Kate photos spark tempest

Photos of a topless Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, were published in French gossip magazine Closer.

LONDON — Paparazzi, French media and a British royal: The publication of topless photos of Prince William’s wife, Kate, has reunited the same players whose clash ended with the untimely death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a Parisian car crash.

William, who has long harbored a grudge against the paparazzi who chased Diana in the days and hours leading up to her 1997 death, was clearly infuriated. The royal couple hit back with an immediate lawsuit against the popular French gossip magazine Closer.

The blurry photos, called a “grotesque” abuse of privacy by royal officials, show the Duchess of Cambridge wearing only a skimpy bikini bottom. They are the first to show Britain’s likely future queen with her bosom exposed.

St. James’s Palace officials sharply criticized the magazine moments after the photos hit French newsstands, comparing the intrusion on the young couple’s privacy to the tragic paparazzi pursuit of Diana, which many believe was a contributing factor in her early death on Aug. 31, 1997.

Earlier this month, a photographer with a similar long lens captured Kate and William relaxing in the sun at a private estate in Provence, a vacation spot near the French Riviera.

Instead of challenging the authenticity of the blurry photos, palace officials said they appear genuine — and should never have been taken, much less published.

“The incident is reminiscent of 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,” a St. James’s Palace official in London said in a statement.

The British press — chastened by a deep scandal over phone hacking and other misdeeds — all shied away from using the photos. That restraint came even though Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun tabloid is famed for its daily “Page 3” topless shots.

The photos, which were not available on English newsstands, appeared to unite many Britons behind their royal family.

“I think it’s quite outrageous,” said Alice Mason, 24, from London. “They were on holidays in a private place and some creepy journalist took pictures. It’s not in the public interest to see this.

“They are always going to be in the public eye, but there is a line, and they (the press) crossed that line.”