By Nicole Winfield/The Associated Press
ROME — The British royal family faced a multinational battle to contain the spread of topless photos of Prince William’s wife Kate, as an Irish tabloid published them Saturday and an Italian gossip magazine planned to do the same despite the threat of legal action.
The royal couple’s St. James’s Palace office condemned the moves as unjustifiable and evidence of pure greed, and said it was considering “all proportionate responses.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sued French magazine Closer on Friday after it ran the photos, taken while Kate and William were on vacation at a relative’s private estate in southern France last month.
The publication has been roundly condemned by British newspapers, which refrained from publishing them out of respect for the young couple’s privacy, even though tabloids like The Sun run topless women every day on page 3 and ran pictures of Prince Harry naked in Las Vegas last month.
The British media, wary about an ongoing media ethics inquiry triggered by revelations of illegal phone hacking and other intrusive newspaper behavior, has generally respected palace guidelines stressing that William and Kate should not be photographed when they are not in public.
But across the Irish Sea, the Dublin-based Irish Daily Star ran a blurry reproduction of the pages from Closer over two inside pages Saturday.
Editor Mike O’Kane told the BBC the photos weren’t included in the edition distributed in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. And the newspaper’s website came up as “temporarily unavailable” Saturday.
O’Kane defended his newspaper, saying that Ireland did not view the royal family the same way as the British.
“She’s not our future queen,” he told the BBC. “The duchess would be no different to any other celeb pics we would get in, for example Rihanna or Lady Gaga.”
Northern and Shell, the British company that co-owns the Irish Daily Star — and publishes its British sister tabloid, the Daily Star — said it was “profoundly dismayed” the Dublin newspaper had run the pictures. It said it had had no control over the decision.
Northern and Shell’s chairman, Richard Desmond, said he was “taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture” that runs the tabloid.
In Italy, gossip magazine Chi, which is owned by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, said it planned to publish a 26-page spread with the photos on Monday, although it wasn’t clear if the content was any different from what Closer ran.
Chi is part of Berlusconi’s publishing empire Mondadori, which also owns Closer.
The Chi cover, featuring three pictures of a topless princess, was unveiled Saturday in Italian newspapers and television under the headline “Court Scandal: The Queen is Nude!”
In an interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Chi editor Alfonso Signorini said he didn’t fear legal action since the photos were already in the public domain following Closer’s publication.
“Closer’s position is different, they were the first ones to publish,” he said.
He defended the decision to publish them in Italy, saying the photos are tasteful and respect Kate’s dignity.
“I don’t see anything morbid or damaging in them,” he said. “Chi pays attention to respecting people’s dignity. I don’t think they hurt Kate’s image.”
He added in a statement that the pictures actually were in line “with the modern concept of the monarchy.”
“It shows in its total naturalness the daily life of a young, famous, modern couple in love,” he said.
Citing that argument, Mondadori said Saturday it respected the editorial decisions of both Chi and Closer, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
A spokeswoman at St. James’s Palace said royal officials were reviewing “all proportionate responses” to Chi’s planned publication.
The spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with palace policy, said publication of the photos served 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.”
The blurry photos, called a “grotesque” abuse of privacy by royal officials after they were published Friday by Closer, show Kate – the Duchess of Cambridge – wearing only a skimpy bikini bottom and sunglasses.
In one of the three on Chi’s cover, she appears to be rubbing suntan lotion on William’s shoulder.
Palace officials compared the intrusion on the young couple’s privacy to the tragic paparazzi pursuit of William’s mother Princess Diana, which many believe was a contributing factor to her early death in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997.
That two magazines in Berlusconi’s media empire were responsible for the distribution of the images of a topless Kate is remarkable, given the former premier’s own problems with paparazzi and his privacy.
In 2009, he threatened legal action against the Spanish newspaper El Pais after it published photos of topless women and a naked man lounging at his Sardinian estate. Italian prosecutors seized the photos and placed the photographer under investigation for alleged violation of privacy.
The photos came to light at the start of Berlusconi’s downfall: They were published amid a scandal involving Berlusconi and a Naples model, whose 18th birthday party the then-premier attended.
Berlusconi, who was forced from office in November after financial markets lost faith in his ability to steer Italy out of its debt crisis, is currently on trial in Milan on charges he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan girl and then used his office to try to cover it up. He denies wrongdoing, and both he and the girl say they didn’t have sex.
Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.