Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, ride a traditional war canoe in Tavanipupu, Solomon Islands, on Monday. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 17: Media tycoon Richard Desmond will be reminded his company introduced a soft porn magazine called Asian Babes if he seeks to punish the Irish Daily Star for carrying recent topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge in France.
Desmond, chairman of Northern and Shell, said he was taking immediate steps to end the partnership with Independent News and Media of Ireland who share ownership of the Irish Daily Star.
The photographs of Kate Middleton and her husband, Prince William, were taken by a paparazzo while they were sunbathing in a villa at Chateau d’Autet, near Aix-en-Provence in France.
They were first published by Closer, a French magazine, and reprinted in the Irish Daily Star.
“I am very angry at the decision to publish these photographs and am taking immediate steps to close down the joint venture,” raged Desmond.
Mimi Turner, Northern and Shell’s communications director, reflected her boss’s fury: “We abhor the decision of the Irish Daily Star to publish these intrusive pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which we, like St James’s Palace, believe to be a grotesque invasion of their privacy.”
There is only one slight problem for Desmond — his company has had a life-long association with soft porn.
His statement is a bit like Suresh Kalmadi announcing he is in favour of transparency in awarding government contracts.
Northern and Shell had a stable of 45 soft porn titles, one of them being Asian Babes. The idea was to usher in a brave new world that would open fresh frontiers for Indian and Pakistani origin girls in the UK.
One over-eager Indian youth rushed out, bought a copy of the magazine, was enraged to see his sister happily posing in there and showed the offending pictures to his father. Suitably disgusted with the girl, they threw her out of the house for undermining “Indian culture”.
The girl gave an on-the-record interview, insisting the reporter use her real name. She admitted she had posed for the photographs but said had never slept with any of the photographers. In time, she married a British Telecom engineer who came to fix her phone.
Asian Babes soon found it difficult to persuade British Asian girls to pose for the magazine. The result was that the word “Asian” was redefined to include Thai girls from Bangkok massage parlours.
In 2004, when Desmond had ambitions of taking over The Daily Telegraph, London, The Sunday Telegraph, London, and The Spectator magazine, three of the most patrician titles in the land, he sold his 45 soft porn magazines to Remnant Media for £20 million.
But given the lack of willing Indian and Pakistani girls, Asian Babes folded – and eventually Remnant Media, too, went bankrupt.
Desmond, who has a personal fortune estimated at £950 million, comes with a fair amount of baggage. In November 2000, Northern and Shell acquired Express Newspapers from United News & Media for £125 million, enlarging the group to include the Daily and Sunday Express titles, the Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday (which Desmond started), and the Irish Daily Star (owned jointly with the Irish Independent News & Media group).
The Hindujas were also interested in buying the Daily Express but, probably for the first time in their lives, were out manoeuvred by a business rival.
Northern and Shell also owns British television network Channel 5 as well as Portland TV which, in turn, owns the adult TV channels Television X, Red Hot TV, and others.
In the Irish Republic, the National Union of Journalists in Dublin criticised Desmond’s threat to shut down the Irish operation and accused him of double standards on the basis of some of his business interests, including the adult Television X channel.
The Irish Daily Star published today with the threat of closure hanging over it. Up to 120 permanent and freelance editorial jobs are at risk at the newspaper, which has been operating out of Dublin since its foundation in 1987.
Pat Rabbitte, communications minister in the Irish government, branded the closure threat hypocritical.
“I don’t think it was especially good taste by the Irish Star,” Rabbitte conceded. “But I think there’s a great dollop of hypocrisy on the part of the (British) part-owner of the paper,” he added.
The minister described the editorial decision to run with the images as a slip but said Desmond’s reaction was totally disproportionate.
As the row over Kate’s pictures continues, lawyers acting for her and for William today asked France’s criminal prosecutors to consider charging the photographer who took the topless photographs.
Kate and William are directing legal operations while touring the idyllic Solomon Islands but a spokeswoman for St James’s Palace in London said: “We can confirm that a criminal complaint has been made to the French Prosecution Department today. The complaint concerns the taking of photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge whilst on holiday and the publication of those photographs in breach of their privacy.”
In any case, the blurred and unremarkable pictures of Kate are already on the Net. But no UK paper will touch the pictures with Lord Justice Leveson due to make recommendations on how the worst excesses of the British media, such as phone tapping, can be prevented in future.