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Kate Middleton Conspiracies Swirl: PEOPLE's Royals Expert of 27 Years Shares What He Knows

PEOPLE's royals expert delves into rumors surrounding the Princess of Wales' recent video appearance and the controversy over her doctored photo

<p>IAN VOGLER/POOL/AFP via Getty</p> Kate Middleton visits a children

IAN VOGLER/POOL/AFP via Getty

Kate Middleton visits a children's hospital in London on Dec. 5, 2023

As PEOPLE’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, I have covered the royal family for more than two decades. Throughout this time, I have witnessed numerous moments of joy, such as weddings and the births of children for Prince William and Kate Middleton, as well as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. There have also been moments of sadness and change, particularly following Queen Elizabeth’s death. Additionally, the schism between Prince Harry and his brother William has introduced further turmoil and sadness. Each of these historical moments has brought its own share of drama.

But, today, the royal narrative feels unprecedented. I cannot recall a time when a series of unrelated events have simultaneously troubled more than one member of the royal family, culminating in such an unsettling period.

At the heart of this is the fact that we have witnessed Princess Kate’s first public misstep: her doctoring of a family photo originally taken by her husband William to commemorate Mother’s Day in the U.K. This action has unexpectedly placed the previously unassailable couple at the center of a debate regarding trust in both them and the broader royal institution, which issued the photo. And it has provided social media warriors with a license to speculate on a wide range of rumors.

The photo and video of the couple running errands at the Windsor Farm Shop over the weekend serves as a prime example. No, it wasn't fabricated or featuring a body double (the photo would surely have been better if that were the case!). And yes, it was indeed Kate. Did their handlers mind that they’d been spotted looking happy as they ran their errands? I suspect not.

<p>Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images</p> Prince William and Kate Middleton attend a ceremonial welcome for the President and First Lady of the Republic of Korea on Nov. 21, 2023

Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prince William and Kate Middleton attend a ceremonial welcome for the President and First Lady of the Republic of Korea on Nov. 21, 2023

Related: Kate Middleton Sends a Subtle Message with Her Hoodie During Farm Shop Outing with Prince William

Some have wondered why fellow shoppers didn’t all have their phones out. Well, the shop is on Crown Estate property, which would deter most, if not all, professional photographers. Having visited there multiple times and spoken to staff, as well as observed the loyal local patrons who frequent the shop, it's evident that they wouldn’t intentionally put William, 41, and Kate, 42, in an uncomfortable position by capturing them going about their day. Simply put, they are aware of the rules and exercise restraint, much like people do in other places such as Norfolk, where the royals reside.

Just six days earlier, Kate was photographed in the back of a car with William as they traveled to London. He was headed to the Commonwealth Day service while she was heading to a private appointment. Some suggest that it was a deliberate tip-off to the photographers (presumably aimed at dispelling rumors) and that the photo had been doctored. However, the snapper was unaware of her presence in the car until reviewing the image on his camera, making it very unlikely that he was asked to take the shot. And he didn’t alter it.

Part of the problem is that we have seen King Charles, 75, regularly conducting audiences amid his cancer diagnosis. The public has seen him meeting the Prime Minister and even entering and exiting the hospital, but Kate was not photographed for weeks during her recovery.

<p>YUI MOK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images</p> King Charles welcomes Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal Patricia Scotland for an audience at Buckingham Palace on March 13, 2024.

YUI MOK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

King Charles welcomes Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal Patricia Scotland for an audience at Buckingham Palace on March 13, 2024.

There is no doubt that the palace, as well as the Prince and Princess themselves, have been shaken by the more outlandish conspiracy theories. And it has been relentless. Just as the controversy surrounding the doctored photo was starting to subside, rumors emerged that the BBC was awaiting a significant announcement from the royal family. These claims gained traction over several days and reached a fever pitch by Sunday. Firstly, friends at the BBC knew nothing about any such development. Moreover, as any news professional knows, it would be incredibly unlikely for there to be such an extended lead time for a potentially significant announcement. It also wouldn’t just be with the BBC.

As we outlined in our recent cover story, these are unnerving times for those who look to the royals as bastions of calm, security and reliability amidst perceived political turmoil. (This year, nearly a third of the world, spanning 50 countries, will hold elections— even British embassies in Moscow and Ukraine found themselves compelled to refute a Russian report that Charles had died.) Indeed, the royals see themselves as unifying, apolitical figures, positioned above and detached from the dogmatic fray. That has changed with the intensity of the social media tit-for-tat over Kate, and the ambiguity surrounding Charles' health. They have become the central focus of these discussions, and matters have spiraled out of control more rapidly than I have previously witnessed.

Related: Kate Middleton's Photo of Queen Elizabeth Surrounded by Royal Children Was Manipulated, Photo Agency Says

<p>Samir Hussein/WireImage</p> Kate Middleton and Prince William with children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis on Dec. 25, 2023

Samir Hussein/WireImage

Kate Middleton and Prince William with children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis on Dec. 25, 2023

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When Prince Louis celebrates his sixth birthday on April 23, Kate and William will face a major decision. Make no mistake, like many outlets, we have enjoyed and praised Kate for her tradition of taking charming photos of her children. Next month, will they take the photo themselves or entrust it to a professional? Whatever they decide, it will undoubtedly be the most scrutinized royal image yet — since the last one!

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