Kate Middleton and her sister Pippa at the Wimbeldon finals in July.
Kate Middleton and her sister Pippa at the Wimbeldon finals in July. Photo by AP
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ROME - The British royal family faced a multinational battle to contain the spread of topless photos of Princess William's wife Kate, as an Irish tabloid published them yesterday and an Italian gossip magazine planned to do the same despite the threat of legal action.

The royal couple's St. James's Palace office condemned the moves as unjustifiable and evidence of pure greed, and said it was considering "all proportionate responses."

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sued French magazine Closer on Friday after it ran the photos, taken while Kate and William were on vacation at a relative's private estate in southern France last month. They are the first to show Britain's likely future queen with her bosom exposed.

The publication has been roundly condemned by British newspapers, which refrained from publishing them out of respect for the young couple's privacy, even though tabloids like The Sun run topless women every day on page 3 and ran pictures of Prince Harry naked in Las Vegas last month.

But across the Irish Sea, the Dublin-based Irish Daily Star ran a blurry reproduction of the pages from Closer over two inside pages yesterday.

The blurry photos show Kate - the Duchess of Cambridge - wearing only a skimpy bikini bottom and sunglasses.

Editor Mike O'Kane told the BBC the photos did not feature in the edition distributed in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

O'Kane defended his newspaper, saying that Ireland did not view the royal family the same way as the British.

"She's not our future queen," he told the BBC. "The duchess would be no different to any other celeb pics we would get in, for example Rihanna or Lady Gaga."

Meanwhile, the Italian magazine Chi said it plans to publish the photos in a 26-page spread tomorrow. The cover, featuring three pictures of a topless princess, was unveiled yesterday in Italian newspapers and television under the headline "The Queen is Nude!"

In an interview yesterday with The Associated Press, editor Alfonso Signorini said he didn't fear legal action since the photos were already in the public domain following Closer's publication. He defended the decision to publish them in Italy, saying the photos are tasteful and respect Kate's dignity.

"I don't see anything morbid or damaging in them. I don't think they hurt Kate's image," said Signorini.

He added in a statement that the pictures actually were in line "with the modern concept of the monarchy."

"It shows in its total naturalness the daily life of a young, famous, modern couple in love," he said.

St. James's Palace officials compared the intrusion on the young couple's privacy to the tragic paparazzi pursuit of William's mother Princess Diana. That two magazines in Berlusconi's media empire were responsible for the distribution of the images of a topless Kate is remarkable, given the former premier's own problems with paparazzi and his privacy.

In 2009, he threatened legal action against the Spanish newspaper El Pais after it published photos of topless women and a naked man lounging at his Sardinian estate. Italian prosecutors seized the photos and placed the photographer under investigation for alleged violation of privacy.