The new breed of ‘stop at nothing’ paparazzi, who pursued Kate Middleton’s mother and sister on mopeds, prompted Clarence House to warn newspaper editors via the UK press watchdog, citing ‘harassment by agency photographers.’ This ‘agency’ distinction is telling. The royal establishment, battle hardened by the same pursuit of Diana, is aware of the new dangers the pap packs pose to William, Kate and the Middleton family.
Hunting William’s mother became a dance, a ritual. The staff cameramen may have joined in with less gusto than the paps but join they did, encouraged by their bosses. Diana’s canny royal protectors, the elite men from New Scotland Yard’s S.O.14 bureau, knew how to strike deals with the press snappers to ensure privacy. A royal holiday started with a discreet ‘photocall’ on a beach somewhere, conditional on being left alone for the week. Foreign paps broke it but not the British press corps.
The first time the 19 year old Diana emerged in that see-through summer skirt whilst working at a play school, the hunters simply repeated the actions they had used so successfully in an earlier decade with that era’s glamour princess, Margaret Rose Windsor.
The unhappy Margaret was forced by the establishment and the church to give up her divorced lover, Group Capt. Peter Townsend. The press photographers began a chase of proportions never before seen on British royalty. And circulations boomed. She was snapped in a swimsuit by the first UK stalker pap, Ray Bellisario, known as “the Peeping Tom.” Once separated from her husband, Tony Armstrong-Jones, also bizarrely a photographer who worked for the Daily Express, a photo of her with her new lover, Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior, was taken by reporter Ross Waby, acting like a rich tourist and posing his wife with their targets in the background in Mustique, her Caribbean hideaway. The British press were galvanised and she was pursued relentlessly. Circulations boomed again. Royal deference was finally over. The Daily Express placed snapper Stanley Meagher in the rafters of Streatham Ice Rink for six weeks to capture the young Princess Anne's first ice skating lessons.
With Diana the papers smelled a new boost for readership and every editor, news editor and picture editor drank their fill of the ‘candid’ shots made available every day. The tabloids’ first schedule line was always, “what’s Diana doing today?”
Although Frederico Fellini coined the word ‘paparazzi’ when shooting “La Dolce Vita” in the fifties, to describe Italian snappers on motor-scooters as a swarm of mosquitoes, he later changed the translation to “somebody who wants to break your balls.” Royals on the end of a picture snatch attack might think that more appropriate.
Paparazzi are celebrity photographers whose pictures are confrontational. Zealots only to the cause of making money. Nothing wrong with that but it’s the way a fringe element goes about it that causes the damaged relationships. There’s a difference between paps chasing celebrities at nightclubs and film premieres and the hunting of royal family members. The paps don’t always see it that way.
The snap shooters are aware of the hypocrisy that goes with club publicists and PR’s making sure they know the whereabouts of their ‘stars’ then effecting to shield their celebrities from their attentions when the C-listers cry out, ‘somebody take my picture!’ But C-list fame is temporary unlike class. The true stars, the Jack Nicholsons, Michael Caines, knew how to light up the paps. No thrown punches, just smiles making great, saleable shots. Richard Burton was known to carouse into the small hours with chosen reporters and cameramen.
Nobody is forced to be a celebrity. The world’s richest man, living in anonymity, can ride a pushbike unmolested by cameras. Certain clubs are ‘targets’ and stars choose to go there or not. No doubt there are many clubs where you could fornicate on the dance floor and nobody would turn a lens on you. Drink has always fuelled the incidents outside nightclubs and the paps and papers thrive on the results.
But the same rules cannot apply to British royalty, who are an institution which needs contact with its people. They need to be safely seen, hence the warning about ‘harassment by agency photographers.’
Not staff photographers, you’ll notice and there’s a reason for that.
The financial meltdown not only damaged banks. It slashed tabloid newspaper staff too, and the first to go were the media trained staff photographers. The broadsheet Daily Express, in its pomp, had 51 cameramen in London, 37 in Manchester and 31 in Glasgow. Now it has two. The Daily Mirror, first to use pictures in 1904, had 30 in London - now cut to just two. This leaves untrained, wannabee paps, with no knowledge of the rules of engagement, chasing whoever they think will make them a buck.
It’s a recipe for confrontation.
The tabloid picture editors can simply cherry pick the snaps that interest their paper, only paying for what they buy. With no expensive staffers, cameras and cars to subsidise they can buy in the pictures they want and shun those taken on ‘renegade’ missions by fringe citizen cameramen.
The paparazzi have privatised press photography. The upside? Serious cost cutting. The down? Some unfortunate confrontations in the streets as some private snappers set about their trade. The tabloid picture editors need their snaps more than ever in a celebrity obsessed world. The more confrontational the better, safe from criticism by pointing out, ‘we didn’t do it. The pictures were offered to us.’
And so the uneasy truce will continue into the reign of Wills and Kate with many skirmishes yet to come. New era, new enemy.