Admirable honesty from Royal family could herald new era of openness

The King and the Princess of Wales have revealed they will both be admitted to hospital for medical treatment
The King and the Princess of Wales have revealed they will both be admitted to hospital for medical treatment - ARTHUR EDWARDS/AFP

The news just kept on coming. First, the Princess of Wales is to spend two weeks in hospital after abdominal surgery, and is unlikely to return to public duty before Easter.

Then, less than 90 minutes later, an announcement that the King is to have an operation for a newly diagnosed enlarged prostate, also leaving him temporarily out of action.

What a shock for followers of royal news, and what a worry for a concerned nation who hold the Royal family in their thoughts. And, it must be said, what admirable honesty from the two senior generations of the Royal family, who have clearly made peace with their sometimes complicated public roles.

For this level of openness, carefully formed via Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace statements, is unprecedented.

The King has said he wanted to share his diagnosis to encourage other men to check their own health.

If he manages to save one life, drawing attention to symptoms which, in his case, were thankfully benign but are not always so, he would be justified in feeling it was worth it.

The Princess, who has faced public scrutiny since she met Prince William, has similarly tackled her health concerns head-on, in a statement giving enough detail to help the public understand her necessary absence without going into excessive detail.

Aware of speculation

She knows more than anyone how much speculation the announcement of “planned abdominal surgery” will bring: how many column inches handed over to “experts” on medical diagnoses from afar; how many speculative conversations across the country; and – sad to say – how much social media trolling from the usual suspects accompanying anything she ventures to say and do.

The description of abdominal surgery will pique the attention of women across the land who have endured procedures of their own, with all the pain, fright, grief and misplaced twinges of shame such issues can bring. Not to mention the logistical challenges of shielding young children from worrying about their mother in hospital, and keeping the domestic show on the road.

It is to her credit, and that of her ever-protective husband, the Prince of Wales, that they and their team have forged a new path to suit their family.

“The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate,” they said.

“She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible; and her wish that her personal medical information remains private.”

Presumably they realised that two weeks in hospital and a long absence from public life would inevitably find its way to public ears, and chose to share information on their own terms.

Such has been their policy throughout their married lives, from the births of their children to the authorised photographs of them growing up, finding their own line between tradition and modernity. No cat and mouse games with the press, no disdain for the public who admire them.

That modernity shines through the decisions from Prince William, too. He will not be ploughing on, but will stay by his wife’s bedside while she needs him and be at home to fill the gaps her convalescence will leave.

For the next-in-line to the throne in an institution that prides itself on duty before all, it is no small thing: a different kind of duty, emphasising the ongoing function and happiness of the family as well as their commitment to public life.

The King, too, has chosen to sacrifice a little of his privacy for the greater good. Who could imagine a monarch sharing news of such an intimate diagnosis before now?

Above all, it is a pertinent reminder that they are human.

Royal family members in hospital

Engagements postponed

Both Princess and King will need to postpone their public engagements.

They will almost certainly never share the level of discomfort they have been enduring behind their smiles.

The Princess of Wales has recently faced criticism for her lack of overseas tours, her engagements held close to home in Windsor and a schedule which has seemed sparse. This ought to give those critics pause for thought.

One day, she may – like the King – choose to share more details of her diagnosis to boost public awareness. If not, that is her choice alone.

If previous generations of the Royal family were celebrated for their stiff upper lip and “keep calm and carry on” mentality, the new reign is ushering in a new spirit of collaborative openness.

By politely inviting the public to give them privacy while sharing enough to answer their questions, they set the tone of dignity, honesty, trust and respect.

“The Princess of Wales wishes to apologise to all those concerned for the fact that she has to postpone her upcoming engagements,” said Kensington Palace on Wednesday.

A nation will respond in kind: no apologies necessary.

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