Why Kate Middleton's Public Hiatus Has The Internet Buzzing

Members of the press and netizens alike have all been talking about Kate Middleton’s long public hiatus, which has left them curious and concerned for a number of reasons—here’s why. 

A simple search of “Kate Middleton” in Google is enough to show someone just how much the British royal’s disappearance has gripped the media and online community at large. For those who haven’t been keeping up with the entire fiasco, that’s alright—there’s quite a lot to digest. 

READ ALSO: Ongoing Recovery: Kensington Palace’s Update On Kate Middleton’s Health

Everything began when Middleton underwent a successful abdominal surgery in January 2024. To protect the princess’ privacy, Kensington Palace remained tight-lipped about her recovery and further details behind the operation. Since then, Middleton has been absent in royal duties, even until the time of this writing. 

Catherine "Kate" Middleton, Princess of Wales, in 2023
Catherine “Kate” Middleton, Princess of Wales, in 2023/Photo by Ian Jones via Wikimedia Commons

Absence and silence are, of course, not the best combination when one wants to quell public curiosity. As more and more people waited for some kind of update from the royal family about the princess’ condition, they began to speculate. Understandably, Middleton wishes to keep her life as private as can be, especially after an illness. However, her absence has sparked a series of issues that go beyond the usual fare of conspiracy theories and baseless rumors.

What’s most interesting about Middleton’s situation is not the hiatus itself—though it does raise curiosity—but rather, the ways in which the family’s public relations team has managed to draw even more negative attention to the case, which is probably the opposite of what it intended. 

There’s no simple way to collate everything that’s come out of this, but for those not in the know, here’s what got the internet and media buzzing about Middleton:

The Altered Photograph

Internet discourse does tend to magnify topics, and with someone as high-profile as Middleton, one can expect no less. Many netizens began speculating about where the princess was throughout her long absence. These narratives ranged from the innocuous “she’s taking a vacation” to more sinister, almost convoluted conspiracies (one only needs to glance at X posts on the matter to get a good idea of just how deep the rabbit hole goes). 

The altered "Mother's Day" photograph from Prince William and Princess Kate's Instagram
The altered “Mother’s Day” photograph from Prince William and Princess Kate’s Instagram/Photo via Instagram @princeandprincessofwales

Yet it was an official photograph from Prince William and Princess Kate’s Instagram that fueled the fire of public scrutiny and launched the royal family into a messy spectacle. For Mother’s Day in the U.K, the account released a picture of Middleton posing with her children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis. Its caption wrote: “Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months.Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day.” 

Netizens were quick to spot discrepancies in the photograph, stating concerns that someone had altered it. Then on the evening of when the photo came out, news agencies like the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) issued kill notices, requesting their clients not to use it, reports Armani Syed of Time

A Dubious Source

The prince and princess’ shared X account released an apology following the controversial move, with a post from Kate stating: “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.”

So Middleton (or whoever wrote the post on her behalf) put out the fires, or tried to, but the damage had already been done. Currently, the Instagram post with the altered picture indicates that it features enhancements. The AFP also removed Kensington Palace from its list of reliable sources after the debacle, adds Syed of Time

Why People Are Talking

Since the release of the altered photo, the public and news agencies alike have asked: why? Given Middleton’s status as one of the most-photographed women in the world, why would the family need to drastically alter an intimate photograph? 

The edits weren’t particularly simple ones, like adjusting a photo’s brightness or exposure. Tara Coham’s article for Independent gives an in-depth look at the picture’s oddities, including clothes that don’t seem to line up with body parts, and the clear absence of Middleton’s wedding rings. 

Kate Middleton in the 2021 COP26 World Leaders Summit
Kate Middleton in the 2021 COP26 World Leaders Summit/Photo by Boris Johnson – COP26 World Leaders Summit Day 1 via Wikimedia Commons

Granted, it’s more than possible that the princess simply took off her many accessories. She was also a member of her university’s photography club, reports Mikhaila Friel for Business Insider. So Middleton might just enjoy editing, as she claims.

Still, one can’t help but wonder why the royal family would resort to these methods. Middleton still hasn’t made an official appearance beyond the enhanced photos, which leaves people wondering even more. One thing’s for certain, the royals’ current PR situation isn’t doing very well. 

“The difficulty now is because there is so little information about what’s happening to Kate, if they were going to project things are all normal in this way—with a photo that is now deemed to be fake—it is pretty damning about the floundering and the poor decision making that’s going on,” explains Mark Borkowski, a London-based public relations and crisis communications expert, to People

A “Soft” Return to the Public?

As Matt Mathers of Independent reports, palace aides say that Middleton will finally be making an appearance when walking to church (St George’s Chapel, Windsor) on Easter Sunday, marking her “soft return” to the public. Afterwards, she’ll be taking another break with her children during their school holidays before returning to public duties. 

Kate Middleton in ITV's "Together at Christmas Carol Service" broadcast
Kate Middleton in ITV’s “Together at Christmas Carol Service” broadcast/Photo via Instagram @princeandprincessofwales

In a March 19, 2024 X post, TMZ also released a video of Prince William and Princess Kate “in good spirits” while walking outside on a Saturday. Of course, this hasn’t stopped public skepticism, with netizens refusing to believe the video given its grainy quality and distance. 

In an age of fake news and deep fakes, it’s not difficult to see why so many people remain wary of videos and photographs. With the palace casually releasing edited pictures, it’s even harder to trust what one sees on the internet. 

Privacy Breach

The mess of Middleton’s hiatus not only showcases the importance of good PR, but also how tricky it is for notable figures to “hide” from the public. Admittedly, it’s challenging to take a leave and simply rest without stirring curiosity when someone is as famous as Middleton. 

Recent reports have revealed that staff tried to access the princess’ private medical records at The London Clinic, where she underwent surgery, according to Eirian Jane Prosser for Daily Mail UK. With such breaches in privacy, one can at least understand why Kensington Palace and the princess have been trying to protect her personal life as much as possible. 

There’s no denying the possibility that everyone is overthinking: maybe Middleton simply wanted to turn away from the limelight, if only for a few months. Yet with a situation like this, no one can confirm or deny what’s really going on, at least for now.

Mistakes were made, ones that have irrevocably changed people’s perception of the royal family in different ways. Perhaps things will quiet down once Middleton makes an official appearance this Easter—finally giving the public exactly what they’ve been looking for all this time. 

Banner photo by Boris Johnson – COP26 World Leaders Summit Day 1 via Wikimedia Commons.

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