Screen siren of the 1930’s, Greta Garbo, was protective of her private life off screen, with the words ‘I want to be alone’ (or more properly ‘I want to be let alone’) associated with her forever. Many in the public eye have felt the same, and 2014 pop royalty Harry Styles of One Direction and His Royal Highness, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge have been added to the list where issues of harassment have been raised in connection with actual or anticipated unwanted attention.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
The second in line to the throne is going back to school. Well to Cambridge University in fact, to start a private course in agriculture to ready him to take over the running of the Duchy of Cornwall. As celebrities go, the Duke is a pretty big fish, and having him swim around the Cam – or more likely the streets of Cambridge – would give rise no doubt to endless photo opportunities. The Tab, one of the city’s local papers, was reported to have called for students to follow the new royal kid on the block around Cambridge and send in photographs of him to the paper for its proposed blog, “Where’s Wills”, with a chance of winning a T-shirt for the funniest.
Now with the Duke being a big fish, he is not a stranger to the prying eyes of the press and the public and indeed, lives his public life effectively in a goldfish bowl. As a senior royal most people would think that that goes with the job, and if his return to the text books is part of his public role, then it is in the public interest that that too, be reported upon. But there is a difference between reporting the facts, and following HRH as he goes about his daily life, snapping away on a hand held device at his every move – whether its popping into the local corner shop for a packet of cheese and onion, tripping on a paving stone, or succumbing to a fit of the hiccups. Would that amount to harassment?
Harassment can give rise to a civil claim and a criminal offence, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (‘the Act’). It can occur where there is a course of conduct – only two instances or more – that causes the subject alarm or distress which the harasser knows, or ought to know, amounts to harassment] It’s not hard to see that being followed day in day out, by a group of giggling girls armed with their iPhones or sniggering students desperate for a free T-shirt, could give rise to a complaint in harassment.
Mr Heilpern, the editor of The Tab, e-mailed The Express which ran a story on the issue, to say: “At the moment the liveblog is nothing more than an idea and may well not even happen; it is by no means intended to encourage any harassment of the Prince…” And while there was no comment from Kensington Palace, it is reported that a source close to the Prince said that did not mean they were “not concerned” about the campaign. Thus far, there are no reports of any formal complaint having been made.
One direction – and that’s away from me
But when it comes to the big-haired, clean-cut singing sensation that is one fifth of pop combo One Direction, it’s another story. He has recently successfully applied for an injunction under the Act, to prevent the paparazzi from harassing him in their endless pursuit of a photo that will keep their editors happy, make them a few bucks, and please the adoring fans of the teenage star.
This is not, apparently, a case of the celebrity biting the hand that feeds. He has not turned his back on his fans, and gone running to the hills like a recluse. He is still, apparently, happy to meet and greet and be photographed by fans – smart if he is not going to alienate them. His counsel David Sherborne told the Judge, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies:
‘This is not a privacy injunction. Mr Styles is not trying to prevent fans approaching him in the street and taking photos. He remains happy to do that, as he always has. Rather, it is the method or tactics which have been used by a certain type of photographer.’
The application was apparently made after the poor pursued pop star had failed to persuade the paps to leave him alone.
The methods used by the snappers were seemingly capable, according to the court’s interim decision, of amounting to a course of conduct causing alarm or distress, and the interim order prevents the now unhappy paps from pursuing the teenage heart-throb, placing him under surveillance and/or hanging around his home to catch the lad unawares.
What is of particular interest in this harassment injunction is that it has been granted against unnamed parties, “Paparazzi AAA and others”. While press photographers are named after the character in the film La Dolce Vita, Paparazzo, they are a disparate bunch of individuals. So the order effectively prevents all and any of them on which it is served, from going anywhere near our signing – and now litigating – hero.
Let’s not be too hasty here though in rubbishing all those who earn their living by the camera. Not all are disrespectful of their subjects – I know, I’ve acted for some of the good guys. Rather, it is reported that the main culprits are four individuals who are in the process of being identified in advance of a further hearing, in mid January.
This injunction is a reminder that steps can be taken to curb the wilder excesses of the press and their front line paps; and a reminder to them and those for whom they work, that if they are seeking out pictures of real public interest, or simply those in which the public might be interested, they cannot do so with little regard for the prey that they are hunting or for the law to which we are all, including the press, subject.
No doubt if HRH Wills does come under unwanted pressure from students with cameras in Cambridge, his brother’s namesake Harry will be happy to give him a few pointers as to how to go about getting some harassment protection.
Amber Melville-Brown is a partner at Withersworldwide specialising in reputation management.