The Princess of Wales's ongoing absence from public life, explained

Kate has not made an official public appearance since surgery in January - here's what's happened so far and what could happen next.

Britain's Catherine, Princess of Wales and Britain's Prince George of Wales (L) leave after attending the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham Estate in eastern England, on December 25, 2023. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales was last seen at an official event on Christmas Day at the Sandringham estate before surgery forced her to take a step back from public life. (Getty)

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The Princess of Wales is slowly dipping a toe into life as a working royal following her abdominal surgery in January, with a rare statement from Kensington Palace confirming that Kate is being kept updated about her early years project.

"The Princess has been kept updated throughout the process," the palace said of work on the early years project that aims to improve babies' lives.

The statement comes following an extraordinary twist in the ongoing controversy around Kate's recovery from surgery after it has emerged that up to three members of staff at the top private hospital in London where she had treatment have been accused of trying to access Kate's private medical records.

According to The Mirror, an investigation was launched at the London Clinic, where Kate spent 13 nights in January, after staff tried to access Kate’s medical notes.

Charles, who is undergoing treatment for a form of cancer, also spent three nights at the London Clinic during the same month receiving medical care following treatment for an enlarged prostate. Charles and Kate were separately discharged from the clinic just hours apart on January 29. However, the King's personal data was not compromised during the alleged data breach, it is understood.

On Wednesday, the London Clinic vowed that “all appropriate investigatory, regulatory and disciplinary steps will be taken” over any breach. In a statement, its chief executive, Al Russell, said: “There is no place at our hospital for those who intentionally breach the trust of any of our patients or colleagues.”

The statement came after the UK’s privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), confirmed it was looking into the alleged royal data breach and is in the process of assessing the information.

Under the Data Protection Act 2018, it is an offence for a person to obtain, disclose or retain personal data without the consent of the data controller. The ICO can carry out criminal investigations and prosecute individuals where it believes an offence may have been committed. Kate also has the option of bringing a private prosecution with a civil action, and also potentially claiming compensation.

Health minister Maria Caulfield said police have “been asked to look at” whether staff at the clinic attempted to access the princess’s medical records. She said there could be “hefty implications” for accessing the notes without permission, including prosecution or fines.

The development comes after video footage emerged showing Kate in public. In the clip, published by The Sun on 19 March, Kate Wales can be seen outside The Windsor Farm Shop on Saturday.

The newspaper had previously reported on Monday that witnesses had spotted the couple at the shop, which is a mile from their Adelaide Cottage home in Windsor, Berkshire.

FILE - Britain's Kate, Princess of Wales smiles during her visit to Sebby's Corner in north London, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Princess Kate apologized Monday, March 11, 2024 for “confusion” caused by her editing of a family photo released by the palace — an image of the British royal and her children that was intended to calm concern and speculation about the princess's health, but had the opposite effect. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool, File )
The Princess of Wales pictured in north London last November (AP Photo)

What's happened so far

Interest in the Princess of Wales's ongoing absence from public life following her admission to hospital for surgery intensified in recent days following the furore over her Mother's Day photo.

Kate was admitted to the London Clinic for a planned abdominal operation on 16 January. At the time Kensington Palace said she would return to public life at Easter.

However, concern grew about her recovery after the Prince of Wales pulled out of attending a memorial service at Windsor Castle for one of his godfathers due to a “personal matter”. Kensington Palace would not elaborate on the reasons for William’s absence, but insisted that Kate was “doing well”.

There was further confusion earlier this month when the British Army posted that Kate would be attending Trooping the Colour on 8 June – before deleting the post. This came one day after Kate was pictured by paparazzi photographers in a car alongside her mother, Carole Middleton.

Since then, there was the PR disaster surrounding the doctored Mother's Day image and Kate's subsequent apology. She was photographed in a car leaving Windsor Castle alongside William hours later, en route to a “private appointment”, and the palace has since batted off calls to release the original, unaltered image.

With speculation about Kate running rampant on social media, it can be difficult to determine what has been said by Kensington Palace - and what could happen next.

Official palace statements since January

Kensington Palace has made only a limited number of statements about the Princess of Wales's ongoing absence from public life following her admission to hospital for surgery in January.

  • “Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales was admitted to hospital yesterday for planned abdominal surgery. The surgery was successful and it is expected that she will remain in hospital for 10 to 14 days, before returning home to continue her recovery. Based on the current medical advice, she is unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter. The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate. 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. Kensington Palace will, therefore, only provide updates on Her Royal Highness’ progress when there is significant new information to share” – the first statement on 17 January, announcing she had undergone surgery

  • “The Princess of Wales has returned home to Windsor to continue her recovery from surgery. She is making good progress. The Prince and Princess wish to say a huge thank you to the entire team at The London Clinic, especially the dedicated nursing staff, for the care they have provided. The Wales family continues to be grateful for the well wishes they have received from around the world” – a statement from Kensington Palace after her discharge from hospital, 29 January

Kensington Palace remained silent on Kate’s recovery and there were no official announcements until the recent photo editing furore. Kate herself posted an apology on the Prince and Princess of Wales’s official X account:

  • “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. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C” – 11 March

  • William has referenced his wife on public visits on a number of occasions. During a youth centre visit on 14 March, he described his wife as "the arty one" before saying at an awards ceremony held in Princess Diana's name, that her “legacy is something that both Catherine and I have sought to focus on through our work".

What others have said

  • “You’re not being told what the surgery was. My understanding is that it was very serious. I won’t reveal what I have been told, but she is seriously ill. It is not fatal. She will recover. But it is a long healing process. This is why she has disappeared from view” – Tom Bower, royal biographer speaking to TalkTV, 1 March

  • “I don’t think we should be bullying her into putting out all the images. I do think it would be a good idea to do... a little video clip on Instagram in a day or two. I do think we are in danger of bullying a lady who is trying to recover from a very serious operation. Think of how she must be feeling this morning? Absolutely miserable. She must be under intense pressure now. I think she’s in a fragile mental and physical state and we should lay off her” – Jennie Bond, former BBC royal correspondent, speaking to GB News on 12 March

  • “I've been told some stuff that, if even half of it is true, it's pretty alarming what is happening. I don't know what to believe, nor do any of us - we're not there.” - Piers Morgan, speaking on his YouTube channel on 13 March

  • Asked if Kensington Palace is regarded as a trusted source: “No, absolutely not. Like with anything, when you're let down by a source the bar is raised. We sent out notes to all our teams at the moment to be absolutely super more vigilant about the content coming across our desk even from what we would call trusted sources.” - Phil Chetwynd, global news director of Agence France-Presse to BBC Radio 4’s Media Show on 14 March

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 16: Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex meets journalist and television presenter Jennie Bond at a reception ahead of during the Duke of Edinburgh Award's 60th Anniversary Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on May 16, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Photo/Getty Images)
Jennie Bond, pictured with Prince Edward in 2016, described Kate as being fragile.(Getty)

Kate conspiracy theories

Many critics have said the palace's reliance on "never explain, never complain" has come unstuck.

The initial statement gave limited information in an understandable desire to respect Kate's privacy. Naturally, social media quickly filled that void with outlandish theories about her "disappearance" from public life, one of the wildest of which was that the surgery was actually cosmetic.

Then came the Mother's Day photo which created a whole new set of theories for people to speculate on. Some of the more outlandish ones include Kate swapping out her photo for a previous Vogue photoshoot, using a body double and highlighting a plant behind the family as “proof” that the image was taken months ago.

The Princess of Wales on the June 2016 issue of Vogue (right) and in her infamous family snap released on Mother's Day. (Vogue/X/@rubynaldrett/@KensingtonRoyal)
The Princess of Wales on the June 2016 issue of Vogue (right) and in her infamous family snap released on Mother's Day. (Vogue/X/@rubynaldrett/@KensingtonRoyal)

Rumours spread

The ongoing speculation around Kate was largely confined to social media in the first few weeks of her recovery, but leapt to the mainstream media following the Mother’s Day PR disaster. In an indication of just how much the royals are struggling to keep control of the narrative, unfounded allegations about Kate and William were referenced by US comedian Stephen Colbert on his late night talk show and reported around the world - except the UK. Specific allegations have also been widely reported across US outlets such as the Daily Beast and Cosmopolitan - even the Washington Post published a particularly cutting cartoon about William.

In the UK, the MP George Galloway referenced a series of unfounded conspiracy theories on his YouTube channel.

The emergence of a video of the Waleses' farm shop visit on 19 March should have put to bed some of the rumours, but social media remained awash with baseless claims, including that the woman in the video was a body double. As Newsweek chief royal correspondent Jack Royston said to Sky News: "She could do a DNA test and people wouldn't believe it's her."

Mr Silva, who took the farm shop video, subsequently told the Sun: “I'm not so much shocked that these comments have continued, I'm just confused how exactly they can continue. This is a video clearly showing her and William. I saw them with my own eyes. It was a completely relaxed situation."

Meghan comparison

Some commentators have suggested that there is a double standard for the response to the controversies about Kate, and if the same thing had happened with Meghan Markle.

Former editor of The Sun, David Yelland, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the story would’ve been treated differently by both the media and the public if it had been Meghan – or someone else who doesn’t command public support. He said: “What would have happened if Meghan had done this? If we were talking about a picture she had manipulated? Or if the White House did this and Biden looked younger than he actually is, I think it might finish his presidential bid.”

Claims that Harry and Meghan also doctored a photo – which sparked criticism of them this week – have been debunked by the photographer, Misan Harriman, who said: "To see an article, saying, as fact, that I did what I did not do, is extraordinary to me. And then to try to merge it with this current news cycle, what’s happening, it’s just tragic to see."

What happens next?

While there is undoubtedly pressure for the palace to release the unedited version of the Mother’s Day photo, it is unlikely that this will happen. Indeed, reports in the media suggest that the palace has already insisted they will not release it.

The reasons could include not wanting to show an ‘unfiltered’ official image of the family but conspiracy theorists will no doubt use the refusal to further their speculation about Kate’s health.

However, the official statements still all point to Kate returning to her public duties after Easter. But they did not state a specific date after Easter, and this could mean anything from early April at the earliest.

Trooping the Colour takes place on 8 June but there is confusion that Kate will attend that after the army removed her named from its website, apparently because they did not seek approval from Kensington Palace before publishing the page.

Royal Ascot takes place on 18 June and it would ordinarily be expected for senior royals to attend. All eyes will no doubt be on this year’s event if Kate does not attend Trooping the Colour.