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06.08.10

Why William and Kate Held Off Again

The inside story of a paparazzi photo—and a young prince blowing his top—that members of the Palace circle blame for the postponement of that wedding engagement.

UPDATE: Prince William and Kate's wedding will be in spring/summer 2011.

Trivia Update: For those who give a toss, as they say in the U.K., here’s what I learned about why William and Kate did not announce their engagement, as expected, last week. According to my sources, Kate is still on course to marry the Prince, but is seen as having just barely negotiated a tense moment between them. “She’s on probation,” sniffs one of the bitchier members of the inner circle.

The postponed engagement announcement, in part, comes down to what really happened after a photograph of Kate appeared in a German tab. The picture must have seemed innocuous enough to those Germans who saw only an attractive brunette brandishing a racket at a tennis ball on an unseasonably warm day last Christmas, but the image triggered a small bomb in the relationship of William and Kate.

Click Image to View Our Gallery of Kate and William’s Ups and Downs, and the Manor Where the Trouble Began

Not, I hasten to add, because of any lapse of decorum on Kate’s part. While William spent Christmas with the Royals at Sandringham, she was with her family at a house they’d rented from the Duchy of Cornwall, Restormel Manor Lostwithiel in the west country. The picture of her playing tennis with her brother and sister on the Manor court never appeared in the British press, but the mere fact that someone somewhere had photographed Kate on a private vacation on a communal court gave Prince William the test case to sue he is known to have been looking for. If it is possible to hate the press more than does their father, Prince Charles, William, and Harry do: indelibly in their mind it was the paparazzi pursuit of their mother in the Alma Tunnel that caused her death.

The intrusive lens at the tennis court belonged to an enterprising 30-year-old pap, Niraj Tanna of Ikon Pictures. He did not trespass. He snapped it from a public footpath close to the tennis court and he claims that Kate smiled at him and wished him Merry Christmas as he clicked away. So what’s the big deal? Why did Kate unleash one of London’s most aggressive press lawyers, Gerrard Tyrrell of the firm of Harbottle and Lewis (the firm Prince Charles uses), to sue Rex Features who distributed it ? I am told because William pressed her to, seeing Tennis Ball-Gate as the chance he’d been waiting for to capitalize on Princess Caroline of Monaco’s legal triumph against three German magazines in June 2004. The mags had published photographs of Caroline skiing and riding with her children, sitting in a café, and playing tennis with her husband. The European judges ruled even though the Princess had been photographed in public places, the photographs breached the European Convention on Human Rights. Acutely aware of the ruling, Rex Features swiftly settled with Kate’s lawyers: She was awarded her legal costs and £5,000 ($7,219) in damages, which she gave to charity.

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Restormel Manor Lostwithiel

Game, set, and match. Except it wasn’t. William wanted blood. I am told he pushed Kate to put the fear of God into the already weakened paparazzi by suing Tanna, the photographer, personally. It’s a move that would threaten Tanna with financial ruin, and the usually pliant Kate balked. (So severe are the legal threats against Tanna he has put a virtual moratorium on his royal pictures.) Palace gossips say perhaps she wasn’t as averse to Tanna’s presence at the tennis court as she makes out. The Middleton parents have been known to ask for a selection of Tanna’s pictures for the family album. In his pictures, the whisperers note, she is always smiling, and Tanna seems to have a refined knowledge of where she will be. Someone close to her is clearly tipping him off.

Or is it simply that Kate is shrewd enough to know that going after one of the pap brotherhood will only earn her the resentment of the entire tabloid press? She’s not married yet. She doesn’t need their rancor. Her mother, Carole, a media-savvy businesswoman without turrets and press attachés to protect her, is known to be upset by the Tanna affair. She doubtless knows it will lead to more snide gossip features about her own humble origins as an air stewardess.

Tina Brown: A Date for William and Kate It’s never a good sign when the hornets’ nest of buzzing courtiers at the Palace start to refer to a Royal girlfriend as... her. As in, “He’s going to have trouble with her.” By definition, heirs to the throne can do no wrong. When William behaves capriciously, therefore, the problem—just as it was in Diana’s case—has to be...her. William’s understandable loathing of the paps has made him not just sensitive but positively paranoid about the press and especially the press as represented by Tanna. It was the ubiquitous Tanna, after all, who snapped William’s kid brother and bosom buddy, Harry, partying hard at Boujis in June 2006 with a sexy TV news anchor instead of his regular date, Chelsy Davy. Result: girlfriend grief.

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Newscom

It is possible that Kate’s balkiness over suing Tanna sowed the suspicion in William’s mind that Kate was maybe a tad too amenable to the press, a non-negotiable in his world. He has been known to plant false leaks with friends to test their loyalty. (Tanna’s friends have an alternate theory—they suspect that he was set up to take the tennis picture to trap him.) I am told the tension between the couple about the Tanna affair grew so intense the engagement announcement was postponed again while William sulked.

This change in plan was a source of perplexity bordering on irritation to the Queen. It led to a distinct chill between Prince Charles’ office and hers. Charles believes that his son should be allowed to take his time, as he himself was not. He also believes that as the Prince’s father, he, not the Palace, should anyway be handling the announcement, and that the wedding itself should be relatively low key: probably in St George’s chapel at Windsor Castle, instead of the full royal Monty at Westminster Abbey. William is not the immediate heir to the throne, remember? A chap called Charles happens to be at the head of that particular queue.

For the last two months, there has been no more movement on the Tanna suit, which may mean William has granted Kate a begrudging hold on the action. The inner circle insists they are still heading for marriage. The palace recently briefed The Daily Telegraph that Kate will be doing more charity work in the fall, indicating they are cautiously “bringing her out,” with a November announcement in view. Two weeks ago, the couple was spotted having dinner alone together at the celebrated restaurant Quaglino's. And who should have turned up but Niraj Tanna, who took a picture.

He elected not to sell it.

Tina Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times best seller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.