Media scrum at High Court as Hollywood couple star in Strand

Zeta-Jones and Douglas get more exposure than they could have imagined

Hollywood came to London’s ancient High Court this week, writes Roger Pearson. But the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Michael Douglas court room spectacular had a major irony to it as the superstars took centre stage in their claim over Hello!’s unauthorised use of photographs of their wedding.

It resulted in probably more unauthorised photos of them being published in the press than the couple could ever have dreamed of in their wildest nightmares.

A strict ban still applies to photography within the precincts of our courts. And, while the biggest camera battery ever mounted at the courts was stationed outside the precincts, there is no question the subject matter was certainly inside those precincts and therefore technically forbidden material.

That, however, while it was a rule obeyed by photographers 20 years ago, proved no deterrent to the serried ranks of snappers lining up their lenses through the court railings on Monday.

Many years ago one Lord Chief Justice ordered that the film should be taken from a photographer who he saw firing off at a litigant as he left the courts and was walking along the Strand. Now though we live in more relaxed times.

The treatment of the media too, as the couple took centre stage, also broke new ground.To cope with the media attention staff at the Lord Chancellor’s Department took it upon themselves to set up an official media “box office” issuing tickets to the press benches on the basis of non-monetary “bids”.

Tickets have been issued in the past but on a more easy-going, haphazard basis. This week, however, a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor’s Department said: “We are getting more organised.”

Similar measures were in force for video-link evidence from the US on Tuesday, though the interest in that was far less and the Lord Chancellor’s “ticket attendants” at the door were probably unnecessary.

When the couple arrived at court, staff too rose to the occasion. They were given unprecedented VIP treatment – royalty would not have done better – as they swept into the court complex in a blacked out Mercedes limousine through a side entrance usually reserved for judges and court staff. They were then ushered into the court building through private corridors normally reserved for court staff.

Oh, and the case itself. Well that continues. In her evidence Zeta-Jones told the judge of her fight to prevent unauthorised use of her image and said: “I have tried to keep the media at a distance as far as possible, given the business I am in.”

On Monday, however, she probably found herself far closer to the world’s press than she has ever been. And judging from some of the following days papers, with headlines like the Daily Mirror’s “Ah Diddums” leading the way in deriding her court room performance, probably too close for comfort.

Roger Pearson

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