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Friday 19 September 2014

Berlusconi Italian mag to risk wrath of Royals

Legal clash looms and publication of new photos could leave former leader open to charges of double standards on privacy

Tom Kington in Rome

Published 16/09/2012 | 05:00

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The editor of an Italian gossip magazine set to publish as yet unseen topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge has promised that the pictures "will not damage her dignity, nor are they in any way morbid".

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Alfonso Signorini, editor of Chi magazine, said his 26-page feature containing 30 pictures -- which will be published tomorrow -- contains "normal topless shots, except Kate happens to be the future Queen". He added: "They are not scandalous, there are no unpublishable pictures. It is just a huge scoop."

Mr Signorini said he had selected 30 photographs from a selection of 200 which show Kate arriving on the terrace in a red robe, before applying sun cream and sunbathing. "There are no amorous moments, no kisses, at most William places his hand on her head affectionately at one point," said Mr Signorini.

However, the British royal family is heading for a fierce legal showdown with media mogul and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who controls the magazine. St James's Palace is already planning legal action against French magazine Closer after it published photos of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing on the terrace of the Autet Chateau in Provence, southern France. The French lawsuit, which is due to be heard by a court tomorrow, has not deterred Chi from publishing photos that Closer said it considered too "intimate" to print.

A spokeswoman for St James's Palace said: "We will not be commenting on potential legal action concerning the alleged intended publication of the photos in Italy save to say that all proportionate responses will be kept under review. Any such publication would serve no purpose other than to cause further, entirely unjustifiable upset to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who were enjoying time alone together in the privacy of a relative's home."

Both Closer and Chi are published by the Italian publishing group Mondadori, which is controlled by Mr Berlusconi and managed by Marina Berlusconi, his oldest daughter from his first marriage. Launched in 2005 as a French version of the British magazine of the same name, Closer was sold in 2006 to Mondadori France.

In Italy, Chi magazine publishes a regular diet of paparazzi shots of celebrities in various states of undress, as well as flattering photo features of Mr Berlusconi and his family. Mr Signorini was also instrumental in smoothing over the scandal of Mr Berlusconi's friendship with teenage belly dancer Karima El Mahroug, which has seen him sent to trial on charges of underage prostitution. During a sympathetic interview conducted by Mr Signorini on one of Mr Berlusconi's TV channels, Ms El Mahroug broke down in tears in front of more than two million viewers and explained she had never had sex with the then-prime minister. Mr Berlusconi has also allegedly been informed in the past of compromising material offered to Chi. In 2009, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported the tycoon was told the magazine had been offered a video of Piero Marrazzo, the then-governor of the Lazio region, undressed in the company of a transsexual prostitute. Mr Berlusconi reportedly contacted Mr Marrazzo to warn him, while Chi declined to buy the video.

Mr Signorini said he had not been in touch with Mr Berlusconi over whether to use the photos of William and Kate. "That is laughable," he said. "I informed Mondadori of my decision to publish the pictures but I never spoke to Berlusconi," he said. "Don't forget that this is the magazine which once published shots of Marina Berlusconi topless." But he added: "We would never have published the photos of Prince Harry naked in a room in Las Vegas."

The publication of the topless pictures of the duchess lays Mr Berlusconi open to charges of double standards after he fought through the courts in 2009 to halt the publication of shots of topless women at his villa in Sardinia, claiming they violated his right to privacy.

Spain's El Pais newspaper was the first to print the photographs of Mr Berlusconi's female party guests taking showers and sunbathing in the gardens of Villa Certosa, as well as a highly embarrassing picture of former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, nude. "These photos are of a private event, and therefore fall foul of the law," Mr Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said at the time.

As the duke and duchess continued their Asian tour this weekend, statements from the royal family suggested Berlusconi's publishing empire has now sparked a far more serious incident.

According to Clarence House, the Prince of Wales's office, the photos recalled the "worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the duke and duchess for being so".

That Chi magazine was now publishing topless shots was no surprise to Candida Morvillo, an online celebrity columnist. "It was one of the few publications that decided to publish the photos of Diana, immediately after her fatal car crash," she said.

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