It began as a dare over dinner in April 1993. Bryce Taylor was talking to friends about the Princess of Wales exercising at his club. He told them he could not understand why all the newspapers were calling her anorexic. Taylor saw her almost eve ryday in her leotard, and if anything she looked a little on the plump side.
In her leotard? Working out? Had Taylor considered how much he could earn if he had photographs of this event? It had crossed Taylor's mind, but only now, as his friends said "probably at least a million", did he begin to give it serious thought.
Taylor, then 37, was not used to this sort of thing. He had earned his living as a professional squash coach, both in Britain and his native New Zealand, and he had trained England's leading players. The LA Fitness Club, of which he was managing directorand majority shareholder, was a relatively new venture for him, and he had great hopes for it. It had only been going a few months when royalty walked in.
The LA Fitness Club was not in LA, of course, but in Isleworth, Middlesex. Why should the Princess bother with a club in Isleworth? The answer seems to have been that Carolan Brown, her personal trainer, liked it there.
Taylor and his friends devised a scheme whereby the Princess could be snapped through a hole in the ceiling. What began as a prank now demanded intricate planning. A hole soon appeared above one of the multigym machines, one on which the Princess performed her thigh and stomach routines.
Pictures were taken at the beginning of May 1993. Clearly not the sort of photographs to dispatch to Boots for developing, they were printed privately by a friend. They were then greatly enlarged, to the size of a broadsheet newspaper. When Taylor saw the photos even he was taken aback: almost all of the 30-odd pictures were perfectly focussed; the scheme had so far worked entirely as planned. Then he got rather nervous.
He sought legal advice from a firm specialising in intellectual property law. He says he was told that the laws on privacy were so ill-defined that he should have nothing to worry about if he sold the pictures. But the firm declined to act for him: what he was doing might not be illegal, but it was certainly not far above the workings of the sewer rat.
It is hard to keep quiet about such a coup. Rumours of the photographs began spreading among club clientele. One who learned of their existence was Shane Glavey, a hairdresser who styled for Lesley Scott, widow of the DJ Roger Scott and now Bryce Taylor's live-in partner. On 17 May 1993, Glavey visited Scott at home, and asked her to show him the pictures. He, too, was astonished at what he saw, and realised the potential impact they would have.
Glavey was not friendly with Taylor, and has said that he wished to "protect" Scott from any possible negative reaction. So within hours the hairdresser had contacted a long-standing client who works for the Queen. It is believed the client then called the Princess to tell her what she had learned about the photographs. But although the Princess therefore knew that some workout photos of her existed, she didn't know when they were taken, or where, or by whom.
But the Princess had her theories. On 18 May, Ken Wharfe, the Princess's personal security officer, interviewed Bryce Taylor at his fitness club. Taylor told him he knew nothing about any photographs.
Shaken by this experience, Taylor stalled his plans to sell the photographs, and for the next few months they remained locked away in his house. But Taylor had debts, not least the £70,000 he had borrowed from Scott to buy his shares in his club. Gradually, he began putting out feelers again. He claims he put in an anonymous call to Max Clifford, the public relations guru who had handled tabloid affairs for Antonia de Sancha and Pamella Bordes. If such pictures existed, Taylor asked, what would they be worth? Clifford says he has no recollection of this call, and that anyway he would not have agreed to handle the sale of the photographs. But he did later speak on behalf of Taylor and his fitness club once a deal was brokered.
Before Taylor could tout the photographs himself, tabloid interest came to him. In October, a journalist from the Sunday Express began appearing at the fitness club, heard about the photographs, and talked to Taylor about a possible deal. But it is believed that Taylor became nervous over the delay in reaching an agreement.
So in November he approached Rex Features, the photographic agency, and agreed a new deal. He would sell Rex the photos in return for which he would receive a 75 per cent cut of all earnings. This split was not ungenerous, but the terms of payment were unduly onerous for a sensational deal of this kind. Rex would only pay after 40 days; advisers such as Max Clifford would have demanded money on the day of publication.
Taylor says that when he and Rex approached Mirror Group Newspapers in November, the photographs elicited a near-slavering response. A deal was struck swiftly for £125,000. Colin Myler, editor of the Sunday Mirror at the time of the photographs' publication on 7 November 1993, said he thought the snaps showed a perfect specimen of womanhood; any woman would have been envious of such a display.
On the pretext that this wasn't purely salacious journalism but concerned investigation, the Sunday Mirror front page expressed concern that the photos might provoke "a new Royal security storm". This stance was upheld for at least 24 hours, during whichMonday's Daily Mirror published further pictures, but it would change markedly over the next week.
As part of the deal, Bryce Taylor became Mirror Group property for a week, being moved from hotel to hotel around the M25. One of his vistors that week was a solicitor from Simons, Muirhead and Burton, for a writ had now arrived from the Princess's solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, claiming breaches of confidence, contract and fiduciary obligation. An injunction had also been granted preventing any republication of the pictures.
The Mirror Group was also issued with a writ claiming surrender of the photographs and an account of profits from their use. The Mirror Group's aggressive stance changed swiftly, not least perhaps because it feared a public outpouring of sympathy towardsthe Princess. It apologised for any distress it might have caused the Princess, and blamed the "ratbag" photographer for his despicable actions.
Lord Mishcon was mistaken if he believed that Taylor would crumple under the weight of his claims. As the months went by, and attempts at settlement fizzled out, Taylor became aware that he had little to lose: he had lost his job, his relationship with Lesley Scott was breaking up, and his reputation was already practically ruined. Back in his native New Zealand, the prospect of coaxing the Princess into the courts began to appear increasingly attractive.
By the middle of last year, his main problem was money. It was expected that Taylor would defend himself using the earnings from the photographs, but the High Court refused to release the monies that were frozen at the outset of the actions. In addition to the Mirror Group money (which it declined to release until the action was settled), Taylor's photographs had earned £273,000 on foreign sales.
The court did allow him £20,000 to fight the action, regarded by Taylor and his advisers as quite inadequate. He applied for legal aid, and there was condemnation in the tabloids when this was granted on his third attempt.
Taylor's legal team did not come cheap. His defence was led by Geoffrey Robertson, the radical Australian QC who had built his reputation on challenging the legal establishment. Though Robertson was keen to play down reports of his Republican sympathies,there was no doubt he relished the chance of questioning the Princess of Wales in what vied with OJ Simpson and Rosemary West as court case of the year.
But could the defence be confident of presenting a convincing case? On the question of breach of confidence, it could argue that we have already seen far more of the Princess on foreign beaches. The issues of contract and fiduciary obligation were cloudier: what duties does a club owner owe to his or her clients? Should all money earned from a famous client automatically revert back to that client?
As the months wore on, it appeared that the Princess's rumoured determination to appear in court, and to create a new privacy law, might become absurd reality. By mid-January, her legal team made it clear that she was willing to appear in the case set tobegin on Monday 13 February. The location of the case was switched accordingly: from Court 12, which holds fewer than 10 journalists, to court 36, which holds more than 30. The case was expected to last a fortnight.
It was not to be. Negotiations towards a settlement reached a peak on Monday and Tuesday. Clifford believes this new urgency was not unconnected with the fact that Taylor was preparing to fly to London for a press conference, hosted, naturally, by Clifford himself.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning came the announcement that a deal had been struck. The terms may cause newspaper editors to think again about the bounds of privacy and invasion, but without a statutory precedent there remains no legal impediment to similar intrusions.
Under the settlement, the Princess received an apology from Taylor, a repeat apology from the Mirror Group, and an agreement that all photographs and negatives would be surrendered for destruction. She would also get money from the sale of the photographs, which she would then donate to charity. It is worth noting that the statement issued by her solicitors does not specify that she will receive "all" the money from the pictures.
The Princess's costs, which may total several hundred thousand pounds, will also be met, although precisely how has not been disclosed. It is expected that the Mirror Group will pay a sizable amount. Certainly, it is unlikely that Taylor will have to paymuch, if any, of the costs himself.
Neither parties' legal teams would comment on the settlement yesterday, but Razi Mireskandari, Taylor's solicitor, claimed he and his client were happy with the terms. This seems a strange remark: had not Taylor's side totally capitulated?
Some say not. Though Taylor failed to bring the Princess to court, Max Clifford suspects Taylor has emerged from the settlement with some money for himself, perhaps even as much as £125,000 from the original sale of the photographs. But a Mirror Group executive said last night that this suspicion was ludicruously wide of the mark. Either way, yesterday Taylor made it clear that he no longer wanted Clifford to speak for him, and dismissed him.
Taylor has admitted what he did was "calculated, surreptitious, sly", and that he acted purely for money. As such, he may have emerged from his adventure with some satisfaction. And as he peddles his story over the next few days in search of yet more reward, we may be certain that we have not heard the last of him.
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