Princess of Wales: Kate Middleton and her life throughout the years

Mother-of-three reveals she is battling cancer following weeks of frenzied speculation over health

Tara Cobham
Sunday 24 March 2024 07:33 GMT
Princess Kate announces cancer diagnosis

The Princess of Wales shocked the world as she revealed she is battling cancer following weeks of frenzied speculation over her health.

Kate disclosed that she is being treated for an unspecified form of the disease on Friday evening, coinciding with her three children breaking up for school Easter holidays to protect them from the intense coverage of her condition.

It came with a request for privacy as the 42-year-old completes her “preventative chemotherapy” treatment. The announcement was in part an attempt to quell the clamour of rumour, which has built since Kensington Palace announced in January that she had undergone abdominal surgery and would be taking a step back from royal duties for several months.

Palace hopes that Kate would be left alone to convalesce were dashed, with an admission from the princess that she edited an official family photo - one meant to reassure the public that she was doing well - only fuelling the frenzy.

The Princess of Wales shocked the world as she revealed she is battling cancer following weeks of frenzied speculation over her health
The Princess of Wales shocked the world as she revealed she is battling cancer following weeks of frenzied speculation over her health (BBC Studios/PA Wire EDITORS NOTE Copyright in the video is vested in The Prince and Princess of Wales. Publications and broadcasters are asked to credit the video to BBC Studios. The video is being made available by way of license on condition that The video shall be solely used for news editorial purposes only, No charge should be made for the supply, release, publication or broadcast of the video, There shall be no commercial use whatsoever of the video (including by way of example only) any use in merchandising, advertising or any other non-news editorial use. The video must not be digitally enhanced, manipulated or modified in any manner or form. The video shall not be used after Tuesday 30th April, 2024 without prior permission from Kensington Palace. Any questions relating to the use of the video should be first referred to Kensington Palace and before publication or broadcast)

It was a rare misstep for the princess, who has hardly put a foot wrong in her journey from Prince William’s shy “commoner” girlfriend to the mother who, more than any royal since Princess Diana, boosted the popularity and appeal of the monarchy worldwide.

Kate became a member of the royal family WHEN she married the Prince of Wales in a grand ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011, with the couple given the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Two years later, on 22 July 2013, their first son – and second in line to the throne – Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born. Named after the Queen’s father and grandfather, it is expected he would reign as George VII if he ascends to the throne after his father.

The pair welcomed their second child, Princess Charlotte, on 2 May 2015. Their third child, Prince Louis, was born in April 2018. The family’s official residence is Kensington Palace.

(From left) Princess Kate, Princess Charlotte, Prince George, Prince William, Prince Louis and Mia Tindall
(From left) Princess Kate, Princess Charlotte, Prince George, Prince William, Prince Louis and Mia Tindall (AP)

From ‘commoner’ to princess

Born Catherine Elizabeth Middleton in January 1982 in Reading, England, the former Kate Middleton grew up in a well-to-do neighbourhood in Bucklebury, Berkshire, and has two siblings, Pippa, 39, and James, 35.

She is the eldest of the three, shared by parents Michael and Carole Middleton – a former flight dispatcher and flight attendant at British Airways who went on to found Party Pieces, a company selling supplies for children’s parties, in 1987.

Although they had ties to members of the royal family and members of the British aristocracy, the Middletons themselves have no aristocratic background, and the British press often referred to Kate as a “commoner” marrying into royalty.

Kate attended the private school Marlborough College and then the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met William around 2001. Friends and housemates at first, their relationship came to be in the public eye when they were pictured together on a skiing holiday in Switzerland in 2004.

Kate graduated in 2005 with a degree in art history and a budding relationship with the prince.

Kate attended the private school Marlborough College and then the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met William around 2001
Kate attended the private school Marlborough College and then the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met William around 2001 (REUTERS)

Uneasy early relationship with the press

The pair’s relationship came under intense public scrutiny from the start.

In 2005, Kate’s lawyers asked newspaper editors to leave her alone, saying photographers were invading her private life. That did not stop media interest in her relationship with William, or unkind headlines calling her “Waity Katie” when the couple briefly split in 2007.

The couple's 2011 wedding sparked a level of royal-mania unseen since the nuptials of the then-Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

After the wall-to-wall wedding coverage, the couple retreated to a relatively quiet life away from the limelight in rural Wales for two years while William completed his military service.

But the royals’ tussle with the press again came to the fore in 2012, when William and Kate sued a French magazine for publishing photos of a topless Kate, snapped while the couple was holidaying at a private villa in southern France.

Media pressure on Kate largely eased when Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018, and the tabloids’ critical eye turned to scrutinise the American actress. The papers often depicted Meghan as the upstart newcomer to the royal institution, a contrast to reliable, staid Kate, now a mother to the future king and a darling of the front pages with her elegant outfits and photogenic smile.

Kate rarely revealed her thoughts in public, though in recent years she has grown in confidence as a public speaker and a champion of early education for young children. In 2021, she showed she had some talent as a performer, surprising the audience at a Christmas carol service with her piano playing.

Princess Kate and Prince William, with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, viewing the floral tributes for the late Queen Elizabeth II outside Windsor Castle
Princess Kate and Prince William, with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, viewing the floral tributes for the late Queen Elizabeth II outside Windsor Castle (AP)

Balancing private life with public interest

Motherhood brought about a determination to forge a new, more controlled relationship with the media. In 2015, when Kate and William’s firstborn, George, was 2, the couple appealed to journalists to stop taking unofficial photos of him. They said they wanted their children to lead as “normal” a life as possible.

Since then, Kate and William have periodically released their own photos of their three children - George, 10, Charlotte, 8, and Louis, 5 - to mark important dates and milestones such as birthdays and Christmases.

In 2022, the family moved from Kensington Palace in central London to a cottage near Windsor Castle, further underlining their desire to raise their children in relative privacy.

That went well until January, when palace officials announced that Kate was hospitalised for abdominal surgery. They said she would not appear for public engagements until Easter.

Her decision to keep details private fuelled a social media frenzy. The release of a photo to mark Mother’s Day, which was withdrawn later by multiple major news agencies over concerns about digital alteration, only spurred more questions.

The photo that attracted so much controversy
The photo that attracted so much controversy (Reuters)

The fallout over the image again left Britain divided over their views of just how much privacy the royals are entitled to.

In a heartfelt video message released on Friday, the princess explained that she underwent her abdominal surgery on 14 January for a condition that was believed to be non-cancerous, but subsequent tests revealed cancer had been present.

The mother-of-three said the diagnosis had come as a “huge shock”, but she is “well and getting stronger every day”, with she and her husband doing everything to process it privately for the sake of their young family.

She said: “Having William by my side is a great source of comfort and reassurance too. As is the love, support and kindness that has been shown by so many of you.”

She added: “We hope that you will understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment.”

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