When Prince William was born, back in the 1980s, the Royal Family and the British press were, for the most part happily, in bed with each other.
Young Diana, guided by a now-forgotten breed of royal press secretary who embraced the royal press pack and counted many of the reporters as personal friends, was willing, perhaps naïvely, to allow the press frequent opportunities to photograph her young son in a variety of personal situations.
William was born in June 1982, and first photographed (after the hospital departure) at his christening in August, a set of pictures which included a memorable shot of the Queen Mother clasping him on her knee. Then, in a special series of shots taken just before Christmas in the same year, a pool photographer was actually invited into Kensington Palace for a series of intimate photographs of the baby playing with mom and dad.
In January 1983, William was photographed being carried by Prince Charles down the steps of an airplane in Scotland, and then, a few weeks later, when Charles and Diana went on a Royal tour of Australia, William, aged ten months, was photographed over and over again by the press pack following the royals. Some of the most memorable images of William as a baby were taken on that tour, particularly when the royal party made a stop in the town of Alice Springs.
And on it went through his early years, William’s first steps in the gardens of Kensington Palace, William and his parents with new baby Harry, William’s first day at kindergarten, his first day at school. Diana was happy to share. Perhaps she would have been an enthusiastic patron of Instagram were she alive today.
As new parents themselves, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have taken a diametrically opposite approach. Prince George has been photographed exactly three times by press photographers since his birth—once when he was carried out of the hospital for the first time in the Duchess’s arms, once when he was carried out of the hospital in a car seat a few hours later and placed into the back of William’s Range Rover, and a third time at his christening. There have been two further photo sets released by the palace; the formal Christening pictures and the snaps taken by Michael Middleton shortly after he was born.
The only other time that photographers have got close to being able to photograph the young Prince was when he was taken to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Christmas lunch. However the Duke and Duchess made sure that no snaps could be taken by covering the young prince’s car seat in a shawl and driving in and out of the gates at high speed.
This has become their modus operandi when leaving the confines of their various bunkers with the baby—he is smuggled in and out with more secrecy than once surrounded the movements of Blanket Jackson.
Predictably the British press are highly irritated by this, mainly because whenever they run a story about Prince George, there is only really one picture to choose from. Privately, they accuse William and Kate of creating the kind of ridiculous artificial stand-off that blew up when Kate refused to disclose the name of her dog to the press, on the grounds that he was a “private pet.” In the end, Lupo’s name was only discovered when a schoolkid, to the great relief of Britain’s tabloid editors, asked Kate what she had called her hound, and she was forced to spill the beans rather than tell a ten-year-old, “It’s a secret.”
As absurd as the Lupo affair seemed to the public, Kate and William may have had their reasons—there were rumors at the time that the name of the dog was being disclosed only to members of staff suspected of being less than loyal, so that a possible leak could be identified and plugged.
Certainly, William and Kate have every right to feel paranoid about their privacy, and not just because of Diana’s tragic death, for which William blames the paparazzi chasing her car. At the end of last year, for example, the London hacking trial revealed the horrendous, violating behavior of reporters who regularly broke into Kate’s phone messages to provide gossip items for their papers.
So the argument being made by the press that there is a public interest in being able to photograph the young Prince have cut little ice with William and Kate, who remain obsessed with ensuring as much privacy as possible for Prince George.
Given what they have been through as a couple, it’s an understandable and protective reaction, however their privacy arrangements for George will shortly face their toughest test yet when, just as William’s parents did when he was about the same age as George, they travel to Australia and New Zealand in March this year. A senior courtier told The Daily Beast that it was “too early to say what media opportunities there would be with Prince George yet in New Zealand and Australia.”
It seems debatable, to say the least, that they will be able to maintain the cloak of invisibility around the young Prince when they are overseas.
Part of the reason for this is that the security arrangements at Kensington Palace and elsewhere in the UK are well practiced and can easily allow for George to be spirited in and out of royal residences or the Middleton’s family home in Berkshire without the press pack being any the wiser.
There is another factor at play as well though. The British press is still treading very carefully on privacy issues as the country continues to wrestle with the question, post-Leveson inquiry, of how to regulate its once famously fearless press corps. With the hacking trial still going on, and very much at the forefront of proprietor’s minds, no UK editor would risk running a sneaked photograph of Prince George.
But, as William and Kate well know, the current self-imposed good behavior of the British press cannot be taken for granted when traveling overseas. It was while they were holidaying in France for example, that Kate was snapped topless by paparazzi who photographed the couple from a public road a mile away. The pictures were printed in the French magazine Closer and spread like wildfire on the Internet. William has since been locked in a legal dispute trying to sue, personally, the French photographer who took the pictures, but the process has been fraught with delay and is no nearer being resolved now than it was then.
The French debacle will have done little to frighten off aggressive Aussie photographers who will now see the possibility of a big payday if they can manage to take a photograph of Prince George. Ironically enough, Kate and William’s very successful efforts to prevent so much as a single picture of George leaking without their permission, have only served to make the prize the snappers are competing for all the fatter.