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Coffee runs, car chases, and the insatiable celebrity-industrial complex

Paparazzi need two things — famous people and fans who want to ogle them doing even mundane things.

A scrum of photographers at the 76th annual Cannes film festival last week.Andreas Rentz/Getty

Ben Affleck Goes Viral for Slamming Door Behind Jennifer Lopez.” “Ben Affleck Slams The Car Door In Jennifer Lopez’s Face While Out Running Errands In A Bad Mood.” “‘Miserable’ Ben Affleck ‘Slams’ Door On Jennifer Lopez.”

Or, instead of a concocted narrative about marital strife, maybe Affleck looked ”miserable” and slammed his car’s door because he and Lopez can’t even get a cup of coffee without photographers documenting their every move.

In search of a big payday, paparazzi will do whatever they deem necessary to get those celebrity shots that so many demand and crave.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, at the Invictus Games in The Hague, Netherlands, in April 2022. Peter Dejong/Associated Press

And while it can seem harmless enough, consider a recent scene in New York involving the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, his wife — that was described by their spokesperson as a “near catastrophic” chase that evoked one of the most shocking events of the late 20th century.

After leaving a Ms. Foundation gala Tuesday night where Meghan was among the honorees, the couple and Doria Ragland, the duchess’s mother, were tailed by a throng of paparazzi. According to John Miller, a CNN law enforcement analyst and former New York Police Department deputy commissioner, “photographers, motorcycles went down sidewalks, cars mounted the sidewalk to go across a corner with pedestrians there to run a red light . . . and drove into oncoming traffic on 34th Street to catch up.”


When Harry and Meghan then hopped into a cab, photographers were able to get what they desired — a few shots of their prey, the inside of the car illuminated by camera flashes. Some are quibbling about what constitutes “near catastrophic” or even a chase, but it was hard not to imagine whether Harry wondered if he, Meghan, and her mother would die the way his own mother, Princess Diana, did in 1997.


In his recent memoir, “Spare,” Harry recounts seeing paparazzi photos taken moments after the car carrying his mother; Dodi Fayed, her boyfriend; Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard; and Henri Paul, their driver, crashed in a Paris tunnel while fleeing photographers. Only Rees-Jones survived.

“Not one of them was checking on her, offering her help, not even comforting her. They were just shooting, shooting, shooting,” he wrote. “I hadn’t known. I hadn’t dreamed. I’d been told that paps chased Mummy, that they’d hunted her like a pack of wild dogs, but I’d never dared to imagine that, like wild dogs, they’d also feasted on her defenseless body. I hadn’t been aware, before this moment, that the last thing Mummy saw on this earth was a flashbulb.”

The wreckage of Princess Diana's car in the Alma tunnel of Paris on Aug. 31, 1997. PIERRE BOUSSEL/AFP via Getty Images

Although Paul was legally drunk while behind the wheel, the public largely blamed the paparazzi for the crash. In a Gallup poll conducted about a week after Diana’s death, both Americans and people in Britain agreed that “celebrities deserve more privacy” and should not be constantly hounded by photographers in public.

But that sentiment didn’t hold, and photographers remain as aggressive as ever, perhaps even more so. Nearly everyone has a cellphone in their pocket or bag, meaning anyone is a would-be paparazzo with dreams of a viral video or a photo that could garner a lot of money from a tabloid or magazine. That’s especially true if a celebrity is captured doing something unusual or looking less than their red-carpet best.


Years ago, the Los Angeles Times did a story about photographers staking out LAX airport, precisely to snap photos of bedraggled, jet-lagged celebrities walking through the terminal after a long flight.

None of this would happen if not for the insatiable celebrity-industrial complex — and fandom’s innate belief that seeing a movie, bingeing a TV show, or attending a concert entitles them to entry into the lives of those revered and reviled in equal measure.

Some might sneer that nobody cares about Bennifer, JenBen, LoFleck, or whatever silly portmanteau the Afflecks have been saddled with since they got married last year. But the numbers tell a different story: Millions watched their mundane coffee-run video, and that stat is just from YouTube.

Of course, there’s a natural tendency to be less than sympathetic about what happens to celebrities. With fabulous lives and so many adoring fans, they can afford to suck up a little inconvenience every now and then, right? Except it’s never-ending, and photographers don’t seem to care who they endanger to get their shot.

What happened to Princess Diana already proved that the line between “near catastrophic” and “catastrophic” is razor thin. And with more outlets and fans demanding a constant stream of celebrity content, it seems only a matter of time before that dangerous line is crossed again.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.