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What to know about the 'confusion' over Kate Middleton's edited family photo

Kate, Princess of Wales, says she edited a photo that seemed to promise to ease concerns about her health — but only raised new questions. She's seen here greeting the public on Christmas Day, last December.
Stephen Pond
Getty Images
Kate, Princess of Wales, says she edited a photo that seemed to promise to ease concerns about her health — but only raised new questions. She's seen here greeting the public on Christmas Day, last December.

Updated March 11, 2024 at 7:19 PM ET

The family photo might have helped ease concerns and questions about Kate, the Princess of Wales — but then viewers noted irregularities in the image, and a flurry of new questions emerged. And now the princess has acknowledged that the photo she released on Sunday was manipulated.

"Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing," the princess said on social media Monday. "I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused."

Acknowledgment of the doctored photo came after several news agencies retracted the photo. The Associated Press, for instance,noted the odd "alignment of Princess Charlotte's left hand with the sleeve of her sweater" and stated, "At closer inspection it appears that the source has manipulated the image."

The photo was released on the U.K.'s Mother's Day, showing Kate (Princess Catherine) seated in a chair, sharing a hug with her children: Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Prince George. In the post, Kate credited her husband, Prince William, with taking the picture.

"Thank you for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months," Kate wrote.

On its face, the cheery image seemed to suggest the princess was healthy and happy after she virtually disappeared from public view in late December. Kensington Palace had shared scant details about Kate, 42, saying that after having "successful" abdominal surgery in January, she spent nearly two weeks in the hospital.

But then the questions arose, growing from rumor to full retraction. In its discussion of the photo, the AP noted that its standards prohibit substantial editing of an image, as well as the removal of "red eye" effects.

The doctored photo led to a social media frenzy and fueled conspiracy theories over Kate's health and wellbeing.

Robert Hardman, a royal biographer and the author of The Making of a King, told NPR that although the royal family is a public-facing institution, Kate's absence is understandable given her recent health condition.

"Most of us, if we've had surgery or some medical issue, that takes a bit of time to recover," he said. "So I totally get why for her, this is a private matter."

Here's a brief timeline of the events leading up to Sunday's photo release:

Christmas Day, 2023

Kate joins the rest of the royal family to attend a Christmas morning church service in Sandringham, Norfolk. It's the last time she's seen in an official capacity until the controversial family portrait emerges on March 10.

Jan. 17, 2024

Theroyal family issues two major health updates. Kensington Palaceannounces that the Princess of Wales is recovering after undergoing "planned abdominal surgery." It calls the surgery a success, saying the princess will stay in hospital for up to 14 days and "is unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter," on March 31.

Hours later, Buckingham Palace announces King Charles III, 75, will have a "corrective procedure" for an enlarged prostate gland, a condition it describes as benign. Charles is discharged on Jan. 29.

Feb. 5

King Charles has "a form of cancer,"the royal family says, adding that it was diagnosed after his treatment for an enlarged prostate raised concerns about a separate issue.

Feb. 18

Prince William attends high-profile events without Kate, including the black-tie British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) ceremony, where he's seenwalking the red carpet alone.

Feb. 27

Prince William unexpectedly pulls out of a memorial service at Windsor Castle, citing a "personal matter." William had been due to deliver a reading at the service for one of his godfathers, the late King Constantine of Greece, but less than an hour before the memorial was scheduled to start, it was announced that the prince would not be present. Kensington Palace did not elaborate further on the reason why Prince William could not attend but reiterated that the Princess of Wales continued to be doing well.

March 5

U.S. websites publish grainy paparazzi photos appearing to show Kate in a car with her mother — what would be the first pictures of the princess to be published since her surgery. The photos show a woman wearing sunglasses in the passenger seat of an SUV driven by Kate's mother, Carole Middleton, near Windsor Castle. The pictures were not published in the U.K., according to the Daily Mail, after Kensington Palace asked for Kate to be able to recuperate in private.

March 6

The British Army removes from its website an announcement saying that the Princess of Wales would appear at a military parade in June. Tickets were being sold for the event, alongside a photo of Kate. The palace says it never confirmed her schedule.

March 10

Kensington Palace releases a photograph of Kate and her three children on social media channels. The message concludes, "Wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day. C," with the "C" denoting Catherine herself. It credits the picture to "Prince of Wales, 2024." As observers question the fidelity of the image, some also question the date it was taken, noting the green foliage in the background.

March 11

Kate issues a message acknowledging the photo was edited and apologizing for any confusion it caused.

NPR's Juliana Kim contributed reporting.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Fatima Al-Kassab
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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