Kylie Jenner, the youngest and richest of the Keeping Up With The Kardashians clan, announced on social media that she’d given birth to a baby girl on 1 February. Less than a week later, her first picture of Stormi Webster had become the most liked photo in Instagram’s history, toppling Beyoncé’s 2017 pregnancy announcement.
Kylie’s news followed five months of speculation, carefully massaged by the Kardashian networks, of course. But – remarkably – not one paparazzi shot of a baby bump. No sightings. Nothing.
In a world in which the Kardashian- Jenners are some of the most photographed and followed people, where celebrities routinely lament the fact that their fame gives them no privacy, and where everybody’s every move is increasingly on camera, how on earth did she do this? Does this blow the lid on celebrity culture? Because, if Kylie Jenner can go through a whole six months unseen, surely anyone can?
It’s fair to say Kylie’s privacy was as carefully stage-managed as everything else she does. And, if you want to hide from prying eyes, it helps to be living in a gated community. Kylie’s home is in a part of LA known as Hidden Hills – the Fort Knox of gated communities. It’s essentially a mini city, patrolled by zealous private security armies. You have to be a resident, or an invited guest, or one of the many approved photographers on the Kardashian payroll to get anywhere near the Jenner house. (And I should know: a few years back, I was commissioned by a British TV station to help on a documentary about Robbie Williams, who, at the time, lived nearby; a plan that failed spectacularly when we couldn’t even get permission to get the car or camera within half a mile of his house.)
So, living on a private estate gives Kylie control over who sees her, but that’s not enough. What about when she goes out? Well, this also requires money and planning. Sources at E! network say that Kardashian family appearances are routinely controlled by hiring lookalike models and sending them out in black SUVs, followed by hired paparazzi on motorbikes to give the illusion of authenticity. The real sisters can then travel incognito – a ruse that helped Kylie hide her pregnancy, too.
When you’re a family worth $1 billion, you can afford to make this look easy. But other celebrities? It’s harder, but not impossible. Take Adele. By eschewing brand endorsements and celebrity haunts, she chooses places she knows she can be comfortable away from the public eye. Back when she had her first album out, I got to hang out a bit with Adele and see this for myself. I remember being at the after-party of a famous singer’s gig with her. A group of us sat quietly in the corner drinking wine and chatting while some other wannabe stars (not to mention any names cough Florence Welch) did everything to get journalists’ attention. Dancing, kissing female friends, jumping around. And, sure enough, their pictures were in the press the next day. But Adele? No mention.
And it’s not just UK celebs. Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most globally recognised people in the world, yet one of his big pleasures is to holiday every year with friends – and he manages it with zero publicity. Recently, I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on the paradise island of Palau. Pleased with being somewhere almost totally unknown, I discovered from one of the local scuba-diving guides that Leo had been there last year. Quietly. With no security. With just a few friends. No photographers followed him and no one bothered him. No one knew he was there because he chose not to make an issue of it.
Perhaps you think that he, like the Kardashian/Jenners, can do that because he’s so rich? Not like those poor reality TV stars who just want to enjoy a quiet holiday in Dubai, but find photos of themselves all over the media from the beach and the pools? Surely, when they claim press intrusion they have a point?
Uh-uh. It’s not possible to obtain illicit pap shots there: legally, you need permission to take commercial photographs even in public places in Dubai. Everything is set up. Everything is done with permission from the stars. So when you see those shots, either the celebrities have agreed to do it to promote a hotel or the tourist board and get a free holiday in return, or they get a cut of the photographers’ fees. And quite often both.
While there are paps who still follow people about for a living, it’s not really accepted practice any more. The European Court’s Article 8 – the right to privacy – means many publications just can’t legally accept pictures that are too intrusive. So those candid shots you see? They’re pretty likely to have been staged. And when the cast of Made In Chelsea go out shopping, you don’t think it’s really just coincidence that a whole gaggle of photographers just happened upon them?
Successful agencies these days, like FameFlynet, work only in collaboration with celebrities. The stars end up looking good, no one gets hounded, and the media has enough fun content to fill their pages. It’s not bad, just not entirely an honest portrayal of celebrity life.
How about the kiss-and-tells on the front pages of a tabloid? Even they can’t always be trusted. There was a well-known soap star a few years back whose affair was ‘exposed’, with photographs of him leaving a cheap hotel near Euston station. He did a series of ‘my heartache’ interviews, saying how awful it was to have his affair splashed across the media. But eventually, tired of being painted as the bad guy, the photographer told Popbitch about it. He explained that the story had been hatched by the star, who had approached the photographer with the idea, told him where to find him, and gave him full details of the sex romp that never happened so it would make the tabloid.
So, next time you hear a famous person complain about their lack of privacy, remember that those ‘intimate’ paparazzi shots you’ve seen may well be staged. And, as Kylie and co have proved, if celebrities want a private life, they’re probably capable of having one.