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News / Nation & World

Kate, Princess of Wales, apologizes for editing family photo that fueled rumors about her health

By BRIAN MELLEY, Associated Press
Published: March 11, 2024, 8:44am

LONDON (AP) — Kate, Princess of Wales, apologized Monday for “confusion” caused by her editing of a family photo released by the palace — an image of Kate and her children that was intended to calm concern and speculation about the British royal’s health, but had the opposite effect.

Several news agencies that initially published the photo, including The Associated Press, withdrew the image over concerns about digital manipulation. Issued by the couple’s Kensington Palace office on Sunday to mark Mother’s Day in Britain, it was the first official photo of 42-year-old Kate since she had abdominal surgery nearly two months ago.

The retractions sent the online rumor mill, already rampant with speculation over Kate’s operation and recuperation, into overdrive. The PR disaster is more evidence that the royal family’s long-held mantra — “never complain, never explain” — is impossible in a social media-saturated era.

In a post on social media, Kate said that “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,” the post said.

In the past, the palace has issued several of Kate’s family snapshots featuring her and heir to the throne, Prince William, with their children Prince George, 10; Princess Charlotte, 8; and Prince Louis, 5.

The latest photo was taken by William, Kensington Palace said. In an accompanying social media message, Kate said: “Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months. Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.”

While there was no suggestion the photo was fake, AP retracted it because closer inspection revealed the source had manipulated the image in a way that did not meet AP’s photo standards. For instance, it contained an inconsistency in the alignment of Princess Charlotte’s left hand with the sleeve of her sweater.

Other major news agencies, including Getty, Reuters, AFP and the U.K. national agency, PA, also withdrew the photo.

Kensington Palace said it would not release the original unedited photograph. And while Kate’s statement provided a measure of clarification, it looked unlikely to stop the swirl of rumor that has accelerated during her absence from public duties.

Former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said the mishandled photo release “is damaging for the royals.”

“They knew there would be intense interest in any picture they released of Kate,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Their challenge is that people will now question whether they can be trusted and believed when they next issue a health update.”

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The royal family is under particular scrutiny because King Charles III has also had to cancel public duties while he undergoes treatment for an unspecified form of cancer. The monarch has canceled all his public engagements, though he has been photographed walking to church and meeting privately with government officials and dignitaries.

Charles’ relative openness about his diagnosis was a departure for the generally secretive royal family. But it has been eclipsed in popular interest by curiosity over Kate’s condition. In the absence of firm information, conspiracy theories have rushed to fill the vacuum.

The release of the photo followed weeks of gossip on social media about what had happened to Kate since she left a hospital Jan. 29 after a nearly two-week stay following planned surgery. She hadn’t been seen publicly since Christmas Day.

Kate underwent surgery Jan. 16 and her condition and the reason for the operation have not been revealed, though Kensington Palace said it was not cancer-related.

Although the palace initially said that it would only provide significant updates and that she would not return to royal duties before Easter — March 31 this year — it followed up with a statement last month saying she was doing well.

At the time, royal aides told The Sun newspaper: “We’ve seen the madness of social media and that is not going to change our strategy. There has been much on social media but the princess has a right to privacy and asks the public to respect that.”

Further questions were raised last week when the British military seemed to jump the gun in announcing Kate would attend a Trooping the Color ceremony in June, apparently without consulting palace officials.

It’s up to palace officials, not government departments, to announce the royals’ attendance at events. Kensington Palace didn’t confirm any scheduled public events for Kate, and the army later removed reference to her attendance.

William, Queen Camilla and other senior royals attended a Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on Monday. Neither Kate nor the king was due to be at the event, which drew a crowd of several dozen anti-monarchist protesters holding signs reading “Down with the Crown.”

Veteran public relations consultant Mark Borkowski said the photo gaffe exposed a wider PR problem for the monarchy.

“There doesn’t seem to be that much joined-up strategic thinking at the heart of the royal family at the moment, which leads to these problems where it’s a very difficult organization to manage in terms of PR,” he said.

“I find they have risen to the challenge, provided the statement as an explanation,” he said of Kate’s apology Monday. “The question is, with all the conspiracy theories running around, is whether people believe it. And I’m not sure that they will.”