LONDON (Reuters Life!) - When Kate Middleton said “yes” to Prince William’s marriage proposal, she was not just agreeing to become the wife of a future British king.
She was also signing up to massive media intrusion in her private life and years of intense attention from paparazzi photographers.
The question she and her future husband will now be pondering is whether that attention can be managed or if they will suffer from the same insatiable press frenzy that ultimately led to the death of William’s mother, Princess Diana.
“There’s huge interest. William has become the star of the royal family that his mother was and Kate’s an attractive girl, so from a paparazzi point of view she potentially means a lot of money,” said Max Clifford, Britain’s best-known publicist.
“And these days the paparazzi are anyone — anyone with a camera, anyone with a mobile phone,” he told Reuters.
The couple’s wedding on April 29 comes almost 14 years after Diana was killed with her lover Dodi al-Fayed when their limousine crashed into the wall of a Paris tunnel as they tried to escape from a posse of chasing paparazzi.
A British inquest in 2008 concluded the actions of the photographers were partly to blame for the fatal accident.
So far William and Kate, who began dating while at university in Scotland, have been largely spared the level of scrutiny that Diana suffered, partly through media restraint and because of more robust action from the royal family itself.
However, Middleton was mobbed by photographers on her way to work on her 25th birthday in 2007 and later that year formally complained to Britain’s media watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), after one newspaper published a picture of her which she said was taken as the result of harassment.
William has also complained that photographers on motorbikes had aggressively followed them after leaving a nightclub, while Queen Elizabeth has written to editors about paparazzi intruding on the royal family’s privacy.
The crucial factor for the future will be the attitude of newspaper and magazine editors. If they do not use or pay for paparazzi pictures, there will clearly be less incentive for photographers to hound the royal couple.
“The judgment that editors will make will be ‘can we justify showing this photo, breaking this news story, with our readers?’” Clifford said.
“Is it going to put them off or make more of them want to buy the paper or magazine? And that’s the most important thing to all newspaper editors.”
He predicted the couple’s easy ride would continue initially, because upsetting the popular newlyweds is likely to upset their readers too.
“As time goes by, if opportunities come along then of course the media will exploit her because it sells papers,” he said.
“They will be looking to see if there’s an angle there that obviously the more sensational, the more people will want to read it.”
Following Diana’s death, the public turned against both the media and the royal family, regarding the latter as an aloof and out of touch institution which left Diana to suffer at the hands of a remorseless press.
Now, royal aides have developed a more intuitive, thoughtful, sensible, and workmanlike approach, experts say.
“What they’ve done is develop a kind of stick and carrot approach to the world media and in particular to the paparazzi, and they have warned the paparazzi off quite severely,” royal biographer Christopher Wilson told Reuters.
“They have sensed certainly within the British media there’s still this residual feeling of guilt about Diana and the way she was treated which means (the press) has very much more been prepared not to intrude too much and give them their space.”
Bob Satchwell, Executive Director of Britain’s Guild of Editors, said aides now accepted the public had an interest in and a right to know more than had been thought in the past.
A new code of practice brought in by the PCC in the wake of Diana’s death which stated people were entitled to privacy was also taken very seriously, he added. Editors would now think hard before using the sort of pictures printed 20 years ago.
“That (the code) made a significant difference to the way papers looked at not just royal princesses or royal princes, it made a huge difference and took away most of the market for paparazzi in this country,” he told Reuters.
“I think editors will think more than twice before they publish pictures which might be considered intrusive.”
Middleton herself, at 29, is viewed as much older and wiser than Diana who emerged from obscurity as a 19-year-old to become Prince Charles’s bride and front page news.
Having dated William for so long, Kate has been groomed for her future role, and the media spotlight will not be such a shock. She is expected to get far more advice and be under greater control, with her exposure kept to a minimum unless on official duties.
“Kate comes from a much more stable background — she is already eight years older than Diana was when she got married and is, in every sense, more mature, well-grounded and comfortable in her own skin,” said Claudia Joseph, author of “Kate: The Making of a Princess”.
“You have to remember that she has been dating the prince since they were at university so has had some practice for the role. Kate may well be as glamorous as Diana but they are very different people and come from totally different backgrounds.”
Clifford said Kate is never going to have the kind of freedom that Diana found that she had in some ways.
“Obviously Diana exploited that freedom to become the most photographed woman in the world and Kate won’t have that opportunity,” Clifford said. “The palace and all those around will have learned from what happened with Diana and they will be very, very guarded to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
However, it is not just the notoriously aggressive British media that the couple will have to cope with.
“If you think the UK media is obsessed with celebrity you should look at European media and American media who go even wilder,” said Satchwell.
“And they don’t get the same feedback that the UK media gets about the activities of the paparazzi involving the royals.”
Most predict that once the wedding is over, the paparazzi will resume normal service.
“I don’t think they’ll ever change. Everybody is competitive with everyone else and they want to get a better story and they’re prepared to go further than the competition,” Wilson said.
He said Middleton has been shrouded in secrecy for the last seven years with occasional opportunities for photographs, but when she becomes a public figure after her marriage to William on April 29 the light-handed approach may end.
“I think that a lot of self-restraint that has been exercised so far will probably start to drip away.”
Editing by Paul Casciato