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March 7, 2024, 1:05 p.m.
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It’s getting weirder: BuzzFeed News’ former royals reporter on Kate Middleton, Palace PR, and distrust in the media (updated)

“I cannot emphasize enough how out of character it is that a royal press team went on the record in response to what is essentially gossip.”

Editor’s note: The timeline section of this story was updated on March 14, 2024.

When I realized I was in no fewer than four separate group chats discussing Kate Middleton’s almost complete disappearance from the public eye, I turned to Ellie Hall to help me figure things out.

Ellie, who’s currently a freelance journalist, was senior reporter and official royal correspondent for BuzzFeed News from 2013 until the newsroom shut down in April 2023. The first part of this story is a Q&A, where I spoke with Ellie about royal reporting, social media, Kensington Palace PR strategy, and how a digitally connected world has made the official press apparatus of the royal family and the royal media system somewhat obsolete.

The second part of the story is Ellie’s timeline of the media’s recent coverage of Middleton. Ellie is so knowledgeable and clear-eyed, and I found our conversation and her timeline more interesting than even the most out-there conspiracy theory. — Laura Hazard Owen

Laura Hazard Owen: Tell me a little about your reporting background and the work you did at BuzzFeed News.

Ellie Hall: I started at BuzzFeed News in January 2013 and reported for them until the newsroom shut down in April 2023. Since then, I’ve been freelancing and doing a bit of consulting work.

I’ve been interested in the British monarchy and its history since I was quite young, and I happily volunteered to cover the royal family during my first weeks at the company. From that point on, I was BuzzFeed News’s official royal correspondent. Although I was able to secure accreditation to cover members of the royal family in person during three separate official visits to the United States, BuzzFeed News was not a media outlet on the official press team’s radar for a fair amount of time (the newsroom did get there eventually).

I always tried to cover the royal family in a way that would interest the hardcore followers as well as casual readers, using my own observations and questions to guide my coverage. My biggest royal story was my January 2020 comparison of U.K. media headlines about Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, which was actually something I’d been working on and adding examples to since February 2019. Although I had always covered the royal family, the success of that post encouraged my editors to launch a royal newsletter, The Royal Tea, and give me structured time for stories that were more analytical and more in my own voice than straight-up news posts. From that point on, I covered royal news as it broke, but I also wrote a lot of deep dives, analyses, and looks at aspects of the royal media ecosystem that nobody else was really covering.

Owen: Tell me a little bit about Kensington Palace press strategy. What are their strategies, generally? Assume I’m an American who knows nothing about them: Like, can you email them for comment? What kinds of interactions have you had with them?

Hall: One of the first things to know is that the royal family doesn’t have one big press team working together to set the public narrative. The King and Queen have their press team, Buckingham Palace, and the Prince and Princess of Wales have their press team, Kensington Palace. “The Palace” can be used for either royal household when you’re referring to the royal press apparatus in a story. If Prince Harry is to be believed, there is constant infighting, one-upping, and leaking that goes on behind the scenes — staffers for one member of the royal family will give damaging or untrue stories about another member to the press to make their employer look better. He and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have made allegations about this system in interviews and he goes into it in detail in his memoir Spare.

Royal press offices rarely go on the record. As former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger noted in this great column that I reference all the time in my work, it’s “unusually difficult” to judge the reliability of royal reporting because “it is a world almost devoid of open or named sources.” You almost never see stories with direct attributions to royal spokespersons, which is one of the big reasons why this “Kate Middleton is missing” saga is so interesting. A Palace spokesperson has gone on the record three times — first in response to a Spanish media report that Kate was in a coma, then in response to the widespread social media speculation about her status, and then once again in response to William’s reaction to the social media speculation.

Instead of going on the record, royal press offices will give briefings and in some situations provide information to a core group of royal reporters — with the caveat that these reporters won’t say that the information came from an official spokesperson. Phrases like “this reporter understands” or “this news outlet can confirm” are very common in stories about the royal family. If you follow royal reporters on Twitter, you can always tell when one of these memos is sent, because within minutes of each other, reporters will tweet a similarly worded update or clarification. We saw this happen last week when news of [British financier and husband of royal family member Lady Gabriella] Thomas Kingston’s death was made public. Later that day, royal reporters started tweeting within minutes of each other that William’s absence from the memorial service was not related to the tragedy. (The fact that Kensington Palace wanted this information to get out has, of course, been deemed highly significant by some conspiracy theorists.)

The only method of contacting the press office that is given on the official website is a phone number that connects you to a royal family switchboard. Emailed requests for comment sent to each office’s primary email address don’t always receive responses. Even if you’ve been vetted by the Palace and added to the official press release listserv, sometimes statements will only be sent to certain news outlets — something that leaves a lot of reporters scrambling to get caught up during breaking news situations. I had an interesting back-and-forth with someone in a royal communications office on one of those days. Royal journalists in the U.K. were reporting something important, citing an official statement that hadn’t been posted online or sent out as a press release. I reached out to the royal press office for confirmation and received a response asking why I was contacting them when all of these other outlets had already reported the news. Thus I found myself writing an email explaining that journalists are supposed to independently fact-check information they don’t receive firsthand, which was a weird experience.

The big question about the saga of Kate’s “disappearance” and every royal controversy is how much control the palace press offices have over the media.

Royal press offices hold a fair amount of control because they act as gatekeepers to the members of the royal family. We know that they at least attempt to wield influence behind the scenes. Royal reporters have confirmed that the Palace press offices have tried to kill false — and true — stories before publication. We also know that on at least one occasion the Palace has preemptively reached out to media outlets to warn them off reporting a particular story. We also learned this week that someone from Kensington Palace reached out to an airline to get them to delete a rude tweet about William when a rumor about him was trending on Twitter.

We know that the Palace has actively concealed royal news from the press and reportedly even lied to reporters about issues concerning the health of royal family members — in November 2020, we learned that William had contracted a severe case of COVID-19 in April 2020. At the time, veteran royal reporter Robert Jobson tweeted about Kensington Palace’s “appalling” decision to lie about the prince’s health, writing, “KP were asked several times by the media whether Prince William had contracted the virus and were told categorically ‘no.’”

TMZ’s recent publication of the paparazzi photo of Kate and her mother driving in Windsor has added a new dimension to the media control discussion. Kensington Palace has let it be known that the photos were unauthorized and no U.K. media outlets have run the images, even the tabloids (although most have written up the fact that U.S. media outlets have published an image of the princess). On Wednesday, veteran royal reporter Emily Andrews said on Twitter that Kensington Palace “exerted huge pressure on the British media NOT to publish the pic,” which she said was proof that the press team didn’t set up the photo opportunity.

Safe to say that the U.K. media response to the photo’s publication isn’t doing anything to dispel the “Palace controls the media” narrative that’s running rampant on social media.

Owen: Who are the reporters covering the royals? Can you tell me a little more about the tabloids?

Hall: The media ecosystem surrounding the royal family is unique. The core group of reporters covering the royal family are known as the “royal rota,” and they’re given access to royal events with the understanding that they’ll share whatever news they get at the event with the other media organizations. The justification for it is space and security — you can’t fit a huge press pack into a small room at a charity or food bank a senior royal happens to visit. All rota reporters are from U.K.-based outlets and, as I mentioned earlier, these reporters will sometimes get information from Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace that other journalists don’t receive (there are the official royal press release email lists and then there are WhatsApp groups).

One of Harry and Meghan’s biggest issues with the royal rota system was the fact that the group includes tabloids. These are the outlets that have historically run the most sensational and invasive stories about the royals. They also run the most stories — tabloids constantly churn out royal content on every imaginable topic, no matter how flimsy its apparent source or connection to a member of the royal family.

In this case, the lack of speculative tabloid coverage about Kate’s status is one of the things that people have found suspicious about the current situation. The historically nosy news outlets haven’t theorized about what specific type of surgery she had or the circumstances that led to her medical issue being discovered. Until the TMZ photo was published, there hadn’t been any stories about or photographs of the famously close Middleton family. There’s also a distinct dearth of the fluffy, low-stakes stories about the princess that you usually see in the tabloids (like “What Kate’s doing to relax” or “How Kate’s staying a hands-on mother during her recovery”).

Owen: How does social media play into all this?

Hall: Social media has been the driving force behind this entire saga, and I cannot emphasize enough how out of character it is that a royal press team went on the record in response to what is essentially gossip.

A few years ago, I had an interesting exchange with a press officer when another royal conspiracy theory was trending online. On Feb. 22, 2022, a celebrity gossip blog called Hollywood Unlocked reported that Queen Elizabeth II had died. The post went insanely viral, and by the next day, rumors of the Queen’s death were so widespread that the whole situation in and of itself was newsworthy. I reached out for comment to Buckingham Palace and they refused to give an on-the-record response, telling me on background that they didn’t want to establish a precedent of responding to online speculation.

It’s been really interesting to watch the discussion of Kate’s “disappearance” slowly spread from the toxic hellhole that is so-called “royal internet” into mainstream pop-culture consciousness on social media, especially on Twitter/X. We’ve reached a point where people who don’t normally follow the royal family are invested in this saga.

It’s worth noting that a lot of the conversation was initially driven by pro-Harry and Meghan accounts, and many of the darker conspiracy theories (the ones described as “deeply sinister and highly libelous” by the Daily Mail) seemed to originate from those online spaces. That being said, these speculations are now part of the global conversation, although they’re fortunately balanced by conspiracy theories that are, if not lighthearted, unserious. The BBLs and Glasgow Willy Wonka photoshops, for example.

While tons of people on Twitter are clearly only following this saga for drama, gossip, and memes, over the past week, you’ve been able to observe a growing group of individuals who at least give the impression that they’re genuinely worried about Kate and want to know that she’s okay. That apparent sincerity is rare when it comes to online discussions about the royal family, and I think it’s one of the things keeping Kate in the public eye.

Owen: O.K., so talk to me about how the coverage — or non-coverage — of Kate is different from the coverage of Meghan Markle.

Hall: I don’t think you can talk about what’s currently going on with Kate without talking about Meghan’s history with the U.K. media. It’s one of the points that keeps coming up in the online discourse — the apparent hypocrisy between the Palace and the U.K. media’s treatment of each woman.

People are comparing the hands-off, privacy-first stance that the press is taking toward Kate with their attitude toward Meghan and the stories that were written about her while she was on maternity leave. I’ve seen a lot of posts remarking on how strange it is that the Palace and U.K. media suddenly care about privacy when they didn’t before now. There’s also a definite feeling among some people that Kate should have to go through this social media and press speculation, because Meghan went through it, it was worse for Meghan, and when she complained, people told her to suck it up.

Regardless of your feelings about Meghan or Kate, it’s a fact that over the past month, the Palace has gone on the record three times — first to counter an article about the Princess of Wales and then twice to comment on social media speculation about her well-being. (If you’d like to see more examples of times when the royal family press teams did or didn’t go on the record for stories about these women, I published a deep dive looking into that question at BuzzFeed News.) Meghan and Harry have both said in interviews that this was something the Palace would not do for them. We also know that the Palace “exerted huge pressure on the British media” not to publish a paparazzi photo of Kate — and so far the press has complied.

Owen: In the past, when you were reporting on the royals on a regular basis, what helped you decide whether you should report on something that was a social media rumor? Which other sources do you look at, blogs and things like that?

Hall: I had a very unique position at BuzzFeed News because I’d been there for a long time and had great editors who trusted my instincts when it came to royal stories. A pattern was established pretty early in my time at the company where I would say “I need to write this royal thing up” and the resulting story would do really well. I had a royal newsletter for my last three years in the newsroom, and that was fun because I was able to do some deeper analysis of royal news and royal media coverage and write for a dedicated audience.

I read all the stories written by royal rota reporters and the major royal reporters on the beat at other outlets. I have an almost 11 year-old Twitter list of royal reporters (and official royal social media accounts) that helps me stay updated. I also keep an eye on celebrity gossip and blind gossip websites, because you can often trace some of the wildest royal rumors and theories back to them.

Also, sometimes there’s just some great, clearly fictitious, content. One of my all-time favorites is a Blind Gossip post from July 2019 that claims Meghan freaked out because she couldn’t find avocados in the U.K. and wanted them flown in from California.

Despite its toxicity, royal social media was helpful when it came to stories because it let me get a sense of the sort of questions people were asking about royal news and what misinformation was circulating. I wrote a lot of posts that explained or debunked things that I’d seen trending on Twitter or popping up on Reddit. I also did some reporting on the royal social media networks themselves — I spent a few months going down the rabbit hole of Meghan Markle hate accounts and found evidence that the duchess’s half-sister Samantha was interacting with some of these people and spreading conspiracy theories. I ended up knocking on her door in Florida for that one. She ultimately didn’t talk to me, but it was an interesting trip. That story has actually been cited a few times (by Meghan’s lawyers) in Samantha’s ongoing defamation lawsuit against the duchess. It’s pretty wild.

Owen: What is unusual about the Kate story, besides the fact that people who don’t normally really care about the royals are talking about it?

Hall: I think a big part of this drama is that over the past few years, people have started to really distrust not just the royal family (as an institution/bureaucracy, not necessarily the individual members) but the reporters and outlets that cover the royal family.

I’m not saying this is “The Crown’s” fault, but it doesn’t help matters that for years pop culture has been dominated by a fictionalized narrative that depicts the monarchy and its employees scheming behind the scenes and manipulating the media, happily throwing certain members of the royal family under a bus in service to the overriding goal of preserving the power of the sovereign. Even without the Netflix series, a lot of people still hold a grudge against the royals because of Princess Diana and wonder about the circumstances of her death. I also feel like a lot of this distrust stems from what Harry and Meghan have said since leaving working royal life. Their descriptions of a back-stabbing, Machiavellian organization in interviews and Harry’s memoir Spare have definitely made an impact on the public’s perception of the monarchy and the royal reporting beat.

So when you have a situation like we’re currently in, if people feel that they can’t trust the institution and they can’t trust the reporters, they’re going to go on what they can see — and, as the timeline [below] shows, what they’re seeing is raising questions. The public can’t help but compare how Buckingham Palace is handling the King’s medical crisis with how Kensington Palace is handling Kate’s. People remember how Kate let herself be photographed leaving the hospital the other time she received inpatient treatment (for hyperemesis gravidarum during her first pregnancy in 2012) and how she met the world’s media dressed perfectly and wearing high heels hours after giving birth. Members of the public are also going to make judgments about what’s going on now based on how the Palace has handled similar situations in the past — and there’s a fairly recent example of the royal family press team allowing the widespread publication of paparazzi-style images of one of its off-duty members (Kate was photographed attending a memorial service for a woman killed by a police officer in 2021).

I don’t think we’d be in this position if Kensington Palace had shared something besides two official announcements and one statement to the press. There’s an information void surrounding Kate’s current status, and the royal press team has left a lot of space to speculate about what’s actually going on. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to slow down anytime soon, either. It will be interesting to see if Kensington Palace eventually caves and gives the public something personal from Kate, be that a statement, a photo taken by her, a picture of her and her kids, something along those lines.

Owen: Why is so much coverage about Kate coming from this Spanish journalist, Concha Calleja? Who is she?

Hall: Concha Calleja is a self-described “writer [and] specialist in profiles, criminology and hunting down those who lie,” the host of the Spanish television show “Fiesta” (which has a reported audience of 900,000) and she’s been one of the most interesting bits of this entire saga. She’s the only prominent reporter (so far) to challenge Kensington Palace’s narrative about the Princess of Wales, and her reporting prompted the Waleses’ press team to take the rare step of going on the record to refute a story.

Calleja came onto the scene soon after Kensington Palace announced that Kate had been hospitalized. She first reported that Kate had actually been admitted to the hospital in December and wasn’t doing well, and then claimed that the princess had to be placed in a medically induced coma. Her credibility, at least in Spain, is such that mainstream outlets quickly picked up both reports.

Her stories might have stayed under the radar if Kensington Palace hadn’t gone on the record with the Times of London to refute the report that Kate was in a coma. Royal press teams don’t usually comment at all, let alone on specific stories, and, ironically, by releasing a statement the Palace drew even more attention to Calleja’s reporting.

In a bold move, following the publication of the Times of London story, Calleja doubled down on her reporting, stating that she trusted her source 100% and claiming that Kensington Palace was upset that she had discovered the truth.

Calleja claims to have covered the royal family for 27 years. According to her website, she has written two books about Princess Diana, one of which is an investigation into the conspiracy theory that the beloved royal was murdered. [Ed. note: Another one of Calleja’s books suggests Michael Jackson was murdered.]

Owen: So, um…any guesses on what’s gonna happen next?

Hall: I think a lot will depend on what happens over these next few weeks before Easter. Right now, questions about what’s going on have been confined to social media, but things could change if the press starts seriously pushing Kensington Palace for more information. I was surprised to see that the cover story of this week’s People magazine (an incredibly sympathetic news outlet as far as royal reporting is concerned) is titled, “Royal Family in Turmoil as Demands Mount for More Transparency: ‘There Is Too Much Uncertainty.’”

I could definitely see a scenario where the Waleses and their press team cave in and post a personal message from Kate or a photo/video of her, but I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim. William’s spokesperson’s comment to People that “his focus is on his work and not on social media” and the belligerent tone of the Daily Beast interview with the couple’s friends indicate to me that the Prince and Princess of Wales themselves are personally very invested in keeping Kate out of the public eye and have no plans to budge on that point.

Then again, there’s always the possibility that one of these conspiracy theories could be true, and if that’s the case, God only knows.

Owen: O.K., and finally…when we were talking about ways to cover this story from a Nieman Lab angle, you thought a timeline could be a good way to do it. Why does this story benefit from a timeline?

Hall: A conspiracy theory is essentially a bunch of people looking at one series of events and drawing drastically different conclusions.

Trying to track a conspiracy theory in narrative form is difficult, because anything and everything can be assigned significance to bolster whatever story a person espouses. The key event that ties one theory together could be meaningless to another. It’s easier to explain what people find important in each detail if you go point by point.

This method also makes it easier to add context and correct misinterpretation. There are a lot of people down this rabbit hole who are unfamiliar with the way the royal family operates and that knowledge definitely changes how you view some of these points.

Timelines also help you see patterns and make informed guesses about what events prompted what actions.

Owen: With that, here’s Ellie’s timeline.

• 2023 •
22
December
Multiple outlets report that William and Kate are planning an official trip to Italy in “early 2024.” Kensington Palace does not confirm, but a spokesperson tells the Daily Mail that they “Look forward to announcing the Prince and Princess’ travel plans in due course.” Weeks later, the Sunday Times reports that the trip had tentatively been planned for March.

After Kate’s surgery is announced, multiple outlets will report that this Italy trip had to be rescheduled. To some, this is taken as an indication that the princess’s operation wasn’t as “planned” as Kensington Palace might want the public to think.

• 2023 •
25
December
Kate, William, and their children are seen participating in the royal family’s traditional walk from Sandringham to St Mary Magdalene Church.
• 2023 •
28
December
An anonymous Twitter account posts video of an apparent royal convoy headed to King Edward VII’s Hospital, allegedly from Sandringham.

If #WhereIsKategate has a smoking gun, it’s this video. No royal institution has commented on it and the uploader hasn’t provided follow-up details.

• 2023 •
29
December
The official Kensington Palace social media accounts (Twitter and Instagram) share a video montage of the Wales family’s “greatest hits” from the past year. This is the last time that an image of Kate has been shared on Kensington Palace’s official social media.
• 2024 •
9
January
Kate’s 42nd birthday. Kensington Palace does not make a social media post marking the occasion, neither wishing her a happy birthday nor thanking people for their good wishes.

This is not entirely out of character, as the official accounts did not make posts about her birthday or William’s birthday in 2023 — but her birthdays had been marked by posts from 2018 to 2022. (Also, new pictures of her were released on her birthday in 2020 and 2022.)

• 2024 •
16
January
Unbeknownst to the world, Kate is admitted to the London Clinic.
• 2024 •
17
January
Kensington Palace announces that Kate is in the hospital recovering from a successful “planned abdominal surgery.”

Multiple outlets report that William has canceled engagements and “shifted his schedule” to help his wife and care for their children.

Later, multiple outlets and journalists report that this was the only day they were allowed to report on Kate’s health from outside the hospital.

(Following the media circus before and after the birth of Prince George in 2013, the Palace press offices have cracked down on members of the media gathering outside hospitals, so limiting the time networks can camp outside the London Clinic isn’t entirely out of the norm.)

• 2024 •
17
January
Buckingham Palace announces that King Charles will be hospitalized for treatment for a “benign prostate condition.” According to the statement, he wanted to share his diagnosis to encourage other men with symptoms to get checked.

This is the first of what will be many examples of Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace taking different approaches to how they handle one of their royal “principals” suffering from a medical condition.

• 2024 •
18
January
William is photographed driving to the London Clinic to visit Kate.

This is the only time he is seen visiting his wife.

• 2024 •
20
January
Spanish journalist Concha Calleja reports that, despite Kensington Palace’s claims, Kate was hospitalized on December 28. Calleja says that something went wrong during the postoperative period and claims that Kate is not doing well.

Eagle-eyed Kate truthers immediately seize upon the fact that December 28 is the day that the random Twitter user saw a royal convoy heading to a London hospital. Other royal watchers point out that the Waleses’ longtime nanny is Spanish. Calleja’s report is the first real “follow-up” story to the surgery announcement, in the sense that no media outlets have published stories reporting anything besides the official statement. You can normally count on the U.K. tabloids for some sort of wacky speculation when it comes to stories about the royal family, but not this time.

• 2024 •
20
January
The Sunday Times reports that Kensington Palace aides did not notify Kate’s 30 charities and patronages “to confirm postponing and rescheduling engagements” until one week before her surgery. The paper notes that Kate will be “work[ing] from bed” and “aides insist her work will not stall.”

This claim about working in bed will be brought up later as conspiracy theories start to flourish. During the pandemic, Kate regularly held Zoom calls with these institutions, and screenshots of these meetings were released to the press. Questions will be raised about why any images of Kate or updates/anecdotes from employees of the institutions haven’t leaked, if she’s been working while she recovers.

• 2024 •
24
January
People magazine’s royal reporter writes that Kate’s hospitalization was unexpected. “The carefully guarded news about Kate’s situation came as a surprise even to those who work closely with the royal family, PEOPLE understands.” (This is later also reported by Page Six.) People also gets an exclusive quote from an unnamed “royal source” saying that Kate’s surgery “does sound serious” but everyone’s “sure she will bounce back.”

These details are seen as more indications that Kate’s health situation was more dire than has been reported.

• 2024 •
24
January
U.K. tabloid the Mirror publishes a story titled “Kate ‘your best friend one minute and worst enemy the next’, expert claims.” The Mirror sources the story from what it describes as “a recent article for the Daily Mail” written by royal reporter Robert Jobson — but links to a post from 2022. The story alleges that William and Kate have “quite extreme mood swings” and claims that the two “give as good as they get” in fights with each other. Within hours, however, the story is updated and Kate’s name is replaced with Harry’s. The title of the story now live on the Mirror’s website is “Prince Harry ‘your best friend one minute and worst enemy the next,’ expert claims.” The Mirror adds 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 removes the link to the 2022 Daily Mail story — the link now redirects to the Daily Mail’s homepage.

This is just weird. It’s being seized upon by conspiracy theorists as an apparent example of the royal press offices directing a media outlet to change a story, or a media outlet trying to write a story about a possible conflict in the Waleses’ marriage. In all likelihood this was someone looking to make a story quota who messed up.

• 2024 •
25
January
The Sun reports that William has visited Kate in the hospital every day, but says her children have not visited (children are not allowed in the London Clinic, per hospital policy; multiple outlets later report that William and Kate did not want to disrupt their children’s schedules and used FaceTime to stay in touch).

While royal children of the previous generation visited relatives when they were in hospitals, this is the first time we’ve known about either William and Kate needing inpatient treatment. There’s no precedent — there’s a big difference between the children visiting their mother and new sibling at a hospital and children visiting their mother after major surgery.

• 2024 •
26
January
The King is admitted to the London Clinic for his prostate treatment and members of the press are apparently once again allowed to gather outside the London Clinic. The Queen is photographed leaving the hospital in the afternoon, after apparently arriving with the King for his treatment (the arrival was not photographed) earlier that day. People magazine reports that the King has visited Kate. The Queen is photographed once again visiting the King in the hospital that evening.
• 2024 •
27
January
The Queen is photographed arriving at and leaving the hospital.
• 2024 •
28
January
The Queen is once again photographed visiting her husband at the London Clinic.

Whether purposeful or not, the Queen’s public arrivals and departures at the hospital make an obvious contrast to William’s apparent absence.

• 2024 •
28
January
Spanish journalist Concha Calleja doubles down on her report that Kate is in medical distress and claims that the princess is in a medically induced coma. Prominent Spanish media outlets begin to report her claims.

Although this story has been bubbling under the surface of the discourse about Kate’s condition, it really begins to spread now.

• 2024 •
29
January
Kensington Palace announces:

The Daily Mail later reports that William drove her home.

Despite the fact that members of the media were apparently set up around the hospital in order to photograph the King and Queen, her departure is not photographed.

• 2024 •
29
January
The King leaves the hospital. He and the Queen smile and wave for photographers outside of the London Clinic.

Once again, we have a very public contrast between the King and Kate. Obviously they both are experiencing very different issues and have very different responsibilities, but it nonetheless draws attention to the differences.

• 2024 •
1
February
An unnamed Kensington Palace spokesperson vehemently denies Concha 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. It’s fundamentally, totally made-up, and I’ll use polite English here: it’s absolutely not the case.”

Palace spokespeople do not go on the record very often — the fact that someone in the Palace said this and the journalist was allowed to cite it to a spokesperson is significant. For the most part, royal family press offices ignore stories that they consider to be obviously false, because commenting will lend some credibility to the claims and draw more attention to it.

• 2024 •
2
February
Calleja defends her reporting, claiming that she “touched a nerve” by reporting the truth and stating that she trusts her source “100%.”

The fact that this story is still being covered in the mainstream media after the Palace’s denial is interesting — most of the time, the reporters or outlets pushing these types of stories don’t have the credibility to defend themselves.

• 2024 •
5
February
Buckingham Palace announces that the King has been diagnosed with cancer, although the statement does not specify which kind of cancer. He will postpone “public-facing duties” but continue to “undertake State business and official paperwork.” The statement pointedly notes that he has chosen to share his diagnosis “to prevent speculation.”

The fact that Buckingham Palace uses the pointed phrase “to prevent speculation” while at the same time declining to specify the King’s cancer is a PR masterstroke. Once again, the King’s press team appears to be drawing a contrast with how Kate’s medical issue is being handled.

• 2024 •
6
February
The King and Queen are photographed leaving Clarence House in London.
• 2024 •
7
February
Kate’s brother James shares a video of his family on vacation in the Alps.

This is where one of the weirder side-conspiracies begins. Kate’s family is very close and they’re not very camera-shy. While James’s holiday post is a good indication that Kate is not at death’s door, people begin to realize that Kate’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, haven’t been seen since Kensington Palace announced her surgery.

• 2024 •
7
February
William participates in his first royal event since Kate’s diagnosis was made public — an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle. He presents medals on behalf of his father to a number of individuals.

Every aspect of William’s appearance at the investiture has been broken down and examined by online sleuths. One video showing the prince weaving back and forth on his feet has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media. There is speculation that he is unwell or under the influence of something.

• 2024 •
7
February
William references his wife’s and father’s health in a speech at a formal event. “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.”
• 2024 •
9
February
The Daily Mail reports that Kate has left Windsor for her children’s half-term holiday and the entire family has relocated to Anmer Hall, at Sandringham. Kate is apparently “recovering well.” The Sun and Sunday Times later confirm the Daily Mail’s reporting of the family trip to Anmer Hall.

It’s hard to draw a concrete conclusion about the fact that the Waleses’ trip to Sandringham wasn’t photographed. There have been many photographs taken of either William or Kate driving onto and out of the grounds of Windsor park in the past, but it’s definitely not a situation where they’re snapped every day. Furthermore, the Wales children are strictly off-limits when it comes to photographs and they were likely with their parents on the drive.

• 2024 •
10
February
Buckingham Palace publishes a personal message from the King expressing his “heartfelt thanks” for the messages of support he has received since announcing his diagnosis.

Again, the King’s message calls to attention the fact that Kate has not released a similar personal message and has only expressed her thanks through official statements.

• 2024 •
11
February
The King and Queen are photographed attending church at St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham.
• 2024 •
13
February
The King and Queen are photographed arriving at Clarence House in London.
• 2024 •
17
February
The Daily Mail’s Richard Eden reports that William and Kate have visited a school that they are considering for their oldest son Prince George. He later clarifies on Twitter that the visit happened before Kate’s surgery.

Many people online have raised questions about the timing of this piece, because it was published in a way that indicated it could have been a recent visit (and therefore could have been taken as “proof” that Kate was up and about).

• 2024 •
18
February
The King and Queen are photographed attending church at St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham.
• 2024 •
18
February
William attends the British Academy Film Awards.
• 2024 •
19
February
Term begins again at Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis’s school.

This fact is only noted to indicate that the Waleses have likely returned to Adelaide Cottage by this point.

• 2024 •
20
February
William issues a personal statement about the crisis in Gaza via social media.

Despite claims from internet sleuths, this is not the first time that one of the Waleses have issued a solo (instead of joint) statement. Kate and William regularly write messages on their own letterhead, and the fact that this statement was just from William should not be taken as a sign of marital trouble in Kensington Palace.

• 2024 •
21
February
The King meets with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Buckingham Palace. Photos and videos are released to the media.
• 2024 •
21
February
Kate’s sister Pippa is photographed with her husband and children on vacation in the Caribbean.

While Pippa’s vacation pictures are a good sign that Kate’s not in serious condition, an update from Kate’s sister calls attention to the fact that the Middleton parents haven’t been seen.

• 2024 •
23
February
Buckingham Palace shares a video of the King reading cards that have been sent to him by concerned members of the public.

This video immediately prompts questions about why Kate hasn’t done something similar. “Monarchs reading cards” is a tried-and-true format for official royal photos.

• 2024 •
27
February
At the last minute, William pulls out of attending a memorial service at Windsor for his godfather, the late King Constantine of Greece, where he was scheduled to give a reading. Kensington Palace says his absence is due to “a personal matter.”

This is where the underground conspiracy theories hit the mainstream internet and media. Chaos ensues. Memes ensue. Although the Palace provides guidance that the cause of William’s absence has nothing to do with his wife, this claim is met with great skepticism.

• 2024 •
27
February
Buckingham Palace announces the death of Thomas Kingston, a member of the extended royal family. Kingston was married to Lady Gabriella Kingston, the daughter of Prince Michael of Kent, the late Queen’s first cousin. Multiple media outlets report that William’s withdrawal from the memorial service was not connected to Kingston’s death.

The fact that Kensington Palace let it be known that William’s absence from the memorial was not connected to Kingston’s death is seized upon by conspiracy theorists, as is the fact that Kingston once dated Kate’s sister Pippa Middleton.

• 2024 •
28
February
A Kensington Palace spokesperson addresses the “wild conspiracy theories” about Kate in a statement to the Sun: “We were very clear from the outset that the Princess of Wales was out until after Easter and Kensington Palace would only be providing updates when something was significant.”
• 2024 •
29
February
Kensington Palace spokespersons give similar statements to other media outlets. Page Six quotes a spokesperson as saying, “Kensington Palace made it clear in January the timelines of the princess’ recovery and we’d only be providing significant updates” and emphasizing, “That guidance stands.”
• 2024 •
29
February
Kensington Palace spokespersons give similar statements to other media outlets. ET quotes a spokesperson as saying, “We gave guidance two days ago that the Princess of Wales continues to be doing well. As we have been clear since our initial statement in January, we shall not be providing a running commentary or providing daily updates.”

It is incredibly rare for a royal press office to officially respond to something like this, let alone respond on the record with quotations attributable to a Kensington Palace spokesperson. This is not standard royal practice.

• 2024 •
29
February
Daily Beast royal reporter Tom Sykes interviews unnamed Wales friends and a former Palace employee about the global outcry around Kate’s “disappearance.” These anonymous contributors scoff at the idea that public curiosity will force the royal family’s hand. “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 says.

“Friends” of members of the royal family don’t normally talk to reporters unless they’re given permission by somebody (or they wouldn’t stay friends).

• 2024 •
29
February
William visits a London synagogue, meets a Holocaust survivor, and condemns the wave of anti-semitism that has broken out in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks. “Both Catherine and I are extremely concerned about the rise in antisemitism that you guys have talked about so eloquently this morning, and I’m just so sorry you’ve had to experience that,” he says.
• 2024 •
1
March
William ignores a question about his wife’s health during an official event in Wales. (This news is not reported until March 4).
• 2024 •
1
March
An inquest reveals that Thomas Kingston’s cause of death was a “catastrophic head injury” and that a gun was found near his body. Multiple outlets report the death as a suicide.

This news being made public only increases speculation by some conspiracy theorists.

• 2024 •
2
March
Citing a Buckingham Palace source, the Times of London reports that the Queen will be taking a break from royal duties until March 11. The Sun reports that she will be “jetting off on a private flight tomorrow for a sunshine break overseas.”
• 2024 •
4
March
U.S. news outlet TMZ publishes a paparazzi image of Kate and her mother, Carole Middleton, in a car near Windsor Castle. The website reports that the image, which shows Kate in the passenger seat and her mother driving, was taken that morning, possibly after dropping the Wales children off at school. (The Daily Mail later reports that the photo was taken on the school run.) Several other U.S. media organizations publish the pictures.

The publication of this image only strengthens conspiracy theories about Kate’s health, as many do not believe that it’s actually her in the picture.

• 2024 •
4
March
Multiple U.K. news outlets report that Kensington Palace did not “authorize” the taking of the paparazzi image and state that they will not be publishing it in order to respect Kate’s privacy.

Two days later, royal reporter Emily Andrews writes on Twitter that Kensington Palace “exerted huge pressure on the British media” to not publish the image. Nonetheless, theories about why no U.K. outlet will publish the photo flourish online. People also point to the use of the word “authorize” — does that mean that other paparazzi photographs of members of the royal family were authorized?

• 2024 •
5
March
Kate’s uncle Gary Goldsmith, a contestant on reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother, attacks the conspiracy theories about his niece in an interview. “There’s a reason why [the royal family] is not talking about it and they are giving her a little bit of space,” he says.
• 2024 •
5
March
The media notices that the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s website states that Kate will attend the ceremonial event Trooping the Colour on June 8. This news is quickly picked up by outlets around the world and reported as Kate’s first post-surgery public appearance.
• 2024 •
5
March
Kensington Palace pushes back on reports that Kate will attend Trooping the Colour, telling reporters that they had not yet confirmed her appearance. The U.K. Ministry of Defense removes its claim that Kate will be at the event and her image from their website.
• 2024 •
6
March
The King holds a video meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and formally greets two foreign ambassadors at Buckingham Palace.
• 2024 •
6
March
William’s spokesperson tells People magazine that “his focus is on his work and not on social media.” This story also quotes a “Palace insider” saying that there is complete “radio silence” on Kate’s condition.

The fact that this very pointed quote is sourced not to a “Palace insider” or “royal aide” but to William’s spokesperson is significant.

• 2024 •
7
March
Hello! reports that William has been taking his children George, Charlotte, and Louis to school (and picking them up) “every day” since Kate’s surgery. No spokesperson is cited, the magazine sources this information as “Hello! has learnt.” This report is picked up by other U.K. news outlets.

People online immediately comment on the timing of this story, which comes three days after the paparazzi image of Kate and her mother was published by TMZ. That photo was allegedly taken after the women dropped the Wales children off at school — so why now is there this story about William exclusively doing the school runs?

• 2024 •
7
March
Kate’s uncle Gary Goldsmith comments on the princesses’ health again when asked point-blank by fellow Celebrity Big Brother contestant Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu, “Where’s Kate?” Goldsmith responds, “Because she doesn’t want to talk about it, the last thing I’m going to do is [talk about it]. There’s this kind of this code of etiquette. If it’s announced, I’ll give you an opinion.” Goldsmith claims that he has spoken to his sister Carole about Kate’s health and says 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.’”

Goldsmith’s apparent uneasiness while answering the question, as well as his cryptic statement, “If it’s announced, I’ll give you an opinion,” raises even more questions.

• 2024 •
10
March
Kensington Palace shares an image of Kate, George, Charlotte, and Louis to their official social media accounts to mark Mother’s Day in the U.K. The Instagram and Twitter posts include a personal message from the Princess of Wales (signed with a “C” for Catherine) thanking the public for their support. The photo was ostensibly taken by William at Adelaide Cottage in Windsor within the past week. Kensington Palace declines to comment when asked by Town and Country why Kate is not wearing her engagement or wedding rings in the photo.

People online begin to raise questions within minutes of the photo’s release. There is a visible discrepancy and apparent editing error visible in the area around Charlotte’s left sleeve, and other online sleuths notice alignment issues with Louis’s sweater. More and more people begin to call out signs of apparent poor Photoshop editing.

• 2024 •
10
March
The world’s major wire agencies (Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Getty, Reuters, and Britain’s Press Association) alert their clients that the image provided by Kensington Palace should be withheld/withdrawn from publication because the photo has been manipulated beyond each company’s acceptable standards. (Nieman Lab has more on this here.) The Palace declines to comment to all media inquiries, multiple news organizations report.

To say that all hell breaks loose at this point would be an understatement. As ITV royal reporter Chris Ship points out, the photo that was supposed to resolve the confusion and clear up the conspiracy theories has instead made everything worse. People begin theorizing that the image was created by AI or patched together via Photoshop — worries about Kate’s health and current status abound on social media.

• 2024 •
11
March
Major UK media outlets publish stories breaking down the apparent Photoshop errors in the image released by Kensington Palace. Sky News examines the photo’s metadata and reports that the image “had been saved in photo editing software Adobe Photoshop twice on an Apple Mac.” The photo was first saved at 9:54 PM GMT on Friday night and then saved again at 9:39 AM GMT on Saturday morning. The metadata confirms that the photo was taken at the Waleses’ home, Adelaide Cottage. The Times reports that William took the photo on Friday afternoon. (The Daily Mail later confirms this photo origin date.)

The Telegraph reports that “A reference to ‘document ancestors’ in the photograph’s metadata suggests a copy and paste function was used and that multiple images were merged.” The paper adds that “a clear horizontal line stretching across the princess’s chest appears to indicate that the section of the image featuring her face was cut out and replaced, not exactly in line.”

• 2024 •
11
March
Kensington Palace releases a personal tweet from Kate (signed with a “C”) saying she “occasionally experiment[s] with editing” and apologizing for “any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.” (She does not explicitly say that she edited this photo.)

Despite prompting from many media outlets, the Palace makes it known (via a statement to the Press Association) that the Waleses’ press team will not be releasing the original image of the princess and her children.

By this point, the “Kate Middleton is missing” discourse has taken over the internet. People begin theorizing that the image was actually taken in November or Photoshopped using Kate’s 2016 Vogue magazine cover. Online debate rages about why the Palace is “throwing Kate under the bus” and why the press team will not release the original image.

• 2024 •
11
March
Photographers capture images of William and Kate leaving Windsor. However, the princess is not facing the cameras — only her profile can be seen. An unnamed source tells the Daily Mail and People magazine that Kate is heading to a “private appointment,” while William is heading to a Commonwealth’s Day service at Westminster Abbey.

Once again, this development has only raised more questions about the Princess of Wales. Why is Kate not facing the cameras?

• 2024 •
11
March
William, the Queen, and other members of the royal family attend the annual Commonwealth’s Day service at Westminster Abbey. The King does not attend, but a video message from him is played to the congregation.
• 2024 •
11
March
CNN says that it is reviewing all of the handout images previously provided by Kensington Palace, explaining that the royal press team ​​”wasn’t transparent about the fact [the Mother’s Day photo] had been adjusted,” an action that “damaged the trust between the Palace and media organizations.” CNN specifies that it is “unacceptable to move, change or manipulate the pixels of an image” because doing so “would alter the reality of the situation the image is intended to document.” This news is widely reported in the U.K.
• 2024 •
11
March
William attends the Earthshot Prize Launchpad to kick off a matchmaking program that connects environmental innovators with investors and philanthropists. The prince founded the Earthshot Prize in 2020 to “search for and scale the most innovative solutions to the world’s greatest environmental challenges.”
• 2024 •
12
March
The Daily Mail, citing “several well-placed sources in royal ­circles,” reports that Kate is “shellshocked” due to the “public fallout” over the Mother’s Day photo. “She is understood to be ‘disappointed’ about what has resulted after an attempt to ‘just put out a nice picture of her kids,’” writes royal correspondent Rebecca English. The Times reports that Kate was “shaken” by the news agency “kill orders” and decided to “own up” to editing the photo when news of the retractions and the subsequent internet explosion hit Kensington Palace.
• 2024 •
12
March
New conspiracy theories rage about the photo of William and Kate in the car. Some TikTok and Twitter investigators hypothesize that the prince was alone in the vehicle and a picture of the princess’s head was Photoshopped next to him to make it look as if Kate was there. Others theorize that there was a woman in the car next to William, but it wasn’t his wife — it was Rose Hanbury, otherwise known as the Marchioness of Cholmondeley (pronounced CHUM-lee). Since 2019, there have been (very unsubstantiated) rumors of an affair between William and Rose and many online conspiracy theorists believe that she is a key figure in this entire saga.
• 2024 •
12
March
The professional photographer, James Bennett, who took the picture of William and Kate in the car refutes all of the conspiracy theories about the image in an interview with the New York Post: “We don’t change our photos in Photoshop other than adjusting the light levels if necessary.”

He tells the paper that he and a partner staked out a spot on a public street to capture an image of William on his way to Westminster Abbey. “The cars left Windsor Castle and I photographed them a short distance away on Datchet High Street — outside No. 39, to be precise!” he said. “Car shots are unpredictable at the best of times and with some reflection on the glass, it can be difficult.” Bennett says he didn’t know that he’d photographed the princess until he reviewed his pictures. “I realized there was someone sitting next to him. It turned out to be Catherine!”

Ellie Hall is a freelance reporter. She was senior reporter and official royal correspondent for BuzzFeed News from 2013 until the newsroom shut down in April 2023.

Photo of Kensington Palace by Kotomi_ being used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     March 7, 2024, 1:05 p.m.
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