The Curious Case of the “Disappearing” Princess

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Greetings online sleuths, true crime addicts, conspiracy theorists, and Swifites with an unnerving ability to sniff out video Easter eggs, and welcome to day 60 of Britain’s Missing Princess. The internet is currently embroiled in the seriously unserious business of a princess’s “disappearance,” as Kate Middleton—she of marrying Prince William renown—hasn’t been seen since 2023’s annual Christmas Day walk with her in-line-to-the-throne offspring. 

The lack of princess pictures isn’t much of a surprise. After Kate’s planned abdominal surgery in mid-January, Buckingham Palace announced that “based on the current medical advice, she is unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter.” We’re only a week into Lent, Easter weekend nothing but a speck of silhouetted egg on the horizon, but speculation as to Kate’s whereabouts has been rife. And over the past few days, the internet’s proverbial rabbit hole has deepened, after Prince William added fuel to the “Where’s Kate?” fire by pulling out of reading at his godfather’s (Greece’s King Constantine II, natch) memorial service for ever-ominous “personal reasons.” 

As the princess recoups at Adelaide Cottage, most of the (entirely speculative) Where’s Kate? takes are outlandishly funny. She’s recovering after donating a kidney to Charles in exchange for becoming queen. She’s nipped off to Miami for a subtle BBL. She’s moonlighting as an Oompa Loompa at the cursed Willy Wonka experience. She’s growing out her bangs. She’s actually Bansky

It would be easy for me to remind you that a famous woman deserves the same right to convalescence as the rest of us—that rest is necessary, and privacy during this time is perfectly warranted. It would be easy for me to lightly scold the joshing, to center this column on Kate’s right to post-op peace, and demand that you leave Kate alone! But I’m wondering how much severity there is to this situation. Is Kate in actual peril? Are the follow-on jokes particularly sinister? The Princess of Wales is the world’s most cared-for woman, and she’s in the safest of hands. Royalty itself guarantees fiscal and physical security—surely the two words everyone wants to hear after their abdominal surgery are “royal physician.” I don’t wish Kate discomfort or harm, of course, but because there’s no real jeopardy, we’re all playing along with the ridiculous idea of her “disappearance.” The truth is, she’s exactly where she’s meant to be, recovering at home with her family. The only change from our point of view is that she hasn’t been papped in a while. 

There’s a deep irony, however, to the world’s most photographed woman ceasing to have her picture taken. What’s striking is the sudden unphotographed-ness of a woman we can’t go two scrolls on any feed without seeing. By default or by design, the royal family is omnipresent—half the time, it feels like we can’t move for updates. It’s as good a moment as any to ask: What is a concerted appetite for royal correspondence, a lust for their clean and dirty laundry, and what is just commonplace and unavoidable? Do we want this constant information? Do we need this constant information? Most of the time, we do not seek alerts on royal news so much as let them wash over us unchallenged. 

The contrast from Always-Kate to No-Kate is stark—and ultimately quite funny, because it highlights how unnecessary it has ever really been to actively seek her out. She’s saturated our culture and we’ve never really questioned it. Pictures of Kate have so become part of the furniture of our feeds that we’re suddenly staring agog at the place the sofa’s meant to have been for the last two months. Now we find ourselves reveling in not only the absurdity of a princess’s ability to be everywhere, but questioning why we accept she’s everywhere in the first place. 

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