Home Opinion and Features They obsessed over Kate. Now they’re hit with a sobering truth

They obsessed over Kate. Now they’re hit with a sobering truth

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OPINION: After weeks of unhinged rumours – affairs! Brazilian butt lifts! – do the Princess Kate watchers feel shame? Sort of.

Britain’s Catherine, Princess of Wales, said on Friday she was undergoing preventative chemotherapy. File picture: Tolga Akmen, Pool via Reuters

By Maura Judkis, Shane O’Neill, Travis M Andrews and Ashley Fetters Maloy

IT WAS not plastic surgery, or a body double, or a coma, or an illicit affair, or a “Weekend at Bernie’s”-style caper that had been keeping Catherine, the Princess of Wales, out of the public eye for the last three months, as the internet had been gleefully speculating the last two weeks.

No, it was cancer. Don’t we all feel ashamed of ourselves now?

After weeks of intense and increasingly unhinged rumours, the princess herself put them to rest, appearing in a video statement released on Friday by Kensington Palace. She revealed that surgeons found cancer during her January abdominal surgery – she did not say what kind – and that she would be starting chemotherapy.

“As you can imagine, this has taken time. It has taken me time to recover from major surgery in order to start my treatment. But most importantly it has taken us time to explain everything to George, Charlotte and Louis,” she said, referring to her three children, “in a way that is appropriate for them and to reassure them that I will be OK.”

Yikes, replied all the social media jokesters who had been posting about her getting a Brazilian butt lift. Oof, went all the people who, 24 hours earlier, had been absolutely certain that Prince William was leaving her for the Marchioness of Cholmondeley.

Maybe “QAnon for wine moms” – as Helen Lewis called the theorising in the Atlantic – wasn’t so funny after all. It’s like the world collectively forgot that the princess is, in fact, a person.

Dana, a 58-year-old resident of Savannah, Georgia, spoke on the condition that only her first name be used because she feels really, really bad about herself right now. Just the other day, she and a friend had been giggling about the mistress rumours. But when she heard about the princess’s diagnosis, she felt instantly ashamed of herself.

“This woman’s sick and afraid. And I just lost my mom to cancer. What kind of a–hole am I?” said Dana. “I am devastated at my inhumanity.”

Kiki Monique, who runs the Talk of Shame pop culture Instagram and hosts the “Pop Crime” podcast, had reposted the TMZ video of Catherine at a farm market earlier this week. Her reaction to the news was “immediate grief.”

“It’s terrible that she had to deal with all these rumours of infidelity and other wild headlines while having to explain to her young children what was going on,” she wrote in an email.

Those wild headlines had begun to swirl in January after Kensington Palace issued a statement that the princess had been admitted to the London Clinic on January 16 and undergone a “successful” abdominal surgery the following day. The statement went on to say that Catherine would remain hospitalized for 10 to 14 days and was “unlikely to return” to public duties until after Easter. It omitted further details about the surgery, other than to say it was non-cancerous. By mid-February, though, observers were puzzled: The princess had not been seen in public at all since Christmas, and William was routinely attending public events, including the Bafta awards, without her.

In early March, conspiracies proliferated when Catherine was seen in a strange, faraway photograph riding in a car. But they started to go supernova when a photograph released by the palace for Britain’s Mother’s Day was later proved to be edited, and had to be retracted by major photo agencies. Catherine issued an apology via X on March 11, admitting that like many amateur photographers, “I do occasionally experiment with editing.” Then, on March 18, a video surfaced on TMZ showing the princess carrying groceries alongside her husband, prompting a new wave of speculation.

Sophie Ross, a 31-year-old pop culture writer in New York, blames the royal family – not the jokesters.

“It’s no secret that they totally botched this,” she said. Instead of releasing any real proof of life, there was the grainy video and Photoshop incident — which they blamed on Catherine! “They let it get completely out of control,” Ross said. “If anything, they were fuelling the conspiracy theories.”

Particularly after the Princess Diana situation, and after the Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, situation.

“If we have a potentially missing princess, can you blame the public for speculating?” Ross added. “I don’t think anyone should feel bad except the public relations department of the royal family.”

Author Quinn Cummings – you might remember her Oscar-nominated performance in “The Goodbye Girl” – had posted two now-deleted theories about the princess’s whereabouts on Threads.

“I was wrong,” she said. “I took the data that was out there and said, well here are two theories, and because I am a comedy writer, they were both inherently absurd.”

She feels bad now. Except on one point: “What I was commenting on was, in some ways, the utter ineptitude of their comms department,” she said, referring to Kensington Palace’s public relations professionals. “I don’t think they learned a single thing from Diana. If this was a stress test, the British royal comms department failed.”

Tara Grace, a 26-year-old communications officer at an Irish human rights NGO in Belfast, wrote a tweet in February suggesting Catherine was undergoing cosmetic surgery. It went viral.

Moments after hearing about her diagnosis, Grace deleted it. Then she tweeted about deleting it, writing that she had “to take full accountability.”

“I don’t want to be a hypocrite and not acknowledge my own engagement in the online conversation,” Grace said via email. “ … It wasn’t meant to be malicious or unkind, particularly about a young woman with three young children.”

Kyle Marisa Roth from Annapolis, Maryland, runs a TikTok account dedicated to celebrity gossip, including speculation about blind items and fan theories. She has posted more than 40 videos this week about the royal family, and whether Kensington Palace is telling the truth. After Friday’s announcement, Roth uploaded a video with the text “Let’s leave Kate Middleton alone!!!!”

Still, Roth said she had no regrets about doing, well, exactly the opposite, all week long.

“A lot of times I’ve speculated in the past and my speculation was right, so I’m not going to shame myself or blame myself,” she told The Washington Post.

“This whole thing is fishy,” she added. “If I didn’t question it, I would worry about what’s going on with my brain cells.”

But she is concerned that there are still people leaving comments on her videos espousing extreme conspiracy theories, including one that Catherine is dead and her clone is being cultivated in a lab.

“As an American, hearing other Americans do that QAnon kind of speculation, that hurts my soul,” she said.

And then there are some commenters who are, despite the gravity of the diagnosis, doubling down on KateGate.

Skyler Higley – a stand-up comedian, TV writer and former staff writer on “Conan” and for the Onion – regrets none of the jokes he made about the Catherine mystery.

“If not the royal family, then who can we make fun of? I find it absurd that this would be a problem,” Higley said. “Cancer, yes, is a serious thing. But we weren’t joking about cancer.”

The jokes were more about “how this was being handled officially, by Buckingham palace.” Taking aim at such public figures isn’t punching down, he adds, especially without knowing about her illness. As for the sudden X backlash? “People love finger-wagging.”

“I don’t find it to be in any way morally regressive, especially considering who the British royal family is and what their narrative is and what they’ve done to so many countries,” he said.

Will this crisis of conscience inspire us all to think before we post? To treat celebrities as people? To be kinder and gentler to others? Probably not.

“Social media is the problem, because you’ve got a bunch of people who are free to say the nastiest stuff and then be done with it, and think they didn’t do anything” wrong, says Dana, the 58-year-old from Savannah. “It’s this horrific energy that we keep proliferating.”

She will not make that mistake again. Next time there’s speculation about a public figure’s personal life, “I personally will hope to recall this feeling so I don’t repeat this behaviour,” says Dana. “The good part of me hopefully will win out.”

– THE WASHINGTON POST

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