Anti-disinformation crusader debunks wild Kate Middleton conspiracy theory: ‘It hurts my brain’

Elliot Higgins (inset), the founder of Bellingcat investigative journalism group, threw cold water on a theory claiming that a 2016 Vogue cover photo of Kate Middleton (left) was used to doctor her viral post-surgery snap (right)
Elliot Higgins (inset), the founder of Bellingcat investigative journalism group, threw cold water on a theory claiming that a 2016 Vogue cover photo of Kate Middleton (left) was used to doctor her viral post-surgery snap (right).

A prominent open-source intelligence expert has picked apart a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that an old Vogue cover of Kate Middleton was used in her doctored post-surgery family photo.

Elliot Higgins, the founder of the Netherlands-based Bellingcat investigative journalism group, demonstrated on X on Monday why it was highly unlikely that the Princess of Wales’ image from the June 2016 issue of British Vogue had been recycled for her viral UK Mother’s Day snap.

Kate Middleton’s viral family photo has become the subject of a wild conspiracy theory. @princeandprincessofwales / Instagram
Kate Middleton’s viral family photo has become the subject of a wild conspiracy theory. @princeandprincessofwales / Instagram
Elliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat investigative journalism group, took to X to debunk the claim that a 2016 Vogue cover was used in Kate’s post-surgery photo. @EliotHiggins/X
Elliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat investigative journalism group, took to X to debunk the claim that a 2016 Vogue cover was used in Kate’s post-surgery photo. @EliotHiggins/X

“There’s so many minor differences, like the reflection of the light in her pupils, the light and shadow on her face, the teeth visible, wrinkles, etc. etc., that it’s clearly just a photo of the same woman from about the same angle, not the same exact photo,” Higgins explained.

The anti-disinformation blogger added: “It hurts my brain that I even have to point this out, I think I’m going to go bed and hope people become more sensible overnight.”

Higgins was responding to a theory first put forward by Ruby Naldrett, a senior social media editor for the UK tabloids the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star, who claimed that her “analysis” of the photo saga has led her to conclude that Kate’s face from the eight-year-old photoshoot had been “edited” into the new image showing the princess with her children.

By Tuesday afternoon, Naldrett’s post has been viewed an astonishing 44 million times.

“When I first saw this, I assumed it was a parody, but I was clearly mistaken,” Higgins said, referring to the conspiracy theory.

Higgins, an anti-disinformation expert, pointed to numerous differences between the two images taken eight years apart. @EliotHiggins/X
Higgins, an anti-disinformation expert, pointed to numerous differences between the two images taken eight years apart. @EliotHiggins/X

On Tuesday, Naldrett appeared to tone down her rhetoric surrounding the photo-tampering claims — even as she called on Kensington Palace to set the record straight.

“I know a lot of people disagree and say it’s normal for someone to look the same way, but the pictures are eight years apart and almost exactly the same,” she told the Daily Star.

“It’s just a theory and it could be wrong, but I think the only real way they can put a stop to all these theories is by releasing the original [un]edited image,” she continued.

What was meant to be a sweet photo showing the 42-year-old Kate surrounded by her children for the first time since her abdominal surgery in January ignited a global firestorm after eagle-eyed fans spotted numerous Photoshop fails, including Princess Charlotte’s cut-off wrist and her mom’s misaligned zipper.

Higgins said the theory “hurts my brain.” AFP via Getty Images
Higgins said the theory “hurts my brain.” AFP via Getty Images

Some of the world’s leading news agencies, among them the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Getty Images, fired off a “kill notice” to media outlets to remove the image over manipulation concerns.

Kate on Monday issued a public apology for the photo fiasco — and admitted she had doctored the image released in honor of the British Mother’s Day on Sunday.

“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 said in a statement on X from the official Prince and Princess of Wales page.

“I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”