Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things


on September 15, 2012

I’d just like to record my thoughts about the media attention given to the Duchess of Cambridge over the past week.

First of all, the Duke and Duchess are currently touring the Far East to represent the Queen in her Jubilee year, so they are being photographed perhaps even more than usual.  Hardly a day goes by without an email arriving from a women’s magazine promising me more photos of “Kate” (why do we feel we’re allowed to be so familiar with the Royals?  I think people sometimes get them mixed up with characters in a soap opera) in various outfits, various hair-dos and various shoes – although the fact that she “recycles” certain garments, and in particular a pair of nude L.K. Bennett court shoes, generates a ridiculous amount of comment.  As Caitlin Moran once tweeted:

‘Can magazines stop saying the Royal Family are “recycling” when they wear a coat more than once? it’s just called “Being normal with a coat”‘

I often click on the links from these e-mails, because I like pretty clothes, I love the Duchess’ sense of style and I also enjoy seeing where she’s been, either alone or with her husband.  And what I find, when I view these photo galleries, is a selection of photos which are either official, posed pictures or ones which have clearly been taken by someone nearby who can presumably be seen by the subject(s) of the picture.  They also display the faces of said subjects, as opposed to homing in on other parts of their bodies to the exclusion of their head.

However, in the middle of the last week, a photo began to circulate showing the Duchess of Cambridge’s midriff.  Not her bared midriff, in between a bikini or anything – this is a detail of a picture of her whole body, wearing a demure dress with an embroidered bodice and a pleated skirt, during her trip to Malaysia.  The reason for the interest in this picture is that it’s (apparently) possible to discern a slight shadow at the bottom of her abdomen, which some believe heralds a pregnancy.  Having seen this photograph, I didn’t actually notice anything untoward in her appearance: she has a flatter stomach than almost anyone I know anyway, and in my experience that kind of dress, which changes to pleats at the waist and has a belt around the join, is difficult to make lie flat and can emphasise the shape of your stomach, whatever its size.

The subject of pregnancy and family planning, I think, is always a sensitive one, and one on which no woman should be questioned, from the most celebrated to the most inconspicuous.  Only yesterday someone made a throwaway, “humorous” comment to me via Facebook suggesting that I might be pregnant again (I’m not).  I tried to take it in good grace but I really felt it was an inappropriate remark to make, and couldn’t help wondering how I’d have felt if he’d said something like that 11 years ago, when I really wanted to be pregnant, and wasn’t – again and again.  Or if it had been addressed to one of the many friends of mine who have suffered miscarriages or still-births over the past few years – how would such a joke affect them?  Bryony Gordon makes a similar point in her Telegraph column from Thursday, and worries how much we’re going to have to hear about it if the Royal family ever announces that the Duchess is expecting.

In the wake of this speculation, the Royal couple have now to contend with something far more immediate.  It transpires that whilst they were on holiday in Provence last month, a photographer took pictures of them relaxing in the garden of the holiday home they had borrowed from Prince Charles’ cousin, including some of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless, and has sold them to various newspapers and magazines.  When the news of their intended publication first broke, the editor of the magazine claimed that the couple had been in view of a public road and that they should therefore be unsurprised that the photographer had taken advantage of the situation.  It has since been revealed that the pictures were actually taken from a substantial distance, and that only a very powerful lens could have managed to capture them.  Hardly similar to frequenting a nudist beach, then, where everyone’s in plain sight.  The fact that the photographer was quite so far away has also raised security questions, and quite right too, given that the long range sight for a rifle is not so different from a telephoto lens.

Today the photographs have been published in an Irish newspaper, and an Italian magazine have promised a 27-page spread in a special edition soon.  St James’ Palace have suggested that greed can be the only motivation for this.  What really made me feel sick, however, was hearing the editor of the Irish newspaper (which I’m not going to name because I wouldn’t want to give any publicity to such a distasteful publication) attempt to justify his decision to print the pictures.  Despite being the future Queen of England, he claims, the Duchess has no such status in the Republic of Ireland, and should therefore be viewed as any other international celebrity.  In other words, she deserves no special treatment as the member of a Royal family, because Ireland don’t have a Royal family and therefore (one must assume) aren’t obliged to respect anyone else’s.  He went on to say that, should, say, Rihanna or Lady Gaga be photographed in similar circumstances, they should expect the same result.

So that’s OK then, is it?  As long as you treat everyone in the same way, you’re justified in treating them pretty much however you want.

Except that I don’t think it’s in any way acceptable to photograph anyone from a long distance, when she believes she’s in private and enjoying a secluded sunbathe with her husband.  Some celebrities court publicity by baring their bodies in public places, and to a certain extent they should expect to be photographed in those situations (although I’m not sure it’s the slightest bit helpful to anyone to have the pictures splashed across their newspaper, and I’m not one of those people who believes that the papers only do it because people want it.  As the Jam might tell you, “the public wants what the public gets”, rather than the other way round).  But however brazen, however outrageous the celebrity in the public eye, when she (or he) is having some private time, in a place attached to their home (or holiday accommodation) specifically designed for relaxing in the sun, it is not the right of anyone to intrude on that just because they have the technology to do so.

In addition, as Southern Daddy pointed out to me earlier, Rihanna and Lady Gaga have both used their bodies to sell a product and there is therefore an interest in them physically.  I still don’t think that justifies the remark about intrusive photography being acceptable where celebrities are concerned, but it is one way in which they are different from a member of royalty (from whatever country).  Royals represent their country when they travel around: that’s their job.  They don’t do that with their bodies, but with their actions, with their words and with the way they comport themselves generally.  We have no business being interested in their physical appearance because it isn’t something to which they draw our attention.

The Duchess of Cambridge has behaved with nothing but dignity and grace, certainly over the 18 months since she officially became a member of the Royal family, if not all the time she has been in the public eye.  She lent her enthusiastic and unstinting support to our athletes during this summer’s sports.  She meets with the sick, the brave, the interesting and the not-so-interesting and always leaves them smiling and feeling special.  She bears up under constant scrutiny of her clothing choices, her hair, her family plans, her similarity to/difference from her late mother-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, and never seems inclined to be fractious or uncivil with those who speak to her.

And yet for some reason, despite (or almost because of) all this, people feel they have the right to behaved in such an undignified and uncivil way towards her.

Those are my feelings.  You might feel differently, so feel free to argue.  Is the constant and prurient attention the cost of being famous?  Do celebrities and prominent figures “deserve” to be treated like a public commodity?  Or do they have the right to a private life?


2 responses to ““Kate”

  1. Fiona says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Great post, as always xxx

    • northmum says:

      Thank you! Have just read yours, I think you’re right about the other journos assuming the moral high ground: it’s probably perpetuating the issue and certainly raising awareness that there’s something out there to be seen. I also think that naming the publications concerned and giving their editors a voice was a bad idea, as it’s all free publicity for these “special” editions.

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