How Kate Middleton became the most-watched royal by the British press

With Meghan in America and Charles battling cancer, the Princess of Wales seems to do nothing but attract speculation and innuendo

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In an era when a scandal over breakfast is usually all but forgotten by dinner, “KateGate” has some real staying power. The incident was sparked last Sunday, March 10 (Mother’s Day in Britain), when Kate Middleton, a.k.a. Catherine, Princess of Wales, released a photograph of her and her three children.

The Princess had been largely out of the public eye for several months, having not been seen in public since Christmas, and having had what Kensington Palace called “planned abdominal surgery” in mid-January that kept her in hospital for almost two weeks.

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The picture, released on Instagram accompanied by a “thank you for your kind wishes and continued support” message and a cheery “Happy Mother’s Day,” was clearly meant to dampen down conspiracy theorists who were making hay of the Princess’s continued absence. But almost immediately it was noticed that there was editing afoot, and that Kate wasn’t wearing her wedding ring.

More than a week later, people are still talking about it. And the where-is-she, how-is-she speculation has reached such a fever pitch that even a brief video of her taken by a passerby has become a major news story in Britain and among royal watchers.

In a video obtained by TMZ, Kate and William were seen visiting a local farm shop in Windsor, England on Monday. The video is said to be the first footage of Middleton in public since her surgery. But her appearance did nothing to quell the conspiracists who claimed it was not the royal couple in the video. The newly released clip fuelled further speculation and #KateGate started to trend again on Monday night.

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As speculation remain rife, a brief look at how Kate Middleton’s “disappearance” unfolded and is different than the brutal spotlight Meghan Markle has endured.

Why is KateGate still trending?

First, Kate’s “disappearance” started early in the new year, so this latest event is really just another log on an already smouldering fire.

Other flammable news included a February remark from a spokesperson who said that “Kensington Palace would only be providing updates when something was significant”; and the British Army this month claiming Kate would be attending its Trooping the Colour event in June, only to rescind the announcement.

But perhaps part of the reason is that Kate, for all her being out of the public eye, is also still very much in it, at least compared to other royals.

What about Meghan Markle?

There was a time when Meghan Markle seemed to exist just for the British tabloids to bully – often with disturbingly racist overtones.

But aside from not being married to the next in line to the throne, Markle lost some of her newsworthiness (at least in the British press) when she and her husband, Prince Harry, announced in 2020 that they were stepping back from royal duties, and moving to America. Among royal watchers, active members of “The Firm,” as the family is sometimes called, are more interesting than passive or semi-retired ones.

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Meghan Markle
In this file photo taken on September 25, 2021, Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle speaks during the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival at the Great Lawn, Central Park in New York City. Photo by ANGELA WEISS /AFP via Getty Images

Shouldn’t King Charles be more of a target?

As head of the family and the current monarch, King Charles would seem to be a more likely target for conspiracy theorists, especially since the recent news that he is battling cancer has taken him largely out of the public eye as well.

But there are several mundane reasons why the King has been spared some of the attention thrown at his daughter-in-law Kate. She’s younger and prettier, and the circumstances around her illness and subsequent scarcity are less well understood. The biggest unknown when it comes to Charles’ condition is the type of cancer, which has not been revealed.

In any case, it’s not a disease to make light of — though that didn’t stop a false rumour spreading out of Russia Monday afternoon to the effect that the King had died.

Why didn’t the Queen attract this kind of speculation?

She did, to some degree. But owing to her staunch habit of never doing interviews, never responding to rumour or innuendo, and scarcely ever weighing in on any topic other than the most incontrovertible – COVID is bad, Christmas is a time for family – nothing really stuck to the Queen. She would never have been caught sending out her own Instagram snaps, doctored or otherwise.

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“Never complain, never explain,” was the Queen’s watchword, and she stuck to it. In contrast, many of the younger royals have a habit of complaining – Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, for example, or both Harry and William being involved in litigation against the British media for phone-hacking.

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As to explaining, Kate was quick to do so in the early stages of KateGate, putting out an Instagram statement the day after the original photo that read: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day.”

But the original photo was never shared, and the Palace made it clear it would not be.

Over the weekend, Princess Kate tried to get ahead of the issue, releasing a video of her and Prince William.

“Happy St Patrick’s Day,” she wrote. “”Here’s a sneak peak of the Irish Guards rehearsing for their annual parade. Sláinte (cheers) to all those celebrating today!”

Whether this and other sightings of the “disappearing” royal will be enough to douse the fire of KateGate, which continues to smoke, remains to be seen.

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