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In a surprising turn this week, Kensington Palace reportedly gave the okay to celebs-pictured-at-home-in-matching-outfits bible, Hello! magazine, to publish paparazzi photos taken of Kate with Prince George en route to their hols on the island of Mustique.  Was it because Hello! is considered to be a well-respected magazine as opposed to a tabloid rag you’d use to line the litter box?  Possibly.  Was it a case of image control?  Perhaps.  More likely it was a case of William and Kate resigning themselves to the idea of picking their battles.  They were harmless pictures, and while no doubt particularly irritating to William, he’d have sounded like a petulant child had he cried foul this time around.

Due to security concerns, magazine editors supposedly played it safe by asking permission from the palace and agreeing not to publish until Kate had returned to England, but I expect everyone fell off their seats when actually given the go-ahead.   A right royal pay day for everyone concerned.

The reason this is so surprising is that William and Kate in particular have been more vocal than perhaps any other royal over what is and is not deemed acceptable when it comes to their privacy.  In light of the recent Levenson enquiry into press standards, their wishes have, so far anyway, been pretty well respected.  The topless photos taken in France in 2012 were a major balls-up, but William went after the European publication like a bear with a sore head, and rightfully so.  At the other end of the spectrum, not wanting to reveal the name of their dog, Lupo, seemed a tad trivial; but regardless, the British newspapers have been exceedingly well behaved.  Thirty years ago topless photos of Diana or Fergie on holiday would have been splashed across the front page, and every subsequent page thereafter, of every single newspaper in the country.  Indeed, Fergie’s were…with an extra dash of toe sucking thrown in.

The printing of these new photos, however, does send something of a mixed message, and I fear that by letting the magazine publish without so much as a quibble, the palace has made a rod for its own back.  The green light was apparently given because they were taken in a “public” place where dozens of other tourists were milling around, so “anyone” could have taken them.  It wasn’t just anyone who took them though, it was a paparazzi photographer with his eye on the prize.  A very large prize when you consider we’ve only been granted two photographs of Prince George in the seven months since he was born.

During the royal couple’s last trip to Mustique in February 2013, photos of a bikini-clad Kate on the beach were snapped and sold to the highest bidder, and it was made abundantly clear that the royals were not happy.  Granted it was a sensitive time.  Kate had only just recovered from her bout of acute morning sickness, and timing wise it was hot on the heels of the topless pix printed by Closer Magazine in France.  There was also a sense that the photos had been obtained in a seedy fashion by a photographer with a telephoto lens hunkered down in a boat off shore.  That may well be the case, but the photos taken at the airport in St. Vincent last week were not obtained in a fashion any less seedy. They were still the work of a paparazzi photographer staked out in the bushes with a telephoto lens, all unbeknownst to Kate.

                Moving forward, it does beg the question:  what qualifies as a public place?  The airport?  Check.  The beach?  That’s a negative.  So what about the park?  The supermarket?  Starbucks?  I don’t believe Hello! would have published any photos of Kate and George out and about in London, and London is a very “public” place.

Generally speaking paparazzi photographers are made from different stock than your average Joe.  They feed on the thrill of the chase; they positively salivate over the resulting paycheque that comes from catching public figures in private moments, and they adhere to an alternative moral standard than the more “legitimate” photographers.  Give them an inch and they won’t just take a mile, they’ll take ten.  As there were no repercussions this time around, you can guarantee there will be at least one snapper who declares this open season.

Hello! is the first British publication to offer up numerous pages of paparazzi photographs printed alongside less than riveting text detailing everything from the colour of Kate’s shoes (taupe!!!) to how Prince George has…wait for it…grown!  The pictures have since been picked up worldwide, so while I’m inclined to believe this approach is likely a one-off for the royal couple, it remains to be seen how long the British press tolerates the publish-at-your-own-peril sentiment.

Diana famously wrestled with her relationship with the paparazzi.  She courted them to her advantage and then cried for privacy when things didn’t go as planned.  In light of that, William and Kate have probably been quite sensible to take a zero tolerance approach.  Let’s hope this one small reprieve doesn’t cost them the privacy they hold so dear.