Walk down any public beach during the height of summer in Italy and you’re bound to see dozens of topless female sunbathers—of all ages—basking in the open. In a country where blatant sexuality reigns, from larger-than-life, semi-nude women on billboards to scantily clad television hostesses during primetime, bare breasts on the cover of a gossip rag are hardly earth shattering. Except, of course, when the subject of the pulp peep show is a British royal, and when the magazine’s owner is Silvio Berlusconi.
So when the supermarket tabloid Chi, owned by Berlusconi’s media conglomerate, Mondadori, rushed out a special edition Monday pegged to the Duchess of Cambridge’s royal nudity, Italians hardly raised an eyebrow. And it’s perhaps no great surprise that the French magazine Closer, which unveiled the photos last week, is also under Mondadori’s moniker.
Chi published 19 photos of Kate in her bikini in a 26-page spread, including duplicates of a nude duchess on the cover under the headline “The Queen Is Nude!” Despite Kate’s enviable figure, the photos are not all flattering. In several she is wearing a pink smock and Prince William in rather dowdy blue swim trunks. In one, the duchess is holding her backside, with her thong bikini bottom pulled down to show what can only be described as butt cleavage. In another, she is bent completely over while William applies sunscreen to her back. There are a few photos of William and Kate showing moderate physical affection—mostly with her rubbing sunscreen on his back—and one in which William seems to be patting Kate’s head.
The spread also includes a section of stock photos of Kate in short skirts and boots and stylish clothing meant to show that Kate is no conventional queen in the making. Chi’s publisher, Alfonso Signorini, Italy’s “king of gossip,” said the photos were not intended to offend the royal couple but instead show that they are a modern young couple in love, doing the things others their age do, including topless sunbathing. “I published them with a conviction that they are pictures of a modern contemporary duchess,” Signorini told Sky News. “And not even a call from the queen herself would have stopped me.”
The photos make up the bulk of the spread, but for extra appeal Chi asked plastic surgeon Paolo Santanchè to walk the readers through an overview of Kate’s physique. “Are Kate’s Breasts Natural or Redone?” asks the headline, under which Santanchè says that for a woman of her stature, her breasts are not exactly noteworthy. The doctor concludes that based on the way they seem “empty and pear shaped” when she leans forward and appear “flat” when she leans back, they are the real thing, concluding that should she ever become pregnant, the pregnancy would surely ruin them, concluding the pithy article with “God Save the Queen.”
The publication of the photos in the Italian rag may have been in part a response to the legal battle the duke and duchess have launched against Mondadori in France, which has much stricter privacy laws than Italy. The French lawsuit calls for a fine of €100,000 and an injunction against the Mondadori magazine to take the photos off its website. Left-leaning daily newspaper La Repubblica posed the conspiracy theory that Berlusconi’s daughter, Marina, who runs Mondadori for her father, published the photos to exact revenge against Britain, Fleet Street, and the royal family on her father’s behalf, arguing that the photos—taken by a paparazzo shooting with a long lens into a private estate—somehow made up for all the similar photos published in the British press of Berlusconi’s own private villas and parties. Others wonder if the publication of the private photos is not actually a personal sideswipe at the queen, who publicly reprimanded the Italian playboy at a state dinner in 2009. An embarrassing spoof of the occasion later went viral.
Marina responded that the idea she was doing her father’s dirty work was crazy, and she accused La Repubblica of stoking “anti-Berlusconi” sentiment ahead of what many believe is the relaunch of the veteran politician’s career before Italian elections next spring, saying he “had more to worry about than a photo shoot.”