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The violation of Kate Middleton: what this furore tells us about who we've become

The ugly truth is that the British public have claimed ownership of the young Royal. Whatever she now does, they won't be able to get enough

Another week, another naked royal. After the whole ball-ache with Prince Harry’s strip billiards, the Duchess of Cambridge has something she wants to get off her chest. Or rather, the French magazine Closer has done it for her. This week’s issue boasts topless photos of the duchess holidaying with Prince William on a private estate in the Luberon area of Provence, taken with a long lens by a lurking photographer who the couple were entirely unaware of. The editor of the celeb rag, Laurence Pieau, has gone so far as to promise nipples. She added that the shots in the magazine, which went on sale yesterday, might help Prince Harry feel less alone.

I don’t often feel much sympathy for the Duchess of Cambridge. You won’t find me wringing my hands at how exhausting her schedule must be, at how taxing it probably is being that smiley all the time, how damn hard life is when you’re expected to be coiffed every time you leave the house. No, in my opinion the duchess’s quotidian is a bit like Crufts: glossy, pointless and something I’d rather wasn’t on TV.

And I certainly didn’t feel sorry for in-the-buff Prince Hal when his own mortification of the flesh occurred earlier this month: you get drunk with a bunch of strangers in LA – nay, in the age of the cameraphone – and you take your life, not to mention your crown jewels, in your hands.

But Kate, sunning her patrician baps in the privacy of another rich person’s home, hasn’t brought any of this on herself. This is simply not part of the deal. We see plenty of her already, without needing her to be paraded through newsagents and shopping malls uncovered, like some kind of modern-day Jane Shore. It’s a total violation. It’s prurience taken to sickening extremes. It’s “grotesque and totally unjustifiable”, to quote the Palace’s statement.

Oh, well, you might say, it’s the French – what do you expect? The nation that uses breasts to sell everything from fishing wire to septic tanks can have no true understanding of how invasive it must be to have one’s wabs splashed across the media without one’s consent. French women practically go topless on the school run, so what’s the problem? No. Just no. A climate of lechery doesn’t negate common decency. And that a female editor can be quite so blasé, quite so voyeuristically vile, about the whole business is doubly sickening, doubly grotesque.

The female body belongs far too much to everyone else as it is, and not just in France. There are breasts everywhere, it seems, a bouncy, boobilicious backdrop to modern existence. In adverts, on magazine covers; here a gratuitous décolletage, there a pneumatic cleavage. There’s a campaign to get rid of Page Three, which I don’t expect to have much luck no matter how heartily I agree with it. There has been a menu overhaul at the “raunchy” restaurant chain Hooters to encourage women to eat there – that means more salads, not fewer tits, I might add. In the past month, I have seen three scrap metal dealerships whose signage was decorated with arbitrary pictures of scantily clad women. When did we become so dulled to it all, so prosaically priapic?

It’s horribly retrograde to stalk and secretly snap away like this at a time when press ethics and privacy are so much in the court of public opinion. Not only that but a massive drop in sales of these sorts of fame-focused grotmags – on these shores at least – has meant a recent retrenchment from their ilk, cutting back pages and pages of celebrity gossip to something that sits more comfortably under the “lifestyle” tag in WH Smith. We’re not as interested in seeing some Z-lister’s feet of clay as we once were, it seems. How heartening.

But the Duchess of Cambridge is hardly Z list. She’s arguably one of the most famous women in the world, certainly one of the most photographed. But there’s the rub: has she not given enough already? It chokes me to say it. I don’t mean her slavish devotion to us plebs, reading out wooden speeches in a glottal monotone, opening schools or having her picture taken digging some sort of boring communal garden in which she can’t possibly take any real interest. I mean that, even before this deshabille debacle, Kate had virtually no private life to speak of anyway. We have claimed ownership of her; that is what the love of the British populace comes down to.

The parallel is obvious even before the Daily Express gives away a free wall chart. It was unwanted and unregulated press attention, and the relentless pursuit – quite literally – of Prince William’s mother by French paparazzi that led to her death. And now he sees the cycle begin anew with his wife.

Thankfully, the public seems more strongly protective of this princess than that one. We have learned our lesson perhaps, having devoured pictures of Diana, and we know now that our curiosity is sinister, smothering, even deadly. To indulge it, to buy magazines that print these images (which, it seems safe to assume, even The Sun will not do – a moral compass indeed), is to encourage the sort of lurid coverage that no one in their right mind could argue was in the public interest.

Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of watching the girl next door undress with a pair of binoculars: tempting, but something you should have got over a while ago.