Kate Middleton Nude Photo Scandal: The Bigger Picture (ANALYSIS)
Back in the 1970s, Hustler magazine printed paparazzi photos of Jackie Onassis sunbathing nude. Aside from some temporary embarrassment for the former First Lady, she didn't really experience any lasting impact; her luster remained untarnished for the rest of her life. But the incident did put Hustler on the map (indeed, it saved the fledgling hardcore magazine from bankruptcy), and it put public figures on notice that even their most private moments were fair game.
So it is with the similar sunbathing photos of Kate Middleton. If it hadn't been France's Closer magazine that published them, it would have been someone else. That the photos were taken at all is less a testament to the photographer's cunning than to the fact that no public figure -- not even one as beloved as Kate Middleton, vacationing with her husband at a relative's remote chateau -- ever gets to experience a truly private moment that many pairs of curious eyeballs will not pay to see. The lawsuit that Closer now faces is an extreme measure for the usually reticent royals, yet the editors must have factored in the possibility as part of the cost of doing business.
Right now, pubic sentiment, especially in Great Britain, is overwhelmingly on Kate's side; many in both the royal family and the public are even comparing the way the French media have treated Kate to the way it treated her mother-in-law, Princess Diana (even though Kate was merely photographed without her bikini top, not hounded to her death in a high-speed car chase). Like Jackie, Kate is likely to weather her current embarrassment without any lasting damage to her public image. But there are two signs of lasting impact: One is the unprecedented extent of royal anger over the magazine's actions; the other is the lesson, surely not to be lost on Kate, which is the same lesson celebrities had to learn from the Jackie photos. Someone, somewhere, is going to make those private moments public.
Just how angry is the royal family?
There are a couple of signals that the House of Windsor is especially livid, Victoria Arbiter, ABC News Royal Contributor, told Celebuzz. One is that Middleton is pursuing her threatened lawsuit. "It's a threat that the royals often make but seldom follow thru on," Arbiter said.
The other is the mentioning of Princess Diana's name as a point of comparison. Queen Elizabeth II seldom mentions Diana because she famously caused so much trouble for her in-laws, both before and after her death in 1997. And Prince William seldom brings up the fact that he's Diana's son because he considers it a cheap way to earn sympathy points. "The fact that the palace did mention Diana speaks volumes about the prince's anger and dismay," Aribiter said. "He must be furious. There's no telling how angry that man is." She added, "The fact that it's the same country where his mother died is even crueler."
Besides her husband's reaction, Middleton must be worried about how this scandal hurts his grandmother, Arbiter said. "She's upset about how the queen will react. She's very fond of the queen."
But unlike her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, who got a dressing-down from the queen after his nude photo scandal last month, Middleton should expect nothing but support from her in-laws, Arbiter said. "There is no scandal here. She was with her husband. She wasn't doing anything illegal. It's not like 1992." (Here, Arbiter was referring to the time the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was photographed sunbathing topless, but with a man who wasn't her then-husband, Prince Andrew. That was the last straw for what was an already collapsing marriage.)
Unlike that incident, the press in the U.K. can also be expected to rally around Middleton.
"There's absolutely no way the British papers will touch those pictures," Arbiter said.
To a large extent, the rules of royal coverage have changed in the 15 years since Diana's death. In England, the papers dialed back their scrutiny and largely left William and Harry alone as they matured into adulthood. William's marriage to the popular Kate brought the couple more scrutiny but no less deference, as is apparent from the glowing coverage of their Asian trip this week.
So, the unexpected aggressiveness that led to the publication of these photos has "awakened feelings that have been dormant for sometime," Arbiter said, referring to the long-repressed fury over the way Princess Diana died. "The public backlash -- there's been an incredible show of dismay and outrage toward these pictures," Arbiter said.
As for lasting impact, there probably won't be any, except in the young couple's ability to enjoy private moments.
"It's a sad fact, but it's naïve to think you are ever alone when you're a royal couple," Arbiter said. "The pool could be seen from a public road. It's creepy to think that you're having a private moment and someone is taking pictures, but it is what it is. It's a horrible lesson that's been learned. She won't be going topless again, you can be sure."
And when there is something ostensibly private that the couple might like to share (baby news!), Prince William will be a lot more reluctant to do so. "All this does is steel Prince William's natural mistrust. To him, the press is the press," Arbiter said, whether it's friendly British papers or pandering foreign magazines.
"It'll make him close up even more."
Do you think this is a major scandal for the royals or one that will blow over quickly? Check out the gallery of 25 memorable British royal scandals, at the top of this article, and sound off in the comments below.