OPINION - Rachel Johnson: I cannot believe it was Kate Middleton at the farm shop, it would torpedo the royals' media strategy

Details of Kate’s surgery have been kept private (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Details of Kate’s surgery have been kept private (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Is it Kate at the farm shop in the video? Why am I so obsessed that I’m beginning to wonder if I should self-section? And whether it was Kate or not, what does the very existence of the video tell us about the Prince, the Palace, and the Press?

These are the big questions and, as it emerges that the deluxe London Clinic may have a shocking case of staff invading its recent royal patient’s medical privacy, we all want answers!

Let’s get to the video first, of a couple looking like the Waleses, walking in a car park carrying plastic bags. A few red flags. No husband would allow a wife who is convalescing to carry anything, let alone a well brought-up Prince of the Blood, let alone a bulging plastic bag of groceries.

Two, the woman looked nothing like Kate. She was younger, slimmer, faster — almost a walking advertisement for abdominal surgery.

I was perplexed as to why most of the mainstream media was running the video without question and again, I began to doubt my own sanity. My brain must have been fried by Putin’s bots on Twitter, I told myself.

They seem to have blown up their previous strategy, turning everyone into a potential paparazzo

So I called Alison Jackson, the very famous artist who has made an international reputation of using lookalikes in tableaux of celebrities and royalty, including the late Queen on the loo, Camilla sucking on a fag, and so on. She would know.

“Kate here looks way too young. Wills is wearing a hat because the lookalike isn’t bald. I’d have styled the lookalikes much better,” she continued, “with no hat and created a bald patch — actually, got better lookalikes in the first place.

“The ‘Kate’ is terrible,” she concluded. “It’s not them!”

I then called the Royal Windsor Farm Shop. I was offered a choice of deli, butchery or office. A nice woman in the office picked up. “I appreciate your phone must be ringing off the hook,” I began, “but can I ask whether you offer plastic bags, hessian bags or paper bags to customers for shopping?” The Waleses, you see, were toting cream-coloured bags. All three, I was told. “And what colour are the plastic bags?” I asked. “Cream.” Oh.

And did the Waleses patronise the emporium at the weekend? “We never comment. You’ll have to ring the press office at Buckingham Palace.”

Well, I could, but what would be the point? I don’t know who to believe about anything.

In normal times, one would rely on the royal family’s various press operations. But these have not been normal times for years. Hacks have never forgiven the Sussexes for telling them that Meghan had gone into labour when Archie had been born eight hours before. After the Mother’s Day Photoshop fiasco, Kensington Palace cannot be taken as gospel, even though the King’s statements around his own illness from Buckingham Palace have been clear and public-spirited.

Assuming they are Kate and William, then I still don’t understand the point of this exercise. Or the motivation of the actors.

If they wanted to prove she was alive and well and silence the bots and trolls, they could have released a reassuring picture of the beautiful mum in a bed-jacket, surrounded by her babes.

Instead, they seem to have blown up their previous strategy, turned anyone with an iPhone — ie everyone — into a potential paparazzo and opened up a whole new market in pictures of themselves. The Sun — for one — would have checked the temperature at the Palace before running the story and video. There has been no denial.

As Peter Hunt, the royal editor at LBC, told me: “Normally, they would have an expectation of privacy when out shopping. The act of not asking it to be taken down could undermine William’s careful and successful strategy over many years of eliminating pap pictures.”

William is all about control, and keeping the press under his thumb to protect his family, especially from what happened to his mother. How can his flunkeys call editors now and say, “Take it down or off with your head”?

If it is them — and I am accepting it is, I really need to move on — the couple may regret having appeared to have given the green light to further invasions of royal privacy from both press and public.

The rules of the game — that you don’t pap the royals and sell the results to the tabloids — have seemingly been ripped up. And trust is evaporating like the morning mist on the lawns of Windsor Great Park.

Rachel Johnson is a contributing editor of the Evening Standard