Regular readers – if indeed there are any such – will have noticed that my muse has been somewhat muted of late. Whether this has been primarily the result of a decrease in inspiration, or an increase in indolence, I’m not even sure myself. But having cleansed my own breast in this rather public manner, I move smartly on to the altogether more interesting, and substantially more publicly exposed, breast of the Duchess of Cambridge. In this context breast is serving as a collective noun since I am given to understand that both of the Duchess’s breasts have been equally subject to the purview of French magazine readers and, now I gather, Italian ones too.
I have not had the pleasure myself since Kate’s breasts have not proved sufficiently inspiring – unless I am merely too indolent – to prompt me to undertake the web-searching that would by now I am sure have revealed them in all their glory. I would not make a very good tabloid customer because I really can’t be arsed.
So I am not in a position, nor have I the slightest interest so to do, to offer my readers any critical assessment of the mammary glands in question. My interest is piqued not by the accoutrements themselves, but by the surrounding debate about privacy, privilege, the law, and the use of a very long lens. This probably says more about my abnormal arousal processes than I’d care to admit, but so be it.
The key issue of principle here, it seems to me, is whether an individual’s right to privacy is absolute, or relative. If such a right is absolute, then it’s easy enough to conclude that the Duchess of Cambridge’s privacy has been comprehensively traduced. Her breasts are her private property as it were, and if she chooses to expose them in a place that she reasonably presumed to be private, then she should not expect to see them plastered across the French media. This is a simple position to take up, and a seductively attractive one – if I might be permitted to use such a metaphorical expression so close to the literal truth in this particular case.
But is privacy absolute? Clearly it isn’t, since, for example, we would not accept privacy as an argument against exposing someone’s criminal acts. Kate’s decision to dispense with her bra is obviously not a criminal act (even if it seems to have proved an unwise one) but once we have accepted, as indeed we must, that privacy is not an absolute right we are entitled to ask whether there are other circumstances that might override her right to privacy, or at least dilute it.
I suspect that there are. The Duchess and her husband enjoy a very privileged lifestyle that is largely at the expense of the rest of us. It’s ironic that the French beneficiaries (if that is what they are – I reiterate that I am not able to vouch for the quality of their good fortune) have not been paying for the Cambridge’s luxurious holiday arrangements, but I’m not sure that’s a relevant consideration. If my wife were to decide that what her breasts most needed was a little holiday sunshine in our back garden, and a French photographer were to train his 500mm lens on her, then I think no-one would have much difficulty in deciding that her privacy had been breached, and wrongly so. But the Duchess of Cambridge is not my wife – an observation you might think it unnecessary for me to make, but you know what I mean. My wife is a private citizen, and her back garden is not provided out of the civil list. The Duchess of Cambridge is not a private citizen, and her back garden – or holiday arrangements – is indeed paid for by others. Being a public person brings not only benefits, but also risks, in its wake. If you want to luxuriate in the former, perhaps you must also accept the perils of the latter.
So does being a public person benefiting from the public purse make a difference to your right to privacy? I think it probably does. But even if it doesn’t, it certainly makes me, for one, unlikely to lose much sleep over that right’s infringement. Swings and roundabouts, my dear Kate, swings and roundabouts.