Kate, the reliable face of a modern monarchy, now faces a personal battle in the public eye

One of the most famous, photographed and talked-about women in the world is fighting a very personal battle

Sylvia Hui
Friday 22 March 2024 19:11 GMT

One of the most famous, photographed and talked-about women in the world is fighting a very personal battle.

Kate, Princess of Wales, disclosed Friday that she is being treated for an unspecified form of cancer.

The revelation went alongside a request for “some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment” and was in part an attempt to quell the clamor of rumor and speculation that has built since the palace announced in January that Kate, 42, had undergone abdominal surgery and would be out of sight for several months.

Palace hopes that she would be left alone to convalesce were dashed.

An admission from Kate that she altered an official family photo — one meant to reassure the public that she was doing well — only made things worse.

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

Kate has enjoyed overwhelmingly positive coverage from the press in recent years, but her relationship with journalists hasn’t always been smooth sailing.


The former Kate Middleton is the oldest of three children brought up in a well-to-do neighborhood in the county of Berkshire, west of London. The Middletons 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 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.


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 didn’t 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 scrutinize the biracial 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.


Motherhood brought about a determination to forge a new, more controlled relationship with the media. In 2015, when Kate and William’s firstborn, Prince 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; Princess Charlotte, 8; and Prince 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 hospitalized for abdominal surgery. They said she would not appear for public engagements until Easter.

Her decision to keep details private fueled a social media frenzy. The release of a photo to mark Mother’s Day in Britain, which was withdrawn later by The Associated Press and other news agencies over concerns about digital alteration, only fanned more questions.

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

"I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits," Kate said in her statement.

“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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