What is going on with Kate Middleton's peculiar family photo apology?

The 'original' image
The 'original' image Copyright Kensington Palace
By Jonny Walfisz
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Is she ill? Divorced? Dead? The internet is flush with rumours about the mysteriously missing Princess of Wales. Given the flimsy photo apology issued, is there anything to the speculation?

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What happens if the conspiracy theorists on the internet are right? Faced with the increasingly bizarre scandal of the Princess of Wales’ Mother’s Day photo, it feels worth asking.

For those unaware, Kate Middleton has posted an apology after a family photograph of her and her three children she released on Sunday was quickly retracted by AP with a “Kill Notification” saying “it appears the source has manipulated the image.”

Multiple other media agencies followed suit as photoshop errors were pointed out online. Then, on Monday, Kate took to X to personally apologise for the incident.

“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,” she wrote.

“I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C” the future-Queen signed off.

That’s pretty much how it was reported by our news team yesterday. But let’s dig into just how odd this entire debacle is. 

The significance of the photo was that it is the first official image of Kate since she undertook abdominal surgery in January.

Kate hasn’t been seen publicly since Christmas, which is a notable amount of time for one of the UK’s most public figures. When this photo first surfaced, it was read as a rebuttal of already swirling theories around Kate’s health and her position within the royal family.

Typically, the social media speculation around royal family members isn’t usually newsworthy, but at a certain point, the glaring inconsistencies can’t help but draw you in.

The original image was issued to press agencies such as AP by Kensington Palace and was credited to her husband, William. For an office of the state to release a doctored image in contradiction of press agency policy is disinformation, plain and simple.

If people are concerned about the palace pushing disinformation, Kate’s apology fits in perfectly. She takes personal responsibility for editing the photo in photoshop. It’s the ideal excuse. Kate isn’t likely to know AP’s policies, and this whole thing should be swept under the rug – as all emotions have typically been dealt with throughout British history.

Except that excuse makes no sense. For one, it’s unbelievable that the sober and deeply impersonal press team behind the Prince and Princess of Wales are letting Kate fiddle about with their big reveal image on her laptop. Then there’s the completely out-of-character personal apology direct from the supposed source, with the pithy one-letter sign-off “C”.

Secondly, the content of the edits are not what you’d typically expect. Most armchair-photo editors spend their days improving the lighting, removing wrinkles and increasing butt sizes in images of themselves. Not Kate. She is seemingly far more interested in complex edits that leave behind artefacts of surface texture changes, and image compositing.

That one of the major issues pointed out is that Princess Charlotte’s clothes have been obviously meddled with suggests this photo has been heavily edited far beyond the purview of hobbyistic photoshopping.

From this point, all we can do is fall into the realm of idle speculation. 

A favourite attempt to explain the origin of the image comes from TikTokker Allyn Aston. She posits that the photo was originally taken in November 2023.

Aston references a November photoshoot of Kate and her children attending the Baby Bank. In this photoshoot, which was published in December, Aston notes how there are many consistencies between the styles and textures of the clothes Kate and her children are wearing in the Mother’s Day photo.

@allynaston I have a strong suspicion that this “new” photo of Kate Middleton and her children was taken in November 2023 baded on the outfits. There is ample evidence of bad Photoshop throughout this photo and it is my personal opinion that it is because it is old and they try to change the outfits so that it didn’t look like a match. This is pure speculation and opinion based on my own research. #katemiddleton#whereiskate#whereiskatemiddleton#princessofwales#kensingtonpalace#britishroyals#british#popculture#popculturenews♬ original sound - Allyn Aston

The only differences between the original photoshoot and the new image are colour and texture changes, with any clothes items that have been swapped out – Charlotte’s skirt, for example – being responsible for the most obvious edits.

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Is the image a clothes-swapped version of a photo taken during that November photoshoot? Maybe. It’s believable.

That’s not really the point though. The point is that this photograph has made it glaringly obvious the palace has something to hide. From initially submitting it to press agencies to the flimsy apology, the palace is engaged in a campaign of disinformation about Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales.

The simplest possible explanation is that Kate hasn’t fully recovered from her surgery – which saw her stop royal duties until at least the end of March – and the palace wanted to post a reassuring update on the princess regardless.

No one asked for them to do that though. Kate could have skated by without ever having this image released. The choice to do it has put the media and internet aflame with rumours and speculations.

Is Kate seriously ill? Is she actually dead? Has she divorced William? Is the Independent article that suddenly introduced Lady Rose Hanbury: Marchioness of Cholmondeley to the public a soft-launch of William’s secret partner whom he has a child with that Kate only found out in the last few months?

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Most of these crackpot theories are probably exactly that – nonsense. 

But the whole thing is a stunning display of how Kensington Palace’s press operation is a complete mess. With only their blatant disinformation to go on, what if the conspiracy theorists are right?

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