The silly season of journalism was late this summer. The queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics all provided light but respectable entertainment (and endless weather forecasts) which seemed to involve a fair amount of earnestness and not hardly enough skin (on that note, when have swimmers started wearing trousers? We didn’t get that memo). Both events were chronically adorned by plenty of “how we’ve all come together” editorials, which made some cynics (don’t look at me!) miss the riots of the previous summer.
But one can always count on the younger Royals to save the day and what they sometimes seem to lack in humour, they make for in their proclivity to take their clothes off in inopportune moments. After 20 years of sheepishness, the paparazzi are raising their heads again, armed with contemporary equipment, be it a mobile phone or top of the range lenses.
First came Prince Harry, fooling around quite immodestly in Las Vegas, to a mixed public response. The headlines were screaming for a while, but the public seemed to bite rather reluctantly. First, because of the feeling that the ratting friend who abused the ginger prince’s hospitality in order to click-and-post was more condemnable than the striping young royal, but mainly, because of the “boys will be boys” allure which coats everything he does. From his first drug experience, at age 11 or so, after which he was subjected to a brotherly chat with good old William and a tour of a rehab clinic courtesy of Prince Charles, Harry has had a role. He has been nominated to play “the lad” of the Windsors and he plays his role, as strange as this word may sound in his context, obediently. Stories about his exploits in night clubs in London have, for some years, quietened the press’s hunger for Royal gossip, and enabled William to remain his good self.
But the tabloids were still not satisfied. A few weeks after the bare bottomed Harry, arrived the second round – bare chested Princess Kate (nee – Middleton) and tan-lotion-rubbing William were caught in the lens of a very diligent paparazzi while holidaying in a friend’s castle. This time, the public seemed much more annoyed. Mainly annoyed with the French photographers, that is as don’t we love to hate the French and their culture of pretending not to care what famous people wears or neglect to wear on their holidays. But what I found quite notable as the sense that the person whose privacy has been violated was Kate and her alone, whereas Prince Wllliam’s rage had only to do with her alleged shame. But while indeed it was the Duchess of Cambridge who had her breasts caught on camera for the world to see, the invasion of privacy in spying on the couple from 400 meters distance using special lenses is surely shared by all those invaded. So while one is better off being caught with their private “bits” covered, the idea of a gallant if hapless prince going on a fierce battle to save his bride’s honour only serves to perpetuate the same conservative and self righteous values which are at the core of the paparazzi shots national obsession.
Here, again, everybody plays their pre-scripted roles. Respectable, somewhat boring Will is forced to load his coldly beautiful (yet in public fantasy secretly wild) wife on the back of his horse, get his underused sword out and ride on to a dual in a French court to save her honour. And with all that entertainment provided, one can only wonder why British republicans argue that the Royals are not paying their keeps.
It remains to be seen whether this summer’s testing of the new waters will mark a new era in the relationships between Harry, William, Kate and the tabloids, after the years of “honorary restraint” which followed Princess Diana’s death. But at least no one could claim now that the summer of 2012 has come and gone without making its tribute to sunnytime silliness.