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Getting Burned

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IN TIDE WORDS OF THE LONDON SUNDAY Mirror, the graphic shots featured in its Nov. 7 edition represented “the Princess of Wales as you have never seen her.” Indeed. Lying on a machine ironically known as the Throne, a trim Diana was shown in leotard and cycling shorts with her shapely legs braced in an unregal pose that would have given Queen Victoria the vapors.

Said to have been snapped surreptitiously by Bryce Taylor, principal owner of the L.A. Fitness club in west London, the 82 photos bought by the Mirror for a reported $187,000 triggered a threat from Buckingham Palace, which said it was “considering follow-up action.” An angry Di, who was said to feel “utterly betrayed,” won an injunction against the Mirror newspaper group and the gym, barring them from distributing or publishing Taylor’s photos again. According to her lawyers, Di plans to sue both parties.

Meanwhile the Mirror’s competitors hooted at the tabloid’s claim that it ran the photos to “highlight a lapse in royal security,” and the Press Complaints Commission scheduled a hearing on the episode. Said commission chairman Lord McGregor: “This breach constitutes dishonorable conduct for which there can be no excuse.” British lawmakers agreed. Calling the Mirror’s action “thoroughly deplorable,” Home Secretary Michael Howard said he would back proposals to pass laws forbidding such invasions of privacy.

Aside from editors at the Mirror, the unrepentant Taylor, a 39-year-old New Zealander, found few defenders. By his own account, he began plotting to exploit Di as soon as she joined his club in September 1990. After some experimenting, he said, he installed a Leica in the workout-room ceiling and rigged a cable that allowed him to trigger the shutter from his office nearby. As Taylor told it, he was dismayed when Di’s bodyguard confronted him in May about a rumor that she had been snapped on the exercise machines. Although Taylor lied and said he knew nothing, Diana stopped going to his club in June. Last week, Taylor refused to apologize. “I know people will hate me for what I have done,” he said, “but I’m not ashamed.”

For seasoned palace-watchers, the story went beyond mere embarrassment for Di. Instead, they claimed that the set-to signaled that the once-unassailable princess was vulnerable in a way she had never been before. Said Brian Hoey, author of several books about British royalty: “The pictures would never have been published in Britain if she were still with Prince Charles. She is now treated by the media with the same sort of disdain and contempt as film stars or…” he added delicately, “Fergie.”