How the Kate Middleton Story Flew So Spectacularly Off the Rails

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Originally appeared on E! Online

Where is Kate Middleton?

It's a question that was asked a lot in the two months after Kensington Palace shared that the Princess of Wales had undergone "planned abdominal surgery" and would be "unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter." And as time went by, people started to point out that she really hadn't been seen in that's-definitely-her fashion since Christmas...

So while there was, in actuality, no reason to think Kate was anywhere other than home at Adelaide Cottage in Windsor (or at one of their other historic residences) with Prince William and their children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, that answer never seemed to suffice for those who decided—whether early on or eventually—that something more complicated was at play.

Well, something more complicated was happening, though not in the true-crime-podcast way that some of the discourse suggested.

A few days after news broke of a possible records breach at the hospital where she had surgery, Kate shared in a March 22 video message that she's undergoing treatment for cancer.

Kate Middleton Receives Well-Wishes From Celebs Amid Health Journey

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When she had surgery in January, the 42-year-old explained, "it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous. The surgery was successful. However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present."

Doctors prescribed a course of "preventative chemotherapy" and she's in the "early stages of that treatment," Kate continued. "This of course came as a huge shock, and William and I have been doing everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family."

Kate Middleton, Catherine Princess of Wales, health announcement, BBC
BBC Studios

She noted that William has been "a great source of comfort and reassurance," and gracefully thanked the public "for all your wonderful messages of support and for your understanding" while she recovered.

To be sure, there were always well-wishers going about their day and hoping—whatever the inevitable explanation was—that Kate was going to be OK, end of story. But that couldn't prevent a simultaneously unfolding narrative that at times went wildly off the rails.

Stars Weigh In On Kate Middleton's Whereabouts

Whether the hysteria over Kate's whereabouts and well-being would have reached such a fever pitch without the simultaneous uncertainty surrounding the health of King Charles IIIwho shared Feb. 5 that he was undergoing treatment for an undisclosed type of cancer—will remain one of life's unanswerable questions. But longtime royal watchers predicted that their initial level of transparency—though relatively high for the monarchy—might not cut it.

"As much as possible, people are trying to respect that there needs to be some privacy there, that this is not just an institution, that this is a real family," royals correspondent Sharon Carpenter told E! News after Buckingham Palace shared Charles' cancer diagnosis. "But people are wondering, what is the prognosis?"

She also predicted that both the king and the Princess of Wales would say more eventually, on their terms.

Kate Middleton, Christmas 2023
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

"There's going to be a certain point in time where Kate does reveal to us why she underwent this surgery and I'm sure we'll have a greater understanding at that point of why she chose to keep it private," Carpenter said. "At some point we'll also find out the type of cancer that King Charles is dealing with."

And as Kensington Palace said March 22, explaining the timing of Kate speaking out, "The Princess wanted to share this information when she and The Prince felt it was right for them as a family."

What's been evident from the start, though, is that something that didn't seem particularly controversial on its face—a mother of three taking a break from work while she recovered from surgery—somehow turned into the most engrossing mystery of the year, aided and abetted by some very suspicious armchair sleuths, the monarchy's history of secrecy and an admitted unforced photo error from the royal family's court.

Here's a guide to every twist the story took before Kate shared her diagnosis:

Jan. 17

<p>Jan. 17</p>

Jan. 29

<p>Jan. 29</p>

Feb. 5

<p>Feb. 5</p>

Feb. 7

<p>Feb. 7</p>

Feb. 27

<p>Feb. 27</p>

Feb. 29

<p>Feb. 29</p>

March 4

<p>March 4</p>

March 6

<p>March 6</p>

March 10

<p>March 10</p>

<p>Hours later, the Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images and Agence France-Presse <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:removed the photo from their databases;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">removed the photo from their databases</a> and issued advisories to clients—known as a <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:"kill notice";elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">"kill notice"</a>—to remove and/or not run the image.</p> <p>"The Associated Press initially published the photo, which was issued by Kensington Palace," the news wire said in a statement to NBC News. "The AP later retracted the image because at closer inspection, it appears that the source had manipulated the image in a way that did not meet AP's photo standards. The photo shows an inconsistency in the alignment of Princess Charlotte's left hand."</p> <p>Upon much closer inspection, visible flaws <em>were </em>noticeable, including blurred fingers on Louis' hand and some wonkiness with Charlotte's sleeve.</p> <p><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Reuters reported;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Reuters reported</a> that its own "picture editors said part of the sleeve of Kate's daughter's cardigan did not line up properly, suggesting that the image had been altered." The London-based agency pointed to the Photoshop usage guidelines in the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, explaining, "We use only a tiny part of its potential capability to format our pictures, crop and size them and balance the tone and color."</p>

March 11

<p>March 11</p>

March 12-13

<p>March 12-13</p>

March 14

<p>March 14</p>

March 17

<p>March 17</p>

March 18

<p>March 18</p>

<p>But no one has proved it was <em>not </em>them enjoying a day out together on March 16. And really, what better way to at least try to stick a fork in this odd chapter in modern royal history?</p> <p>"This was a genuine member of the public who happened to see Kate and William at this farm shop," NBC News royal commentator <strong>Dana McAndrew</strong> <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said on TODAY;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">said on <em>TODAY</em></a>. "But was it set up, in that they knew perfectly well that somebody would take a photograph of them? Yes, I think we can assume that was the case."</p>

March 20

<p>March 20</p>

March 22

<p>March 22</p>

(E! and NBC News are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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