A Royal Mystery: The Essential Timeline of Events Surrounding Princess Kate Middleton’s Disappearance

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The mysterious disappearance of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, from the public eye has become a hot topic especially as other members of the royal family get involved. In this timeline of events, Vogue provides the essential information about the royal controversy for readers to decide: is there merit to the speculation?

When a smiling Kate Middleton walked to church alongside her family on Christmas Day, few, if any, could predict it would be the last normal moment the princess would have in the spotlight for the foreseeable future.

After announcing a “planned abdominal surgery” in mid-January, Middleton has suddenly become the subject of some of the wildest and most widespread conspiracy theories in recent memory, with internet users across multiple platforms speculating about both her health and her whereabouts. While some were comical, others felt much more sinister.

It all reached a fever-pitch on 10 March, when Kensington Palace released a manipulated photograph of the Wales family for Mother’s Day – which was then retracted by the Associated Press and several other wire services. (The princess later apologised for any “confusion caused” by the edits made to the image.) What exactly, the world wondered, was going on with the house of Windsor? There’s still no conclusive answer.

For those who are having trouble keeping up with the constant news cycle, find a timeline of the news and controversy surrounding the Princess of Wales over the past few months below.

25 December 2023: Kate’s Last Royal Engagement

On Christmas Day, the Princess of Wales attended the royal family’s annual church service at Sandringham. Everything seemed picture-perfect as she held hands with her children while wearing a cobalt-blue Alexander McQueen coat dress. Little did the world know, it would be the last time they saw the princess for many months.

17 January 2024: Kensington Palace Announces Kate Middleton’s Abdominal Surgery

A few weeks later, Kensington Palace released a statement saying that the Princess of Wales had been admitted to hospital for abdominal surgery. Due to medical advice, she would not return to public duties until after Easter.

The statement also asked for privacy: “The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate,” a Kensington Palace representative wrote. “She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normalcy for her children as possible.”

17 January 2024: Buckingham Palace Announces King Charles Is Seeking Treatment for an Enlarged Prostate

A few hours after Kate Middleton’s medical news, King Charles announced some of his own: he was seeking treatment for an enlarged prostate. The difference between the two household’s statements is noticeable, with Charles being much more specific about his condition.

29 January 2024: The Princess of Wales Returns Home From the Hospital

In late January, news broke that the Princess of Wales returned home to Windsor from the London clinic. Unlike her father-in-law, whose departure was photographed, there are no images of her leaving the hospital, underlining her desire for privacy.

5 February 2024: King Charles Announces His Cancer Diagnosis

A week later, Buckingham Palace shared that Prince Charles is seeking treatment for cancer. “He remains wholly positive about the treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible,” Buckingham Palace says. They also revealed the motivation behind their public relations decision: “His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.” A few days later, he released another statement thanking the public for their support. In the time since, Charles has continued to make the occasional appearance, such as meeting ambassadors from Algeria and Mauritania at Buckingham Palace on 6 March.

27 February 2024: Prince William pulls out of a memorial service for his Godfather

In late February, Prince William announced he could no longer attend a memorial service for his godfather, King Constantine of Greece, due to personal reasons. While anonymous royal sources told news outlets like CNN there was no connection between the cancellation and the princess’s health, it sparked more speculation. Soon, it turned into a fully-fledged social media moment as rumours began to swirl about the princess’s whereabouts. Much of the commentary was humorous – memes abounded about Middleton attending the failed Glasgow Willy Wonka experience – but some of it was salacious and slanderous.

29 February 2024: Kensington Palace Reiterates Its Original Statement

After 48 hours of wild internet speculation, Kensington Palace confirmed their original statement to People: “We were very clear from the outset that the Princess of Wales was out until after Easter and Kensington Palace would only be providing updates when something was significant,” they told the outlet. They also added the princess was “doing well”.

4 March 2024: Paparazzi Capture the Princess of Wales Driving Around Windsor

On 4 March, TMZ published grainy paparazzi photos of the princess and her mother driving in an Audi around Windsor Castle. The British press refrained from sharing the images due to the princess’s privacy.

10 March 2024: The Prince and Princess of Wales Share a Photo for Mother’s Day

To mark Mother’s Day, Prince William and Kate Middleton posted a photograph of the princess, along with her three children, on their social media accounts. The palace said it was taken by William last week in Windsor.

At first, it seemed to clearly refute all the conspiracy theories. However, on Sunday night, the Associated Press issued a “kill order” – an industry term for retracting an image. “At closer inspection, it appears that the source has manipulated the image,” the AP said in its advisory. “No replacement photo will be sent.”

Indeed, the photo had been altered. Princess Charlotte’s left hand did not match up with the sleeve of her sweater. Middleton’s zipper was misaligned, and some body parts – including a knee and a hand – were awkwardly blurred. Almost immediately, speculation about the princess’s true condition reached fever pitch.

11 March 2024: Kate Middleton Issues a Personal Apology on Social Media

The next morning, the princess tried to explain the mishap on the family’s official accounts. “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” she wrote on X. “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.”

Yet, the damage had been done: the photo had been removed from several wires and unpublished from media outlets like The New York Times. In the process, the credibility of the royal family was shaken, and the conversation around her wellbeing continued to grow.

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