The Kate Middleton mystery: A complete timeline of the Princess of Wales’ royal family PR disaster

Where in the world is Kate Middleton?” has been a growing question in recent months following the Princess of Wales’ conspicuous absence. But on Sunday, a photo of Kate and her three children was released by the Palace, seemingly to show all was well on Mother’s Day in the UK. That reassurance, however, was cut short after online sleuths whipped out their magnifying glasses and asserted that the photo looked alarmingly fishy. The photo seemed like a shoddy attempt by the Palace to silence the slew of conspiracy theories surrounding Kate’s health and whereabouts. And expectedly, people were not happy.

Concerns regarding Kate’s well-being reached a fever pitch last month after William abruptly pulled out of a planned outing to his godfather King Constantine of Greece’s memorial service on Feb. 27, People reported. In January, Kensington Palace announced that the Princess of Wales underwent a “planned” abdominal procedure without providing more information on her health. They noted that her medical condition was non-cancerous and that Kate wasn’t expected to return to public royal duties until after Easter. She has reportedly been recovering in Windsor since she left the hospital two weeks after her surgery. 

Updates regarding Kate’s condition have been scant, which has encouraged many to further look into what’s really going on with the royal family. Redditors speculated that Kate and William’s relationship was on the rocks. Spanish media believed that Kate was stuck in a coma. And folks on Twitter were convinced that Kate had undergone a Brazilian butt lift (better known as a “BBL”).

Last week, a spokesperson for the prince told People that “his focus is on his work and not on social media.” The Palace recently assured the public that the Princess of Wales “continues to be doing well” in her recovery. Kate was also spotted during a car ride with her mother Carole Middleton, although many claimed that the princess wasn’t actually in the photo.

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New developments in Kate’s so-called “disappearance” have been coming in by the hour. Here’s a look at what’s happened thus far:

Jan. 9, 2024: Kensington Palace doesn’t make a social media post for Kate’s birthday

Royal experts noted that Kensington Palace failed to make a social media post celebrating Kate’s 42nd birthday. There were no posts wishing Kate a happy birthday nor were there any posts thanking people for their birthday wishes.

The lack of posts isn’t incredibly eyebrow-raising considering that the Palace didn’t make posts about Kate’s birthday or William’s birthday in 2023. Kate’s birthday did receive posts in 2018 and 2022. New pictures of her were also released on her birthday in 2020 and 2022.

Jan. 17: Kensington Palace announces that Kate is in the hospital

The Palace released an official statement, saying the princess underwent a “planned abdominal surgery” and will be hospitalized for 10 to 14 days. The Palace said it is unlikely Kate would return to public duties until after Easter, which falls on March 31.

Multiple outlets reported that William had “shifted his schedule” to help his wife and care for their children. This was also the only day journalists were allowed to report on Kate’s health from outside the hospital.

Jan. 18: Prince William visits Kate at the hospital

William is photographed driving to the London Clinic to visit Kate. Royal experts said this is the only time William is seen visiting his wife.

Jan. 20: Spanish journalist Concha Calleja challenges the Palace’s claims

Calleja claimed that Kate was hospitalized on Dec. 28, despite Kensington Palace’s January announcement, and added that the princess was not doing well. The report subsequently spurred online conspiracy theories. One social media user said they saw a royal convoy heading to a London hospital on Dec. 28. Other sleuths pointed out that the Prince and Princess of Wales’s longtime nanny is Spanish.

This is also the first time a UK tabloid hasn’t provided any bizarre gossip story or predictions regarding a royal family issue. Calleja’s report is the first real follow-up story to Kate’s surgery announcement.

Jan. 20: Kate will reportedly work from bed during her recovery

The Sunday Times reported that Palace aides failed to notify Kate’s 30 charities and patronages “to confirm postponing and rescheduling engagements” until one week before her surgery. The newspaper said Kate will be “work[ing] from bed” and “aides insist her work will not stall.” The report fuels more online conspiracy theories.

Jan. 24: More media outlets ramp up coverage surrounding Kate

People’s royal reporter wrote that Kate’s hospitalization wasn’t planned for: “The carefully guarded news about Kate’s situation came as a surprise even to those who work closely with the royal family, PEOPLE understands.” Page Six later reported the same.

Additionally, the UK tabloid the Mirror fueled conspiracy theorists with its story titled, “Kate ‘your best friend one minute and worst enemy the next’, expert claims.” The story is filled with several glaring errors. First, the Mirror sourced the story from “a recent article for the Daily Mail” written by royal reporter Robert Jobson — but links to a post from 2022. Second, it changed its story title just a few hours after publication and replaced Kate’s name with Prince Harry’s. The new and current title of the story is “Prince Harry ‘your best friend one minute and worst enemy the next,’ expert claims.”

The Mirror added an editorial note to the bottom of the post reading, “A previous version of this story erroneously referred to Kate, Princess of Wales, instead of Prince Harry” and removed the link to the 2022 Daily Mail story. The link now redirects to the Daily Mail’s homepage.

Jan. 25: William has allegedly visited Kate in the hospital every day

That’s according to The Sun, which added that Kate’s three children have not visited her yet. Other outlets claimed the children stayed in touch with their mother via FaceTime. 

Jan. 28: Calleja says Kate is in a medically induced coma 

Other Spanish media outlets also reported the same. More conspiracy theorists started taking Calleja’s claims into consideration and the report garnered much popularity online.

Jan. 29: Kensington Palace says Kate will return home to Windsor Castle to continue her recovery

“She is making good progress,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.

Kate’s departure was not photographed, even though members of the media were set up around the hospital in order to photograph the King and Queen.

Feb. 1: A Kensington Palace spokesperson denies Calleja’s coma claim

An unnamed Kensington Palace spokesperson denied Calleja’s “total nonsense” claim that Kate is in a coma to The Times.

“No attempt was made by that journalist to fact-check anything that she said with anyone in the household,” they said. “It’s fundamentally, totally made-up, and I’ll use polite English here: it’s absolutely not the case.”

BuzzFeed News’ former royal correspondent Ellie Hall explained that Palace spokespersons do not go on the record very often. “[T]he fact that someone in the Palace said this and the journalist was allowed to cite it to a spokesperson is significant,” she added.

Feb. 2: Calleja defends her reporting

Calleja claimed she “touched a nerve” by reporting the truth and said she trusts her source  “100%.” Hall explained that it’s “interesting” to see a story like this still be covered in the mainstream media following the Palace’s vocal denial. Reporters like Calleja often “don’t have the credibility to defend themselves.”

Feb. 7: Kate’s brother inspires a few ludicrous conspiracy theories

The princess’ brother James shared a video of his family on vacation in the Alps. Sleuths realized that Kate’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, haven’t been spotted since Kensington Palace announced her surgery.

Feb. 7: William participates in first royal event since Kate’s hospitalization announcement

The event was an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle. William presented medals on behalf of his father to several attendees. He also mentioned his father’s and wife’s health in a speech. “I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you, also, for the kind messages of support for Catherine and for my father, especially in recent days,” he said. “It means a great deal to us all.”

Feb. 9: Kate leaves Windsor Castle for her children’s half-term holiday

The Daily Mail reported that the Wales family has relocated to Anmer Hall, at Sandringham. The trip to Sandringham wasn’t photographed.

Feb. 17: Kate and William visited a school they are considering for their oldest son Prince George

The visit allegedly happened before Kate’s surgery, the Daily Mail’s Richard Eden clarified on X.

Feb. 27: William abruptly pulls out of his godfather’s memorial service

Concerns regarding Kate’s well-being reached a fever pitch when news broke that William had pulled out of attending a memorial service at Windsor for his godfather, the late King Constantine of Greece. The prince was scheduled to give a reading. Kensington Palace said his absence was due to “a personal matter.”

Feb. 27: Buckingham Palace announces the death of Thomas Kingston

Kingston was a member of the extended royal family. Royal experts noted it was quite odd that multiple media outlets reported that William’s departure from the memorial service was not connected to Kingston’s death. Conspiracy theorists frequently referenced the strangeness of these reports, and pointed to the fact that Kingston once dated Kate’s sister Pippa Middleton.

Feb. 29: Kensington Palace reiterates the princess’ recovery timeline

In a statement made to several news outlets, including Page Six and NBC News, a spokesperson for the Palace said, “Kensington Palace made it clear in January the timelines of the Princess’ recovery and we’d only be providing significant updates. That guidance stands.”

Feb. 29: Wales friends and a former Palace employee talk to the Daily Beast

The unnamed friends and a former Palace employee sat down with Daily Beast royal reporter Tom Sykes to talk about Kate’s “disappearance.”

“If William has read any of this stuff, it will only make him more determined to stick to his guns and keep his wife out of the limelight while she recovers. The stuff people are writing is toxic,” one source said.

BuzzFeed News’ former royal correspondent Ellie Hall explained that “friends” of members of the royal family don’t normally talk to reporters unless they’re given permission.

March 1: William ignores a question about his wife’s health

The question was asked during an official event in Wales. The news, however, isn’t reported until March 4.

March 4: TMZ publishes a paparazzi image of the princess and her mother 

The news outlet reported that the image — which shows Kate in the passenger seat and her mother driving — was taken that morning, possibly after Kate dropped her children off at school. Several media organizations followed suit and published the pictures shortly afterwards.

Several UK news outlets reported that Kensington Palace did not “authorize” the taking of the paparazzi image, adding that they would refrain from publishing it out of respect for Kate’s privacy. Two days later, royal reporter Emily Andrews wrote on X that the Palace “exerted huge pressure on the British media” to not publish the image.

March 5: Kate’s uncle speaks out against the conspiracy theories 

“There’s a reason why [the royal family] is not talking about it and they are giving her a little bit of space,” said Kate’s uncle Gary Goldsmith, a contestant on the reality TV show “Celebrity Big Brother.”

March 5: The British Army posts and removes its claim that Kate will attend Trooping the Colour

Kensington Palace told reporters that Kate’s appearance at this year’s Trooping the Colour event on June 8 had not yet been confirmed. The U.K. Ministry of Defense removed its claim that Kate will be at the event and her image from their website.

March 6: A spokesperson for the prince addresses the conspiracy theories

Speaking to People for its Wednesday cover story, a spokesperson said on behalf of the prince, “His focus is on his work and not on social media.”

March 7: Kate’s uncle says he has spoken to his sister Carole about Kate’s health

Goldsmith spoke about Kate’s health once again when fellow “Celebrity Big Brother” contestant Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu asked about the princess’ whereabouts. “Because she doesn’t want to talk about it, the last thing I’m going to do is [talk about it],” he said. “There’s this kind of this code of etiquette. If it’s announced, I’ll give you an opinion.”

He claimed he has spoken to his sister Carole about Kate’s health and said that she’s getting the “best care in the world” and “she’ll be back, of course she will.”

“All the family has put the wagons down and [are looking] after the family first before anything else,” he said. “They put a statement out, they said, ‘She’s going to take some time to recoup and we’ll see you at Easter.’”

March 10: Kate and William post on Instagram for Mother’s Day

On Sunday, Kate and William’s official Instagram account (@princeandprincessofwales) posted a picture of a healthy Kate posing alongside her three children — Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis — in celebration of Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s the first official photo of the princess shared since she underwent planned abdominal surgery earlier this year.

“Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months. Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day. C,” the caption read, adding that the photo was taken by the prince.

The post quickly went viral with many saying the photo clearly looked off. Skeptics claimed that in the photo, Kate’s wedding ring was missing, the right side of her hair was visibly photoshopped and the bottom of Charlotte’s left sleeve was also photoshopped.    

“Tell us the truth! Where’s ar’ Kate Middleton?,” wrote one individual on X (formerly Twitter).

Other users said the image was AI generated — one analysis found that the photo was 77.37% AI generated and only 22.63% human generated. A separate user took it one step further, alleging the Palace of editing Kate’s 2016 Vogue cover photo and using it in her Instagram post.

March 10: Reuters publishes, then deletes the photo 

After Kensington Palace released the Mother’s Day photo of Kate, Reuters published it in an article titled, “In pictures: Kate, the Princess of Wales, through the years,” before deleting it just a few hours later. In a post made on X, the outlet wrote, “We are deleting a post containing an image of the Princess of Wales following a post-publication review.”

Getty and the Associated Press also pulled the images. A kill notification from AP read: “At closer inspection it appears that the source has manipulated the image.”

“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.”

Kensington Palace refused to offer any comment at the time. 

The Daily Telegraph, the British daily broadsheet newspaper that normally writes in support of the royal family, later published the front page story, “Photo from Palace was doctored, say agencies.”

March 11: Kate supposedly breaks her silence on the photo

Kate formally addressed the photo being doctored in an online statement: “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. C”

March 11: Kate is pictured leaving Windsor Castle with William

The Daily Mail reported that Kate was pictured alongside Prince William leaving Windsor Castle in a car. The prince was heading to Westminster Abbey for the annual Commonwealth Day service, while the princess was reportedly heading to “a private appointment.”

In the photo, William is seen looking down at his phone and a person who could be Kate is sitting right next to him. Her head is facing away from the camera and looking out the car window.

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