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Tampongate, topless photos and a car chase: The Royal Family’s privacy in the spotlight

An investigation is under way into reports staff at the hospital where the Princess of Wales underwent abdominal surgery in January tried to view her private medical records.

The security breach is not the first time Kate has faced public exposure of her private medical records.

From hospital stays to holidays, and private phone calls to car chases, the Royal Family‘s right to privacy has rarely been out of the spotlight.

Here we take a look at the issues they have faced over the years.

Prank call

In 2012, two Australian DJs – 2Day FM presenters Michael Christian and Mel Greig – posed as the late Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the then Prince Charles in a prank call to King Edward VII hospital in Windsor, where Kate was being treated for acute morning sickness during her pregnancy with Prince George.

Indian-born nurse Jacintha Saldanha was found dead on 7 December – three days after transferring the call to a colleague who divulged details about Kate’s recovery.

The Australian DJs were taken off the air.

Prince William and Kate Middleton leave King edward VII hospital
Image: Kate and William leave King Edward VII’s Hospital in December 2012

An inquest into Ms Saldanha’s death heard the 46-year-old mother-of-two blamed herself for transferring the call, which she believed was genuine. The inquest concluded she took her own life.

Prince William wrote to Ms Saldanha’s family following her death.

In a note dated New Year’s Day 2013, he spoke of the nurse’s “unbelievably sad” death, and of the care Kate received.

“Jacintha and her colleagues looked after us extremely well and I am just so sorry that someone who cared for others so much found themselves in such a desperate situation,” he wrote, the nurse’s family later revealed.

Topless pictures of Kate

Topless photographs of Kate – taken while she and Prince William were on holiday in the south of France – were published in a French publication, Closer, in September 2012.

Prince William and Kate were said to have reacted with “anger and disbelief” and thought a “red line has been crossed”.

The royal couple described it as a “grotesque and unjustifiable invasion of privacy”.

But the publication’s then editor, Laurence Pieau, said the couple were “visible from the street” and the images were “not in the least shocking”.

Closer is a French celebrity gossip magazine
Image: Closer is a French celebrity gossip magazine. Pic: Reuters

They were snapped with a zoom lens as they relaxed outside at a chateau belonging to the Queen’s nephew, Viscount Linley.

The front page showed Kate topless on the terrace of the private house. Inside the magazine there were further pictures of her sunbathing topless.

British newspapers rejected approaches to buy the photos.

The royals filed a criminal complaint for invasion of privacy and got an injunction preventing further use of the images.

They also launched a legal action for breach of privacy against the publishers of the magazine.

A court ordered France’s Closer magazine to pay €100,000 (£92,000) in damages to the couple in September 2017.

Kate and William welcomed the verdicts after a “serious breach of privacy”, and said they “wished to make the point strongly that this kind of unjustified intrusion should not happen”.

‘Tampongate’

A transcript of the infamous “Tampongate” phone call between the then Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles was published in 1993 by several British newspapers after it surfaced in an Australian magazine.

The story went into the details of an incredibly intimate conversation between the future King and Queen.

The conversation took place between the pair in December 1989, and was taped by a radio enthusiast scanning frequencies – often used by police officers and pirate radio DJs – after stumbling across the private phone call.

NOTE: THIS PICTURE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY COLOURISED.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (55359e).Prince Charles Talking to Camilla Parker Bowles at a Polo Match.Prince Charles Talking to Camilla Parker Bowles at a Polo Match, Cirencester Park, Britain - July 1975
Image: Charles and Camilla pictured in July 1975. Pic: Shutterstock

Its emergence, first in Australia and then on front pages around the world, followed the publication of Andrew Morton’s tell-all book written from the transcripts of tapes smuggled to him from Princess Diana, telling her side of her marriage to Charles.

The story also came out after Buckingham Palace’s announcement in December 1992 that the then Prince and Princess of Wales had decided to separate.

Hordes of frenzied reporters and photographers with long lenses gathered outside Camilla’s Wiltshire home, desperate for a glimpse of Charles’s mistress.

Her image has been transformed since. But the scandal returned to the headlines when it was dramatised in the Netflix series, The Crown.

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Prince Harry arrives at the High Court in London, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Prince Harry is due at a London court to testify against a tabloid publisher he accuses of phone hacking and other unlawful snooping. Harry alleges that journalists at the Daily Mirror and its sister papers used unlawful techniques on an "industrial scale" to get scoops. Publisher Mirror Group Newspapers is contesting the claims. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Image: Prince Harry at the High Court in London last year. Pic: AP

Hacking claims

More recently, Prince Harry won substantial damages in his hacking case accusing Mirror Group Newspapers of unlawfully gathering information for stories published about him.

The privacy case brought by the Duke of Sussex was “proved in part” last year, with 15 of the 33 articles presented in court found to be the product of phone hacking or other unlawful information gathering, the High Court ruled.

Judge Timothy Fancourt said the duke’s phone was probably only hacked to a modest extent and was “carefully controlled by certain people” from the end of 2003 to April 2009.

But he added that there was a tendency by the duke to assume everything was a result of hacking.

The judge awarded the prince a total sum of £140,600. The sum was aggregated as directors of the newspaper group knew and “turned a blind eye and positively concealed it”.

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The practice was “widespread and habitual” from 1998 onwards, the judge said, while phone hacking “remained an important tool in the climate of journalism” at all three papers – the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – from 2006 to 2011.

Harry hailed the ruling on 15 December 2023 as “vindicating and affirming”, and took aim at senior executives and editors including Piers Morgan – who was in charge at the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004.

In a statement after the ruling, he said: “I have been told that slaying dragons will get you burned, but in light of today’s victory and the importance of doing what is needed for a free and honest press, it is a worthwhile price to pay.”

In response, Morgan insisted he’d never hacked a phone and accused Prince Harry himself of invading his own family’s privacy.

Paparazzi ‘car chase’

Prince Harry, his wife Meghan and her mother were involved in a “near catastrophic” car chase after being followed by paparazzi for more than two hours, a spokesperson for the couple claimed.

The incident happened after they attended an awards ceremony at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York on 16 May last year.

Pic: Twitter/anDrew/Reuters
Image: Harry and Meghan at the Ms. Foundation’s Women of Vision Awards. Pic: Twitter/anDrew via Reuters

Ashley Hansen, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s press secretary, told Sky News at the time: “I have never experienced their vulnerability as much as I did last night. They were incredibly scared and shaken up.

“There were several times where the car stopped and security got out. There were instances where the police confronted the paparazzi and had asked them to stop or give them space, to do this safely.

“Unfortunately that wish was not respected.”

Sukhcharn Singh, the taxi driver who drove the couple and Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, said photographers tried to take photos and capture videos during their short time in his car.

But he said he never felt like he was in danger – and shrugged off suggestions that it was like a car chase you would see in the movies.

New York Police officials also played down the incident by saying they did not believe the chase was “near catastrophic” and described it instead as a “bit of a chaotic scene”.

It was another example of the enduring interest in the lives of the royals, though – and the pressures on their privacy.

Sky News Source