I, too, gawped at the photos of Jemima and Imran Khan having sex

At a seminar in the suitably "starry" Sugar Reef restaurant in central London, journalism students and wealthy lawyers debated the question: "Should celebrities have their privacy protected?" The panel had been carefully assembled to allow representatives from the various camps to have their say. So Toby Young masterfully played his role as irritable and irascible celebrity interviewer. Max Clifford was the epitome of the go-between, making clients money by selling stories to editors who don't care what the truth is. A human rights barrister and a media lawyer also perched venerably on a platform above the 200-strong audience.

I had been called at the last moment to talk about the experience of being both "in the press" and "of the press".

"Am I the sort of celebrity speaker, then?" I asked hopefully. "Yes, Lauren, of course you are," came the soothing reply. Because that's the bugger about having been photographed on red carpets and invited to drinks with Lenny Henry and the Prince's Trust: you miss the "status" and the attention once your trivial stardom begins to wane.

Ahh, the memory of my friends' faces in the glare of flashbulbs as we sashayed into the Met Bar with a Brookside "star". The shallow bliss of standing next to Joanna Lumley at an auction, both of us waving champagne flutes and saying "sweetie" to the cameras. These days, such moments seem to me as sweet, as unhealthy and as tempting as a box of Belgian chocolates. Still, this nostalgia for fame gone by is very much hindsight, and during the debate I fought for the rights of Sara Cox et al to flash their nipples in lads' mags for cash, but to sue editors who sought to reveal their bits without a financial agreement.

"Celebrities have the right to say no," I chanted, waiting a little too long for a smattering of applause that failed to materialise - this, after all, was a room full of wannabe hacks and legal eagles.

The real "problem" for starlets and tartlets in the media eye is what to "give" to the public and what to hide. Glossy mags have covered both my engagement and my wedding; one carried a spread about me moving home. This is all very lucrative and seems pretty harmless - except, as Piers Morgan has told me on many occasions, "once OK! step inside your home, it's open season". There is hypocritical resentment in the tabloid world that "names" get paid very well for giving the red tops what they desire. Money is thrown at PR "splashes" that increase circulation (in peacetime, at any rate).

Away from my slightly rose-tinted fame-by- proxy memories is the real unpleasantness of having your most private moments invaded by well-paid peeping Toms.

During a long-haul flight on a recent press trip, the photographer passed the time by revealing the favourite celebrity photos he had stored lovingly on his laptop. Just as I was nodding off at the back of the plane, hysterical giggles woke me up. Grumpily, I weaved down the aisle to the source and saw my three press colleagues squeezed around a screen. Squeaks of delight filled the cabin, followed by sheepish wails of "How embarrassing!" and "I can't look any more".

There, on the screen, were glossy snaps of Imran Khan and his wife, Jemima, having sex on their honeymoon. I, too, gawped at the dark tanned back. I tittered at the panama hat offering the only protection from the bright sunshine. I gasped at the flexibility of Jemima, and for moments I was entranced by the "private" spectacle I was seeing. These shots and many others, believe me, are available on most picture desks at most newspaper and magazine offices in Britain. And now the nude shots of Sara Cox on her honeymoon are somewhere and everywhere on the internet. I haven't seen those yet, but if I do go out of my way to look for them I'll know, in my heart and in my mind, that I'm "peeping" at a breach of privacy.

This article first appeared in The New Statesman Essay - The Empire strikes back

2001-11-12