she had to realize the intensely different life she would sign on for if she married into the Royal Family.  In the increasingly modern world, a royal family with greater popularity and public interest is a royal family that has greater relevancy.  Since much of a royal's job consists in charity work and raising awareness for their causes, the greater the public interest, the greater the leverage they hold, and the more securely they hold their job and secure the longevity of the monarchy.  To be royal is not a job in the conventional understanding   Unlike celebrities, who choose to be actors or actresses and demand that they are private people when off camera, you can only be royal if you are born royal--or marry a royal.  It isn't so much a 9am-5pm job as a way of life and that changes the rules a bit.

Then Kate Middleton Unhappy with Media Attention

The mot obvious argument against paparazzi photos seems to be a humane one, that the royals are people too and deserve their privacy.  They are people, and they do deserve privacy.  It would be a shocking breach of, no doubt civil law, as well as common decency, were the paps to worm their way to the little house on Anglesey for intimate shots.  Similarly, when in their private homes, or coming and going from their front doors, no one should be making daily life a chore or burden.  But what of the grey area?  The Royals out and about in the city, shopping, clubbing, walking in a public park?  These are all areas where the downside of royalty pops up.  As Britain's royal family they are the living representation of a national institution and so interest and photos are something that should be obviously expected from a patriotic public!

Stony Faced Middleton on her 25th Birthday

A very obvious breach of privacy are some of the photos of Kate before she signed on to royal life.  Several pictures show Kate visibly unhappy with the snapping cameras and flashbulbs.  Those were instances of harassment, waiting on her door step on her 25th birthday or the day of the Diana concert, and pursuing her when she was still a private individual.  The occasional grocery store shot of today does not equate.  She has security to keep photographers a safe distance and she holds the title HRH.  In perfectly appropriate Kate style, she has been only charm and grace in every picture both official and candid since her engagement when she stepped into the Royal arena.

Balmoral in Scotland: Nearly 50,000 acres of seclusion. 

To stay relevant, the Monarchy has to maintain a certain fascination for the people.  They must walk a thin line between too much information and not enough. There is such a thing as too much exposure, and not simply from the aspect of privacy.  Back in the '60's, against her better judgement, and the vehement protestations of the Queen Mother, Elizabeth II allowed a TV documentary to be filmed chronicling the RF in normal home situations.  It was an acknowledged mistake and damaged the mystique and the aloof nature of the Monarchy.  Some even believe it kicked off the situation we have today.  On the other hand, the Royals should also be keenly aware that this interest and goodwill of the many loyal monarchists, and to some extent the tourists who visit Britain drawn by the Monarchy, keep them a royal family with a throne and not just a title. Unfortunately, it is incompatible to be a royal and live a normal life of privacy and seclusion.

The photos from the park showed a distinctly unhappy Prince William looking in the direction of the photographer who was subtly--or more likely very unsubtely--snapping shots of the young couple out for a stroll. William's dislike of the press seems fairly obvious, and although overdeveloped and too extreme, one can see from his hurtful past why this would be the case.

Sandringham, where the Royals spend Christmas, offers 20,000 acres of land.

The key seems to lie in everyone realistically appreciating what it means to be royal and evaluating the perks of the job as well as the drawbacks.  Royals cannot expect the press or public to pass up photos of them out and about in public even in off time; they have relinquished the full privacy of a normal person.  But the public has no business getting offended when royals splash out for expensive vacations in secluded locations!  Kate and William have plenty of money, and no one should begrudge them that!  It is lovely that Kate is sensitive of economic times, or just plain normal, by recycling her wardrobe and wearing pieces that don't necessarily always come with a four digit price tag. But it is also perfectly just for them to spend money to travel to the seclusion of tropical islands, or remote Kenyan preserves, to find real privacy and relaxation.  I have no problem with vacations throughout the year in tropical locales and it is the height of hypocrisy to scroll through photos of Kate grocery shopping and then be offended when she jets off to Mustique for a week when she "should be working."  Most of all, if you really find the photos offensive, neither view them nor pass them on; the interest of the public generates the photos!

William needs to remember that if he wants to walk in privacy through the woods he has options, any number of large royal estates are available for a hike that will never be seen, but when he strolls through a park in the middle of Edinburgh at the height of public interest and popularity, his presence will cause a stir and his picture will be taken.  For any attitude other than understanding to come from this scenario casts William in a very poor light and leaves one wondering if he really does understand how the whole world of modern monarchy actually works.  As future head of state, he needs to understand the balance to keep his institution healthy and intact for his son and grandson.


  1. If, in fact, William was unhappy because his picture was being taken, then I'm really surprised. He should, if there is anyone in the world who should, know, that if he is out IN PUBLIC with cell phone cameras, etc. his picture will be taken. This one pic is a brief second in time- he could have been discussing the situation in Africa or any number of unpleasant topics with Kate. Obviously we have no idea, unless of course the photographer also had a boom mic. So to base an article or speculate as to his feelings about having his zillionth picture taken is kinda lame.
    I thought your article was very well presented and liked it. Just not in favor of basing it on Wills willingness to have his picture taken, or his attitude about it.

  2. great post, a reasonable laying out of the situation and the reality that royals need to court public interest while mantaining a semblance of normalcy.

    i agree with mimi in that i don't think wills was necessarily frowning at the photographer. he's frowning in all the pics, and it looks like a sun squint to me. this is a far cry from the days of his pulling his hat over his face while out skiing - which was immature, melodramatic, and most worryingly a possible sign that he does not understand he needs to deal with public attention, incl photographer's attention, in public places. in fact, as you pointed out, he must deal with this attention with "grace and charm" as kate does.
    he must realize as heir and future king that public interest is vital to his institution's longevity.

    as some newspaper articles have pointed out, charles and camilla (and many other royals) would love that attention for themselves and their work, and the lack of attention for charles is a possible indicator of lack of enthusiam of him as king.

  3. @Mimi and alpa, thanks for weighing in! The question of paparazzi photos has been floating about for years, particularly because of the many photos taken of Will and Kate together before their marriage. So the argument was there, but the double slew of paparazzi photos on the same day from Holyrood Park and Tesco sparked the debate. Lots of good people disagree on what is right. I should have mentioned in the post that William and Kate complained about the photos from the Park, although it is certainly true one still shot should not necessarily determine what we report them to be thinking. I am glad you enjoyed the post and appreciated hearing your thoughts! Feel free to comment any time!

  4. I think if the royal family (any of them) wants to be out in public areas, then they must expect pictures to be taken. As long as the photographers keep a respectful distance and don't do anything that could bring harm to their subject, then I think all is well. If they truly want privacy, then I believe the British public pays them quite handsomely, enabling them to buy it, as you point out! I should note that I'm not British, but I do find the whole royal concept fascinating!

  5. That was a very balanced and fair article. Just for the record I am the photographer who took the pictures of Kate shopping at Tesco and I believe I conducted myself in a professional and courteous manner.

  6. there is a difference between getting a good "photo op' pic of a royal, and the 1st pic in your post in which kate is being harassed by almost a dozen men. (how scarey must that be). there is no reason for there to be so many intimidating people with flashes going off. they are just trying to "get a rise" out of the subject, so they can get a bad photo, which they can use a million times on a million mag covers to sell made up phoney baloney stories. A photographer taking a single photograph, should be plenty, but, not in this day and age, i don't think it will satiate the hungry masses

  7. Appreciate the comments! Obviously, I am sympathetic to the photographers in many of these situations. The picture I led with was certainly an instance of much too much attention from the press. Now, I don't think it is fair to say that those photographers were deliberately looking for a rise. It has been years, so I can't remember the exact sum, but back then, pictures of Kate Middleton brought in what I think was tens of thousands of pounds. Just one shot! If you make your living from celeb photos, that is hard to pass up. Was that inappropriate, yes, but beyond that I wouldn't care to make a judgement on motives. (BTW, Prince William did lawyer up to deal with Kate's harassment on her 25th birthday.)

  8. There will always be a difficult relationship between photographers and the monarchy. However, I do feel the photographer was took the photos of Kate shopping at Tesco did it in a tasteful manner. She did not look bothered or harassed like in the photos above. I think if photographers can respect people in the public eye then there is a way of moving forward. The last thing anyone wants is a repeat of what happened with Diana and I think the press has learned this too. I tweeted a reporter for the daily express and he said his bosses did not feel publishing the photos of William and Kate in the park was the right thing to do. Morally and legally.
    Excellent article Jane!

  9. i didn't know the couple had objected to the park pics, thanks for the clarification, jane.

    nonetheless, i stand by my position, and the general legal position in the usa, that pics in public places are ok (as long as the photographers are not harrassing and putting the subjects in danger, and children are not involved). they were in a park. if a professional photog had not taken the pic someone with a camera phone was just as likely to. they have to expect this, and accept it.

    i'll go a step further, to reiterate your position, that they should not just accept it, they should welcome it as a sign of public interest in themselves and in the institution they represent (let's face it, we don't normally have blogs dedicated to raf pilots and welsh housewives, we care because they are royalty and in line for the throne). there are no pics of edward and sophie walking in the park. to be blunt, the public don't care enough to buy papers for those pics, and therefore the press don't photograph them much. wills and kate should embrace their popularity as an indicator of popular interest. in fact, if i was their pr person, i would tell them to periodicaly go on walks thru parks and keep interest alive.

    wills generated such huge good will when he spontaneously met the people camped along his wedding route. at that moment, i thought he got it. i hope his sulking at the park pics are not a sign of regression to the days of covering their faces when they are not on official duty.

  10. alpa, very well put! I completely agree. The night before the wedding was very moving and personally skyrocketed my opinion of William. I hope that William just has his grumpy days. He is, after all, Prince Philip's grandson. :-)


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