updated 2 Apr 2011, 06:58
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So far so good: Kate avoids media frenzy of Diana

LONDON - Kate Middleton has been enveloped by a media storm since her engagement to Prince William but lessons learned after Diana's death mean she should be better protected from the paparazzi, insiders say.

From the moment Kate and William announced their engagement in November, the pretty 29-year-old brunette has been a global news sensation and the excitement is building ahead of the wedding on April 29.

"She's A-star list as far as we're concerned - she rates as highly as a picture of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie," said Joe Sene, head of UK editorial at Splash News and Picture Agency, which specialises in entertainment news.

But the hoards of paparazzi that followed Diana from before her engagement in 1981 to her death in a Paris car crash 16 years later have largely been absent, thanks to an improved relationship between the press and a newly media-savvy palace.

"You've got people around William and Kate that understand the needs of the media and of the public," said Max Clifford, a leading PR consultant.

He said the press would likely respect the couple's privacy when they are married, "certainly for a year or so, providing the media gets enough opportunities to take pictures and have a chat from time to time".

Keen to avoid the negative publicity that followed Diana's divorce from Prince Charles and her death, the royal palace has accepted it must provide good access to the couple to keep the media onside, Clifford said.

"This is how it has to be if you want to be popular and you want the royal family and the monarchy to continue in this country," he told AFP.

In return for this access, British newspapers agree under an informal arrangement not to publish photos taken of William and Kate going about their day-to-day lives.

The deal works well, insiders say, noting that most of the pictures published of Kate since her engagement have been official trips, such as to the Scottish university town of St Andrews where she met William, or to Anglesey in Wales where the prince works as a search and rescue pilot.

"Once you've saturated the market with these, then that reduces the market for paparazzi photos," said veteran royal photographer Ian Jones.

British newspapers also changed after Diana's death, which many people blamed on photographers chasing her car, and strengthened the voluntary code of conduct which forms the basis of their system of self-regulation.

"The level of intrusion is much reduced because of the change in the code, which says clearly that everybody has a right to privacy," said Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors which helps draw up the code.

He notes that not only did the press leave William and Kate alone at university, but they also respect their privacy when they are living in Wales.

A spokesman for the palace agreed, saying: "We understand the massive media interest in the couple, and especially Miss Middleton, at the moment but feel we have a healthy relationship with the media."

The system has been tested, however.

In 2007, Kate complained to the Press Complaints Commission, which enforces the code, about a photo published in the Daily Mirror under circumstances that she claimed amounted to harassment. The tabloid apologised.

Warning letters were also reportedly sent out after she was bombarded by photographers outside her London home on her 25th birthday.

Last year, Kate's lawyers also threatened to sue Rex Features for a picture it distributed of her playing tennis while on holiday in southwest England. She won damages and an apology, and the pictures were never published in Britain.

Kate has more legal protection than Diana did from new privacy laws flowing from the Human Rights Act 1998, as well as powers to stop photographers from following her under the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act.

And Jenny Afia, a senior associate at leading media law firm Schillings, suggested she might need them.

"Voluntary arrangements can work well because they're commercially motivated - magazines like Hello! have more to gain by staying onside with the royals than alienating them," she told AFP.

But she warned: "If there's one fantastic story that's worth jeopardising the relationship, the media will go with it."

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