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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The real royal scandal is on us

The Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke of Sussex surprise members of the public with a joint public appearance to view the tributes to Queen Elizabeth II outside Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (Mary Turner/The New York Times)

By Pamela Paul

Americans have always loved a royal scandal, even a smidgen more than British royalists do themselves. Some of this is easily attributable to our inborn desire for no more kings. Lately, however, the British royals have been given the same reality star treatment every microcelebrity in America attracts.

Give us everything. Or you’ll regret it.

Historically, of course, the royals have provided. There was the Duke of Windsor’s abdication and apparent support for Nazism. Prince Charles’ and Princess Diana’s flagrant infidelities and divorce. Prince Andrew’s close ties with the since-convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his own accusations of sexual abuse. And a massively popular Netflix series swanned in, dramatizing these and other ignoble ordeals, ready to sully the gleam before watchful eyes.

In this milieu, Kate Middleton’s refusal to cooperate is all the more frustrating. In January, Catherine, Princess of Wales, as she is officially known, stepped back from royal duties with a dissatisfyingly vague and brief announcement from Kensington Palace. The statement said she planned to undergo and recover from abdominal surgery until Easter.

The response was outrage and disbelief. Why hadn’t the princess specified the nature of her surgery? What, precisely, was her diagnosis? How, how could she leave us this way?

“To say she has broken the internet would be only the start of it,” The Spectator noted in an essay about America’s fixation on the British princess. “Rumors of her well-being are making their way into every newsroom, dive bar and church fellowship hour across America.”

Then, three weeks ago, in a brief video statement, Kate revealed that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment. This is a stark contrast with her fellow royal Meghan Markle, semi-Duchess of Sussex and far more attuned to the public’s need for a blow-by-blow of her inner journey, who announced a new lifestyle brand the same week, complete with a new Instagram page and website.

Unlike Meghan, Kate has largely related to the public through her official duties and has otherwise tried to keep her family life private. The point here is not to contrast these two very different women and their respective relationships to the public but rather to point out that while Meghan’s revelations may be perfectly suited to our ravenous internet age, Kate’s approach has clearly failed to sufficiently overstuff the beast.

The American public has become so accustomed to unfettered access to public figures that we expect total self-exposure as a matter of course. Meanwhile, we meet their need for privacy, which belongs to every human, whether humdrum or celebrated, with a kind of rabid suspicion. The moment anyone in the public eye requests a desire to step away from the glare, we collectively make the worst-possible-scenario assumptions.

Now’s a good moment to rethink all of that. Kate’s terrible news shouldn’t just make us feel terrible for Kate; it should also make us feel terrible about ourselves.

Reconsider, in this new light, the outcry that met with Kate’s touched-up Mother’s Day photograph and its strange anomalies. Her efforts to sate those royal loyalists who expected their annual Mother’s Day greeting and to quell the public speculation that had overrun tabloids and TikTok for months only fanned the flames for more information and signaled the need for ever more transparency.

The demands from nonroyals were immediate. What exactly had been done to the photograph and why? What were they covering up? Who was responsible?

“A sign of the monarchy’s deepening instability,” The Cut warned.

“Damaging to the public’s trust in the royal family,” said The Telegraph.

It is vital, The Spectator’s royal observer wrote, “for Kensington Palace that the increasing hysteria should be brought under control.”

Someone, the public insisted, needed to take ownership of the catastrophe. In response, The Times of London reported, “a shaken princess told aides that she wanted to make amends and claim responsibility for her mistake.”

But the response to Kate’s apology on X (formerly Twitter) was yet more skepticism and speculation. Furious gossips sniped about the palace “refusing” to release the original photo. One prolific media critic denounced the monarchy as a “deep fake,” “Her disappearance from public view is getting weirder,” Vox wrote ominously. “Was Kate Middleton FORCED to take blame in royal photo scandal?” The Daily Mail blared.

In the eyes of the conspiratorial internet, it was yet another cover-up. Kate was dead. Prince William was having an affair. Self-proclaimed “Kate conspiracist” Andy Cohen weighed in with his theories. TMZ blasted out a blurry video purportedly of the royal pair food shopping, which was quickly subjected to a frame-by-frame analysis. Was the female figure, in fact, Kate or, more probably, a stand-in or even the Marchioness of Cholmondeley, Rose Hanbury?

The answer is: Must those questions even be asked? Sometimes a person’s request for privacy is just that, not an invitation for yet more giddy, self-indulgent, obsessive invasiveness.

What we now know is that all this speculation was directed at a woman with cancer. Whatever this news means for the future of the British monarchy, whether one supports or despises it, is of far less consequence than what it means to a young woman with three school-age children, regardless of royal status. In dealing with this terrifying disease, Kate is just another human, with just as much right to handle her illness as she chooses.

Right now Kate is sick, and the hope is, with proper medical care, she will get better. What, we must wonder, would it take for a culture sick with its own wolfish appetite for self-exposure to try to get better, too?

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