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An altered photo leads to distrust of U.K. royals


What is happening with Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales? And more broadly, what has led to the point where a digitally edited Mother's Day image has become such a crisis for Britain's royal family? To recap, the photo backlash came at a time when Kate has been out of the public eye, recovering from an announced surgery. The palace's PR misstep, combined with the vacuum of new details, has led to spiraling speculation. What does it mean, and what comes next? We are turning today to Elizabeth Holmes, who writes a regular newsletter about the royal family called "So Many Thoughts." Welcome.

ELIZABETH HOLMES: Thanks for having me.

DETROW: So let's - OK. Let's, for the benefit of everyone who at least is saying that they're not paying attention, can you catch us up a little? Like, mid-January, the public is told the princess is heading to the hospital for surgery.


DETROW: When and why did this take a turn?

HOLMES: Yes. So we actually found out after the surgery. We found out on January 17. The palace came out and said she had a successful planned abdominal surgery and that it was going to necessitate a lengthy hospital stay. That was the first sort of red flag for a lot of people because they said she'd be in the hospital for between 10 and 14 days, and then they said she wasn't going to return to public engagements until after Easter.

DETROW: But, like, you know, starting from that point there till now, where where is Kate is trending on social media all over the world. I have read through all of your posts along this timeline, and I've noticed a bit of a shift in tone from you, from taking it somewhat at face value to a tone of, OK, internet, you're all being a little too conspiratorial to some real deep skepticism and confusion on your end of what is going on and real surprised at how inept the palace's PR has been. What were the moments that really kind of changed how you were viewing and thinking about this?

HOLMES: Well, it was interesting because when the news first came out and they said she would not be seen until after Easter, I did take that at face value, and I think a lot of people did. It conveyed a seriousness about the procedure. You know, you have to remember that this is a woman who, hours after giving birth, would step out on the hospital steps to present her baby. So she has been so visible for so long that suddenly the fact that she could not be seen was newsworthy. And I did note, too, that none of the British press, which speculate on just about everything, they didn't start imagining what her surgery could be or what could have necessitated it, right? Everybody sort of respected this silence, which is new.

And then, you know, at the end of February, there was this moment where Prince William pulled out of a memorial service for his godfather, King Constantine of Greece. And he pulled out right before it was supposed to start. He was supposed to give a reading. And they just said it was due to a personal matter. They didn't say anything else. And everybody was like, wait. What? You're pulling out? Why?

And quickly came to follow that Kate's recovery is doing well because everybody wondered if it meant something was going on with Kate. And that's what started this massive speculation spiral on the internet. And listen. I've spent a lot of time hanging out on corners of the internet that - where royal things are discussed, and rarely does it bubble over into the mainstream to this degree.


HOLMES: But then we came to Sunday and the Photoshop debacle.

DETROW: What is your sense of - OK. The photo is released. It is scrutinized. The AP, AFP, other big international wires issue a kill notification, which is incredibly rare and really says we don't trust this photo. After that, why not release any other photo? What do you make of that? Like, what's happened over this past week?

HOLMES: Well, I want to first explain that the royal family has started doing a lot more of this in recent years of releasing handout photos. And Kate, her interest in photography is well established and has been a key part of her royal work. She put out a book on photography in the pandemic. Her royal work and photography sort of go hand-in-hand. And she has also taken a lot of photos that have been released to the public of the royal family. If you're a royal watcher, you're very familiar with this side of it.

But I just want to make clear that in the statement that the palace issued that was signed C, which means it ostensibly came from her, she admits to occasionally experimenting with editing, and she apologizes for any confusion the photograph caused. She does not say that she edited this photo, nor does she apologize for editing this photo.

DETROW: And this, of course, leads to even more rampant speculation about what is actually going on behind the scenes and what Kate Middleton's status is.

HOLMES: Yes. Well, and so a top person at the AFP went on a podcast this week, and he said that Kensington Palace is no longer considered a trusted source for that newswire. And that's a big deal. And it becomes a bigger story than just, where is Kate, and how is she doing? And it becomes a question of the public's trust in the royal family. And this is an institution that relies on affection and attention. And suddenly this massive question mark has been inserted into that relationship.

DETROW: That's Elizabeth Holmes, who writes a newsletter about the royal family and also has a book called "HRH: So Many Thoughts On Royal Style." Thank you so much.

HOLMES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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