He’s Only Rocknroll …but Edward Amory doesn’t like him, as Kate Winslet’s latest husband is one of too many celebrities who court attention one minute and then turn to privacy laws when it suits them
He’s Only Rocknroll
…but Edward Amory doesn’t like him, as Kate Winslet’s latest husband is one of too many celebrities who court attention one minute and then turn to privacy laws when it suits them
PERHAPS IT IS because I was a journalist for more than a decade, but I find the spectacle of Ned Rocknroll, the nephew of Richard Branson who recently married Kate Winslet, using the law to protect his privacy faintly risible.
Mr Rocknroll’s lawyer claimed that the publication of pictures of the new celebrity husband at a party a few years ago apparently wearing a limited number of clothes would be an embarrassing invasion of the privacy of this shy and retiring individual.
The lawyer argued that, were the press to publish these photographs, which apparently came from Facebook (not especially secret, then), it would breach his client’s right to privacy. The Sun countered that Mr Rocknroll’s right to privacy was overridden by its right to freedom of expression.
No doubt this discussion proved interesting and lucrative for the lawyers involved, but a more sensible test would not have allowed this silly case to come anywhere near the courts.
Quite where Mr Rocknroll thinks he obtained his right to privacy from beats me, but equally The Sun’s claim that its inalienable right to publish pictures of his bottom was protected by the freedom of the press once defended by Thomas Jefferson was equally ridiculous. I would have let it publish, however, on the grounds that I don’t see how any photographs could possibly be as embarrassing as his name.
In fact, at their best the British courts and the British people apply the same sensible test in these cases. First, did these activities take place in a private place, in which case there is usually a right to privacy (unless, like Prince Harry, you invite some tarts you met in the bar back to that private place)?
But second, did you have a right to privacy in the first place? I’m afraid that without knowing anything about the man at all, my instincts are against him for three reasons: he is the nephew and former employee of the world’s greatest self-publicist; he has deliberately opted for a very silly name indeed; he has decided, after the appropriate whirlwind romance, to marry a film star.
Hugh Grant, who has been accused of consistently invading his own privacy throughout his life, rejects this argument, saying: ‘It seems to me insane that because I’ve once sold you a pint of milk for 50p that you can then say, “You sold me some milk, you slut, I’m going to take your milk for free for ever.”’
WHEN I RECENTLY edited a journal for freuds about privacy, one article on this subject caught my attention. It was written by Max Cisotti, a well-known former paparazzo, and explained that he and his fellow photographers existed in a symbiotic relationship with most of the celebrities whose lives they chronicled, with each depending on the other.
In some cases this relationship went even further, as he connived with major British celebs to fake ‘snatched’ photographs of them and then split the proceeds of selling the photographs, which sometimes ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds. This apparently well-known exercise he referred to as ‘mockerazzi’.
Max’s article reinforced the view that I developed as a journalist, which is that the professionals — politicians and entertainers — usually deserve anything accurate and truthful that is written about them. The people we would want the law to protect, but often it does not, are those accidentally caught up in great events who haven’t made a Faustian fame bargain with the media.
The British public, it seems, largely agree. Research we conducted for the journal found that 47 per cent of British people would be happy to invade the privacy of the famous but hypocritical (compared to 18 per cent in France, where hypocrisy is a national art form) and 37 per cent of us believe that if you have previously sought fame and media attention, then your private life is fair game (in France it’s 18 per cent).
The courts do their best to draw this distinction, and apart from some notable failures they succeed. This does slightly undermine the argument for a new system of regulation to tackle our out-of-control, amoral media, but that is another story.
WHAT MATTERS HERE is that the legal and moral position is at the moment fairly similar. If you invade your own privacy, others will do the same. If you use your family to bolster your political career, they become fair game. But if you maintain your privacy and that of your family, however prominent you might be in some area of your life, you retain your right to a private life.
Whatever changes come to the regulation of our media, I suspect that this fundamental judgement won’t change much. In the area of privacy, perhaps more than any other in the modern media, we get pretty much exactly our just deserts.
Read more by Ed Amory