“I have to get exclusives. So I get exclusives. From my point of view, I did my job.”
Note: This article is from The Guardian.
Laurence Pieau is wearing bright-red stiletto lace-up boots and a defiant expression. As the editor of the French edition of Closer magazine, she has had three months to reflect on her decision to print topless long-lens images of the Duchess of Cambridge on holiday in Provence and she remains resolutely unapologetic.
“I did my job as a journalist,” she says, talking in her office in the Montrouge district of southern Paris. “I have to get exclusives. So I get exclusives. From my point of view, I did my job.”
The photographs of the duchess sunbathing on the terrace of a villa owned by Viscount Linley caused a public outcry in Britain. “We knew when the photos landed on our desk that obviously it was a scoop,” says Pieau, pouring herself a Diet Coke. “We’re not naive. But we were quite surprised by the extremity of the reaction. The magazine came out on Friday morning and, half an hour later, we got the first abusive emails.”
By Monday, they were in court.
Pieau smiles wearily: “If we underestimated one thing, it was the attachment the English have to Kate Middleton, which is not the same in our culture. She has passed into the domain of icon since her marriage and I didn’t realise that straightaway.”
The pictures of the duchess were reportedly taken from a nearby road with a long lens and Pieau says that, if anything, the debate should have been centred on the lax security that allowed a member of the public to get so close to the house. When Closer published the images in September, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on a tour of the Far East. “It was unfortunate that there were photos of Kate topless, juxtaposed with photos of her in a veil,” admits Pieau.
The condemnation was swift and widespread. A spokesman for the royal couple called the photographs a “grotesque and totally unjustifiable” invasion of privacy. Their lawyers obtained a civil injunction and sought criminal charges in Paris in a bid to curb the spread of the pictures. The French courts banned Closer from reselling or reusing the prints and ordered them to hand over a file containing the images, which they did.
Pieau struggled to see what all the fuss was about. In a country where topless sunbathing is the norm, she didn’t consider the photos to be in any way degrading. There is even a copy of the now infamous cover (which features the semi-nude Duchess of Cambridge with the words “Oh My God” spray-painted in pink over a grainy photograph) tacked up on the wall of her office.
Didn’t she feel a pang of sympathy for Kate Middleton? “I think…” She pauses. “I come back always to the fact these photos are pretty and not degrading. Today, in the UK and the world, she’s the image of modernity. She buys her clothes in Zara. She’s created a real life for herself, and I think these photos show a couple who are happy and in love.”
Although Pieau tried to put her point of view across in the immediate aftermath of the photographs’ publication, she was taken aback by the way her words were reported. “I found it very interesting and also very frightening how it spiralled out of control,” she says. “To see how what I said could be amplified and twisted and go all the way round the world then come back to me. By the end, it was reported in the media that I’d said I had pictures of the royal couple having sex on a boat.”
Well, does she?
Pieau received abusive emails and phone calls. Then, more seriously, a scattering of death threats, which she reported to police. She shrugs off any suggestion that the experience might have affected her personally: she has been working in journalism since the age of 17, when she started as an intern at Le Figaro magazine, and has a fairly thick skin.
What most seems to have irritated her is “the hypocritical reaction of the British tabloid press, giving a morality lesson to the French. Days after the photos were published, the editor of the Sun said ‘we’d never have published them’. The Sun published recordings of Diana’s private phone conversations. That made me smile. I think it’s partly explained by the reaction to the Leveson inquiry: these papers know what they did and they want to keep it in the past.”
France has notoriously stringent privacy laws, which Pieau admits she pushes to the brink. Would she like to see the same legal framework introduced in the UK? “No,” she says. “It’s not a question of laws, it’s a question of mentality.” The French system, she says, does little more than provide “big business for lawyers”.
Pieau insists she has no regrets and would take the same decision again. “If nothing else, I learned a lot of new English insults,” she says with a laugh. “To begin with I was going round saying, what does this word ‘scumbag’ mean? Now I know.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010