x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Diana's legacy looms large over Kate's big day

Buckingham palace now has a much more media-savvy PR operation but, since Princess Diana, concerns remain for the protection of the next princess - Kate Middleton.

LONDON // The legacy of Princess Diana, and the media coverage that played such a major part in her life and death, will loom large over this week's royal wedding.

Prince Harry, best man to brother Prince William at his marriage to Kate Middleton on Friday, admits that the absence of his late mother will inevitably play on the minds of many of those at the wedding.

"Myself, my brother and my father … there will be all sorts of people and the rest of the family that will be no doubt be thinking about it," he said recently. "And I hope she would be very, very proud that the big day has come upon him."

It was symbolic that Prince William chose to put his mother's engagement ring on Miss Middleton's finger. Symbolic, too, that the happy couple will travel after the wedding in the same horse-drawn carriage that carried Princess Diana after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1982, ill-starred though it eventually turned out to be.

Now Miss Middleton is on the verge of overtaking Princess Diana as the most talked-about woman in the world's media, according to a study released last week by the Global Language Monitor (GLM), based in Texas.

Tracking media citations worldwide, GLM found that, almost two weeks before the wedding that will attract a television audience estimated at two billion viewers worldwide, Miss Middleton was already posting Diana-type numbers in terms of news worthiness on leading global media sites, the Internet and social media.

"Kate Middleton is set to eclipse Princess Di as the media star of the royal family," Paul JJ Payack, GLM president, told Reuters.

"In fact, Kate could surpass all Internet, social media, and global print and electronic media citations by the time the royal wedding-related stories are compiled."

Yet while both Miss Middleton and Princess Diana have provided irresistible attractions for the media, the practical responses of the pair to this attention have been markedly different.

Princess Diana might have aspired to be a fairy-tale princess but Miss Middleton certainly does not.

While Princess Diana regularly courted the media until her death in Paris 14 years ago at the hands of a drunken chauffeur apparently trying to outrun pursuing paparazzi, Miss Middleton has proved far more wary of the press.

In fact, since Princess Diana's death, Buckingham Palace itself has become much more media savvy. And tougher, if informal, arrangements to stop royals being harassed by the press in their off-duty hours have come into effect.

"You've got people around William and Kate who understand the needs of the media and of the public," said Max Clifford, the doyen of British PR consultants.

Mr Clifford said that, in a concerted effort to avoid the negative publicity that accompanied Princess Diana and her death, Buckingham Palace had conceded that it must provide access to the couple to keep the media onside.

Unlike in Princess Diana's day, a senior member of the Buckingham Palace staff has been tasked with teaching Prince William and Miss Middleton how to handle the media. Added to that, they now have a formidable press secretary in Miguel Head who has bluntly told the media that legal action would be instituted if any tried to intrude on the couple's private life.

Aside from the voluntary code between the media and the palace, drawn up under the auspices of the Press Complaints Commisssion (PCC), Miss Middleton has far more legal protection than Princess Diana ever did. Privacy provisions within the 1998 Human Rights Act and 1997 Protection from Harassment Act open the way for legal action against paparazzi deemed to be intruding on her private life.

Miss Middleton and her family have shown they are willing to take action. In 2007, she won an apology from the Daily Mirror after it published a picture of her walking with a cup of coffee. She complained to the PCC that she felt harassed.

A year ago, Miss Middleton received £5,000 (Dh30,318) in damages for a breach of privacy, plus legal costs from the picture agency Rex Features who distributed pictures of her on a tennis court in Cornwall.

And this month, her mother and sister made an informal complaint to the PCC over harassment by photographers, which led the press watchdog to remind editors of their ethical obligations in a letter.

"Kate Middleton - like anybody else, in the public eye or not - is protected by the terms of harassment in the code," said a PCC spokesman. "Editors are bound to ensure that they do not publish pictures obtained in contravention of the code. There is a public interest exemption to this clause."

However, for all the voluntary codes and legal protections, members of the paparazzi still seem bent of keeping a very close eye on Prince William's bride, just as they did when his mother was alive.

"The simple fact is," said one veteran royal photographer, speaking on the grounds of anonymity, "that there is an awful lot of money to be made out there from one picture of Kate. Even if the British press won't use them, there's a pretty insatiable appetite abroad for such stuff. Even innocuous pictures, like the one of Kate when she popped in to Westminster Abbey to check it out as a wedding venue, can pull in £100,000 in syndication."

Jenny Afia, a senior associate at leading media law firm Schillings, agrees. "Voluntary arrangements can work well because they're commercially motivated. Magazines like Hello! have more to gain by staying onside with the royals than alienating them," she said.

"But if there's one fantastic story that's worth jeopardising the relationship, the media will go with it."

It seems that, come the crunch, times might not have changed all that much since Princess Diana's death in the tunnel in Paris.

 

dsapsted@thenational.ae