Injunction on Topless Kate Photos Is a French Farce

18/09/2012 23:02 BST | Updated 18/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are no doubt relieved that a French court has ruled that Closer magazine has to hand over all the offending topless photos, and feeling hopeful that a future criminal prosecution for invasion of privacy will succeed.

They might even care a little bit that the French judge awarded them 2,000 euros towards their legal fees (enough to buy a couple of one-piece swimsuits, perhaps?).

The irony of it being that French online articles reporting the judgement banning the publication of these photos are being illustrated with the photos themselves. And that the judgement does not oblige Closer to withdraw copies of the magazine that are already on sale.

It's an injunction, but in name only.

Even so, the moral of the story doesn't really seem to have anything to do with courts and judges.

Here in Paris, the most common reaction to the topless photos that I've seen has been a typically French squint. They furrow their brow, raise one side of their mouth as if to show off a newly capped incisor, and exhale noisily. The English-speaking equivalent of the expression would be "duh".

The subtext is, what did you expect? The second a famous woman takes off her bikini top anywhere in France, she is going to hear the click of a camera and the patter of tiny fingers emailing the photo to a magazine editor. (Anywhere outdoors, that is. Indoors, it's just better to stay away from windows or see-through curtains.)

This doesn't make paparazzi intrusion morally acceptable, of course, or even legal, but that's not what counts. In France, invasion of privacy is a fact of life. In the same way, when crossing the road here in Paris I always wait until the cars have actually stopped at the red light. Okay, they're not meant to drive through, but it won't help me much if I go down croaking "you'll get a ticket for this, you know."

The royal couple are not satisfied with an injunction on further publication of the photos, and are suing the offending magazine. However, this might only serve to prolong the affair. Just after the presidential elections this year, Valérie Trierweiler, the partner of newly elected François Hollande, was photographed in her bikini and splashed (no pun intended) across the front page of a news magazine. She sued for invasion of privacy, and won.

It is true that these weren't topless photos, but even so, the presidential couple argued that Madame Trierweiler hadn't agreed to pose for the cameras, and the court agreed.

"The press usually respects presidential holidays," the judgement read, "and these were their first holidays." Yes, pretty damning - the press really should have waited until the president's winter holiday to show the First Lady in her swimsuit.

Madame Trierweiler was also awarded 2,000 euros in damages. Given that the magazine in question, VSD, sells around 200,000 copies a week and is in fierce competition with the celeb mags, the publishers probably think that it's two grand well spent.

And, predictably, when the judgement came through, the French media reprinted the magazine cover, no doubt to show how shocked they were at the intrusion of privacy.

The problem is that French privacy laws have no teeth, mainly because most French people (and all the readers of the celeb mags) don't seem to care about the privacy of anyone in public life. If you don't want to be photographed, stop being famous, is their basic attitude. Franco-Belgian singer Johnny Hallyday once said that he kept his best cars and motorbikes abroad because if he drove them in France, people would damage them deliberately. Stars are there to be knocked down.

It may seem shocking to compare the Duchess of Cambridge to Johnny Hallyday. (He's much blonder for a start). But another problem for the Windsors is that although the French are fascinated by the royal family to the point that many of them secretly regret beheading their own royals two centuries ago, they are only interested in them as celebrities. Kate Middleton is the most famous woman in the world, but only a couple of notches higher than Madonna or Rihanna.

There is no respect for the institution of monarchy here, no inherent right to subservience or secrecy. This is not only a result of the Revolution of 1789 - it's also because the royals in Monaco have lived their life in the tabloids since Grace Kelly made the family famous by marrying into them in 1956, and because pretty well any woman in France related to a cousin of a granddaughter one of Napoleon Bonaparte's sisters calls herself "Princesse" and can be seen grinning from behind her facelift from the pages of a celeb mag whenever anyone in her vast extended family gets married. To the French, the Duchess of Cambridge is no more than a newly glazed, and admittedly very tasty, cherry on top of a rather sickly cake in the shop window of a pretentious patisserie. (Apologies if you are reading this just after a meal.)

For Prince William and the Duchess, the solution to these French problems, and the way to avoid future royal upset, is simple. And it applies equally to any other members of the Windsor clan who have had their flesh revealed in the press in recent times - if you don't want it photographed, keep it covered. In France at least. Because, law or no law, if the Queen herself were to spend a fortnight in Saint Tropez and get a bit carried away at the pool party, you can be sure that the French would publish and be damned.

Stephen Clarke's new novel, The Merde Factor, is out now. According to the Financial Times it is "as light as a good millefeuille, and just as moreish."