Kate’s cancer revelation throws royal family into fresh turmoil

The announcement from Catherine, Princess of Wales that she has started chemotherapy for cancer and is in the “early stages of that treatment” was a bolt from the blue.

As Britain woke up on Saturday morning, the tone of every major newspaper was of concern. The Times struck a reassuring note with its front page headline, “Princess reveals her cancer and says: I’m going to be OK.” The FT Weekend opted for “Kate puts end to speculation” while The Sun tabloid told the princess, “KATE, YOU ARE NOT ALONE”

The 42-year-old princess revealed her cancer battle a day earlier in an emotional video statement, after weeks of relentless scrutiny over her health.

It was a bold move. This is someone who gets nervous speaking in front of cameras, let alone about such a deeply personal matter. But the video – simply shot, on a bench in front of a spray of spring foliage – showed Kate earnestly sharing her story on her own terms and in her own words.

It was powerful to hear her speak so plainly and openly about what she is experiencing. That decision to connect with the public by herself would have been a decision she made in consultation with her husband, Prince William, who is heir to the British throne.

The princess acknowledged that it has been a challenging few weeks. Interest in Kate – who vanished from view at Christmas – persisted this week after reports emerged that staff at the hospital where she was being treated in January may have tried to illegally access her private medical notes. It remains unclear if the alleged data breach was successful but three people are said to be under investigation.

That somber development had followed an unprecedented hurricane of unfounded conspiracy theories which blew up in the absence of specifics surrounding her surgery in January, supercharged by William’s unusual absence from his godfather’s memorial in late February and the admission by Kate that she had edited a photograph released by the family to mark Mother’s Day in the UK earlier this month.

The disclosure about her health puts a new perspective on that photo – and the events of the past few weeks. The official line is that she had been recovering from abdominal surgery, when the reality was a lot more serious than that. Yet again, the royal family could face some difficult questions about what they chose to reveal to the public, and when.

Beyond that, It is an extraordinary moment for the British monarchy. The institution is now facing one of its biggest crises in recent memory, with two of its most senior family members essentially out of action. It also leaves Prince William and Queen Camilla to front the institution while caring for their spouses.

With Britain still coming to terms with the King’s diagnosis, it is perhaps even more shocking to learn of Kate’s condition given her relative youth. To her devoted supporters, she is the epitome of good health, beauty and perfection. Since marrying into the family in 2011, she has rarely put a foot wrong and proven herself to be a dependable figure of “the firm.” That dependability has now been replaced by vulnerability, unsettling a steadfast institution.

Many remember how she stood outside the Lindo Wing at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital – the de facto maternity ward for royal births – hours after giving birth to each of her three children. She is beloved for her poise and timeless elegance, making her one of the most popular faces of the family.

Her health struggle is an abrupt reminder that while she is a public servant and a brand, she is also human and vulnerable.

Many of the bizarre and outlandish conspiracies that have been recently thrown around with little regard dehumanized her. She became a commodity of the media, much like the previous holder of her title – Diana, the late Princess of Wales.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak succinctly summed up what many are now thinking moment’s after Kate’s revelation.

“In recent weeks she has been subjected to intense scrutiny and unfairly treated by certain sections of the media around the world and on social media,” he said in a statement on Friday night.

He said the Princess of Wales has the “love and support of the whole country” and urged for her to be “afforded the privacy to focus on her treatment and be with her loving family.”

Kate had been expected to return to official duties after Easter, however she will postpone her return until she has been cleared to do so by her medical team, a royal source told CNN on Friday. The source added she may make ad hoc appearances if she can find the strength. On those occasions, the decision to attend will be made at the last-minute and take people by surprise.

Kate and William depart St. Mary's Hospital in London in 2013 with their newborn son, Prince George.

Apart from that, we don’t expect any Kensington Palace updates unless her condition suddenly improves or worsens. The palace is also not expected to reveal any further medical details such as the type of cancer or what stage it is.

From the institution’s view, the deal is: You, the public, have the video so you have the fullest health update the institution can offer. In return, allow the family some time to recover and rebuild.

The line of succession is now under extreme pressure from the very top. Prince William – who Kate praised as “a great source of comfort and reassurance” – will continue to juggle caring for his wife and children while maintaining his public schedule.

British royal family tree

He will lean on the support from Queen Camilla and the seven other lesser-known working royals but as next-in-line to the throne, his presence out and about is needed to reassure the nation that the Crown is strong.

What was clear in Kate’s video message was that the couple’s priority is their family. They both understood that her news would generate huge public interest, but her words made it clear that they are trying to preserve some semblance of normality for their children, George, Charlotte and Louis.

CNN understands the Prince and Princess of Wales wanted to wait for their young children to be out of school for the Easter holidays before making the announcement.

People watch a broadcast of Kate revealing that she is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The pre-recorded video was released on Friday, March 22.

Kate is said to be in good spirits and firmly focused on her recovery but in the heartfelt statement, she called on the public to “understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy.”

That space will be the challenge ahead for international media – the majority of which will want to be sensitive and respectful to the princess. Here in the UK, the press will be conscious of Kate’s request but whether that will be the case for international paparazzi remains to be seen.

While the latest developments will not quash all the online hysteria surrounding the princess, having a clearer timeline of what Kate’s been going through since January has already gone some way in taking the edge off some of the more outlandish speculation.

Queen Elizabeth II, William and Kate stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.

Many of those who fell down the royal rabbit hole in recent days quickly replaced their social videos with apologies and best wishes.

There has been an outpouring of support and sympathy for Kate since she shared what she is going through, and perhaps her words will help reset how the world responds when wild conspiracy theories run rampant on social media.

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