Buckingham Palace has taken two of Britain's racy tabloid newspapers to task for publishing photographs of Diana, princess of Wales, who expects a baby in June, swimming and sunbathing in a revealing bikini while vacationing in the Bahamas with Prince Charles.
Queen Elizabeth II reportedly found the pictures "distasteful." Palace press secretary Michael Shea, who protested formally to the two newspapers' editors, called it "the worst sort of peeping Tomism." He said that the palace switchboard was jammed with "many, many calls from the public saying how shocked and disgusted they are by the pictures" and that other editors in London's Fleet Street told him the same thing.
Two sets of pictures, taken by telephoto lens on the Bahamian island of Windemere, filled Thursday's front pages and two-page spreads inside The Sun, Britain's largest-selling daily with a circulation of 4.1 million, and the country's newest tabloid, The Daily Star, with a circulation of 1.5 million. Both regularly publish nude pinups and titillating stories about sex and crime.
The photographs show the pregnant princess in a strapless bikini, walking along the beach, plunging into the surf and sunbathing with Prince Charles in front of a villa the royal couple has rented for 10 days with friends Lord and Lady Romsey.
Referring to Diana as the "stunning mum-to-be princess," The Sun told its readers, "carefree Di threw royal caution to the wind to wear her outfit."
In its more revealing photos, The Daily Star declared, "Princess Diana showed the world that although she is five months pregnant her sensational figure has not gone out of shape."
It was the latest skirmish in a long feud between Buckingham Palace and Britain's boldest tabloids over saturation coverage and paparazzi-style pursuit of Diana since she first was rumored to be a girlfriend of Charles. Interest in her only intensified after their wedding last July, with newsmen staking out their country home.
In December, Fleet Street editors were summoned to an audience with the queen and asked to stop reporters and photographers from hounding the 20-year-old princess. This seemed to work for a while; Prince Charles said at a London press club dinner last week that he was "most grateful" for the media's relative restraint in recent weeks.
The only editor who did not attend the meeting with the queen was Kelvin Mackenzie of The Sun, which is published, along with the staid Times of London, by Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch. Mackenzie also did not comment on today's palace protest about the photographs.
But under pressure from Buckingham Palace, both The Sun and the editor of The Daily Star, Lloyd Turner, announced they were removing their reporters and photographers from the Bahamas. An editorial to be published in Friday's Sun called it "a gesture of our good intent."
Both newspapers defended publication of the photographs. After receiving numerous calls from readers worried because Diana "looked unhappy on television shots showing her leaving for the holiday," said Turner of The Daily Star, "we used the pictures to show that indeed they were wrong and she was very happy."
"The pictures were carefree, innocent and delightful," contended The Sun's editorial. "They brought a summer into the lives of millions of our readers back in chilly Britain."
The editorial said the newspaper must balance the royal family's "right, like everyone else, to moments of private intimacy" against "our readers' legitimate interest in the royal family not merely as symbols but as living, breathing people.
"In all honesty, we see nothing wrong in pictures that could have been any young happy couple on a public beach," The Sun argued. "We are sorry the palace did not like our pictures, but we do think Princess Di still looks terrific."