July 16, 2024
Kate Middleton

Light has been shed on one of the strangest chapters in modern royal history, and how the Princess of Wales reacted.
If you want to be shockingly Californian about the whole thing, this year has been one of great learnings.

We’ve learnt that kings are all too human, that Dukes of York are impervious to shame and allergic to dignity, and that Prince Louis will perpetually give great face when released from behind the Adelaide Cottage hedges.

But there are some parts of this year’s royal story, and the horrible reality of both the Princess of Wales and King Charles’ battles with cancer, that have never been explained.

Now Vanity Fair’s Katie Nicholl has done some stellar reporting and finally provided some crucial answers to some of the strangest parts of a very strange royal year; and we are only in July.

Everyone, pretend it’s summer again; all beach days and Paddle Pops dripping down our hands.

On January 17, Kensington Palace shocked the rainbow flavour out of us all by announcing that Kate, the Princess of Wales, was in hospital for “planned abdominal surgery” and would be out for the count while she recovered.

Only hours later, Buckingham Palace would put a horribly similar statement about King Charles and his enlarged prostate, words no writer should ever have to type.

Kate Middleton
Prince William leaving the London Clinic, where Kate had surgery, on January 18. Picture: Henry Nicholls/AFP

While Prince William, in his very rev head-y Audi, was seen leaving the London Clinic during the two weeks that the princess spent as a patient, their three children; Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Louis-of-the-front-page, were not seen once. No one knew why.

Enter Nicholl, who now reports that this was all done on purpose and that the princess “did not want her children to see her in a gown and hooked up to monitors and tubes”.

Instead, “she made do with video calls home every day.”

A friend of the family told Vanity Fair of that period: “Things were so normal at home that George was playing a rugby match against another school while Kate was hospitalised.”

It would be nice if this is where we could merrily end the story of Kate’s surgery drama, but fate had something much nastier in store the mother-of-three.

Again, Nicholls has new insight into how one of the most extraordinary scenes in royal history played out – and one that would leave the princess “floored”.

Kate Middleton
Kate revealed her cancer diagnosis in a video on social media months after her surgery.

We now know that tests done after the surgery in January found cancer, a fact that would be kept under wraps for another two more months, during which time the Waleses suffered through what would have to be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, period of their life together.

Social media, like nature, abhors a vacuum and soon theories about the princess, ranging from mildly bonkers to tinfoil-helmet-wearing deranged, were mutating and spreading across the internet.

Kensington Palace seemed to have no idea how to even begin to get the faintest grip on the situation.

Kate, according to the wild surmising, was either locked up in a Scottish tower or was planning to divorce William to move to Santa Fe to sell dreamcatchers.

Other theories implied she had had enough of having to live so close to Prince Andrew chipping golf balls around Windsor Home Park, or even wanted to move to Shropshire to take religious vows.

Things only took a turn for the even more unhinged when, on February 27, William pulled out of attending his godfather King Constantine of Greece’s memorial service at St George’s

Chapel; a reported four-minute drive from the Waleses’ home, less than an hour before it started citing a mysterious “personal matter”.

More foil for everyone!

Kate Middleton
Kate’s botched Photoshop scandal added an extra layer of strangeness to the whole affair. Picture: Daniel Leal/AFP

The pitch had long since passed “fever” and was on its way to fahrenheit 451 when British Mother’s Day rolled around and the Waleses decided to do what they do best: Smile for the cameras.

“This will put paid to the madness!”, you’d have to guess the thinking inside the palace was.

“This will dump cold water on all the screwy theories and prove that everything is fine and dandy and the Waleses are the human equivalent of a wool advert!” (Warm, dependable and reassuringly prosaic.)

Insert some mirthless cackling here.

Instead we got the meltdown to end all meltdowns after the world’s major photo agencies issued kill notices for the shot featuring Kate and the kids over concerns it had been “manipulated”, a response usually reserved for photos from North Korea or Iran.

Even with the 20/20 benefit of hindsight, of knowing what the Waleses were having to process and deal with behind the scenes, this is still one of the most bizarre – and clumsily, maladroitly handled – periods in modern royal history.

Kate Middleton
Kate and William were said to have been ‘floored by the reaction’. Picture: Andy Commins – WPA Pool/Getty Images

The starchy Times joined in the fray, writing in an editorial that the couple needed to take “direct communication with their future subjects… more seriously.”

Now, thanks to Nicholl, we know that faced with such an extreme, global response, “William and Kate were floored by the reaction”.

As one royal aide told Nicholl: “Lessons were learned.”

Quite.

But, if the prince and princess have “learnt” something here, then we have to also.

What 2024 has proven is that William and Kate, finding themselves in terrifying new waters, were all too fallible and all too imperfect.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget that the princess is a living, breathing human and not some unerring, exquisite exemplar of perfection.

What Nicholls’ new report underlines is that even a prince and princess with a huge staff and money and resources and aides are liable to have a crack at something and to be wholly found wanting.

How’s this for a neat bit of symmetry? It was nearly a year ago when, to mark Wimbledon, the princess and Roger Federer took to the court for a friendly game.

Recently the tennis champion broke down the stats of his stellar career for a graduation speech at Dartmouth College which had gone viral, talking about how “even top-ranked tennis players” don’t win all the points they play.

Turns out, even top-ranked princesses don’t either. Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it?

Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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