Kate Middleton: What happens when you say…nothing?

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You can’t escape the good old rumour mill this week when it comes to the Royal Family and Kate Middleton. Here, our Managing Director Ellen Widdup – who, thanks to a career in national newspapers, is often in the know before everyone else is – takes a look at the conspiracy theories and, more importantly, what’s actually being said by the wall of silence.

I can’t pretend I know anything that you don’t at this moment in time.

Usually I get a heads up from my press contacts if anything new is about to break. I was informed about Prince Philip’s cancer diagnosis before it hit the headlines. I knew about the death of the Queen before it became public. I also knew it was Huw well before you did.

I’m kept in the loop when it comes to injunctions, scandals, imminent disclosures and I am a wealth of knowledge on things that are often so sensitive they can’t even go to print. Buy me a drink and I might just spill…

But… and trust me, it irks me more than it should… with the current gossip swirling around the health of Kate Middleton, more formally known as Catherine, Princess of Wales, I know nada. This tells me two things:

  1. The general media are none the wiser either.
  2. There is definitely something afoot.

So where are we at?

We know that the British royal had not been seen since Christmas Day, when she attended a church service in Norfolk with her husband, Prince William, and their three children.

On January 17th, Kensington Palace announced that she had been admitted to hospital for pre-planned “abdominal surgery” and would remain there for up to two weeks before continuing her recovery at home.

“Based on the current medical advice,” the short statement read, “she is unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter.”

And after that. Nothing. Until, of course, she posted a Mother’s Day photograph apparently intended to show the world that she was ok.

Instead, the image, released yesterday, has only added fuel to a global firestorm of conspiracy theories after it emerged that the picture had been doctored.

A belated explanation came today with a post on Kensington Palace’s social media channels.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” said the post, which was signed “C,” apparently denoting that it was written by Kate. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.”

Confusion is certainly one word for it Kate. But does it do justice to the preceding 24 hours where the internet demanded to know: Where is Kate?

When “nothing” speaks volumes

Of course the hashtag #WhereIsKate was trending on X for a long time before the “kill notice” (which let me tell you, is not done lightly by our press agencies) on the photoshopped firebomb went live.

And this, I’m afraid, is the result of saying nothing for so long.

What’s more, nobody is filling in the gaps to the information provided – so it feels like a cover up even if it isn’t one.

For example, if Kate’s surgery was “planned,” why had the Palace also said that she was “postponing her upcoming engagements?” How far in advance could this surgery really have been planned?

Also raising eyebrows was the detail that Kate would be recovering from her surgery for “10 to 14 days.” Some abdominal surgeries can be minor, like an appendectomy, but those procedures don’t come with such lengthy in-patient stays. What kind of surgery was Kate undergoing that she wouldn’t be able to go back home for two weeks afterwards?

Meanwhile, King Charles was pointedly transparent about his own health following his cancer diagnosis last month.

Why, royal watchers demanded, was Kate’s condition so much more mysterious than the King’s was?

Yes, the Royal Family deserve a right to privacy. And I’m not going to get into the Diana-style debate on what is appropriate in terms of media and public intrusion. But as social media users have descended into a mele of speculation, memes and bad jokes, it surely appears prudent for the Palace to speak?

And when they did react, not to do it with a photo that instead of a fire blanket, acted instead like gasoline.

So what should have been done?

Unfortunately, in the absence of information, the public invent some.

So when, last week, William pulled out of a memorial service for his godfather, King Constantine II of Greece, citing personal reasons, rumour erupted.

There’s been all sorts of ludicrous theories. She’s had a Brazilian bum lift. She’s had a horrible haircut and is waiting for it to grow out. She got lost at Willy’s Chocolate Experience, the farcical Willy Wonka-themed event in Glasgow last month. And other, much more horrible, suggestions.

It’s important to remember as we peruse the latest speculations, that everything the Palace has said would happen regarding Kate’s surgery has happened.

She spent two weeks in hospital, and she is staying at home to recover. Easter – when she is due to return to duties – is still some weeks away.

But Kate’s absence still seems more suspicious to us mere commoners because of her public presence in the past. While there’s plenty of commentary on the need for privacy (I know I said we wouldn’t go there but bear with) being seen performing public duties is a key part of the job.

So the issue here is that while most of the conspiracy theories are silly, they’re all reacting to a real issue.

Kate has long been a reliable pillar of the British family, showing up and smiling at every public event at which she was asked to appear. So when she did something decidedly out of the ordinary – disappeared – we are understandably discombobulated.

What’s more, we are not being given enough information to reassure us that there isn’t more to the story.

In my world, this is the ultimate “no comment” scenario. And as a PR practitioner, my advice to clients in a “crisis” is to be as transparent as possible as early as you can.

Being transparent can bring many benefits, such as increasing credibility and authority, strengthening relationships, boosting confidence and resilience, mitigating the negative effects of the crisis on your reputation and brand image, and pointedly, stamping out rumours.

Whatever I say won’t make a blind bit of difference to Kensington Palace, however.

So it looks like we will all be waiting until her Easter deadline for the next update.

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