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Kate Middleton rumours about Vogue front cover are 'absurd', says expert

Picture editors and disinformation experts reject suggestions Kate used a picture from a 2016 issue of Vogue for her controversial family photograph.

The Princess of Wales on the June 2016 issue of Vogue (right) and in her infamous family snap released on Mother's Day. (Vogue/X/@rubynaldrett/@KensingtonRoyal)
The Princess of Wales on the June 2016 issue of Vogue (right) and in her infamous family snap released on Mother's Day. (Vogue/X/@rubynaldrett/@KensingtonRoyal)

The recent controversy around the Princess of Wales's digitally-altered Mother's Day photo has sparked much unfounded speculation about the extent to which the image was doctored as well as multiple conspiracy theories on Kate's ongoing absence from the public eye since undergoing abdominal surgery in January.

When the photo – showing Kate smiling with Prince George, Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte in Windsor – was shared on her and Prince William's official X account, it was doubtless hoped it would quash some of the wild rumours circulating online.

But many people, including a number of news agencies, quickly picked up on evidence the picture had been "manipulated", leading Kate to admit the following day that she had made some "minor alterations" during the editing process.

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Kensington Palace has not commented further in response to questions about how much the picture was edited and whether, for example, it was a series of composite images. The silence has, in some instances, given space for people's imaginations to run even wilder than before.

One specific claim is that Kate's face on Sunday's family portrait had been photoshopped from her appearance on the June 2016 cover of Vogue.

The Prince of Wales speaks as he attends an event bringing together Earthshot Prize winners and finalists as well as investors and philanthropists to celebrate the Launchpad, at Frameless in central London. Picture date: Monday March 11, 2024. (Photo by Belinda Jiao/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Prince of Wales made a scheduled appearance at an event bringing together Earthshot Prize winners and finalists in London on 11 March. (Getty)

A video shared on X, formerly Twitter, which has had over 41 million views within 24 hours, shows a gradual transition between the two pictures in which Kate's face rather unchanged at first glance.

However, as the video has spread, some disinformation experts have urged people to look a bit closer and debunked the accuracy of the claim.

Eliot Higgins, founder of investigative journalism website Bellingcat, whose work helped unmask the Vladimir Putin's Salisbury poisoners, suggested those going along with the conspiracy are "playing spot the difference and losing".

He told Yahoo News: "There're numerous small differences between the two photos, including differences in lighting, the reflection of light on the surface of the eyes, various lines and wrinkles, the amount of teeth visible behind the lower lip, and other features. Frankly speaking, the claims related to it being from the Vogue photograph are absurd."

Eliot Higgins, founder of online investigation group Bellingcat, speaks to the media on College Green in London on October 9, 2018 after making a  presentation in parliament on their investigation into the suspects of the Sergei Skripal poisoning. - Investigative group Bellingcat on October 9, 2018 identified the second suspect in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal as a doctor employed by Moscow's GRU military intelligence service.
Investigative journalist Eliot Higgins described the rmour connecting Kate's Mother's Day photo to a Vogue front cover as 'absurd'. (Getty)

On his X profile, he shares a close-up image where the differences between both pictures can be seen more clearly, and he responds to one user's claim that it is a "pixel perfect fit", writing: "It's not pixel perfect, if you actually look closely at the details you'll see numerous small differences."

Luke Bailey, head of digital at the i newspaper in the UK, wrote: "Clip going around that uses a fade to 'prove' the Kate Middleton photo is actually her Vogue cover and there's actually a reason you don't use a fade to do that, because it makes images appear more similar than they are. if you take individual details—they're a long way apart."

Addressing another conspiracy theory doing the rounds, Bailey adds: "Would also really like everyone to engage some critical thinking skills about a theory based on them all wearing the same outfits as Nov 23, except that the outfits are all different in at least one way."

Kate's PR nightmare

Kensington Palace's and the Princess of Wales's handling of 'Kategate' has turned into a PR disaster, which some have argued could undermined the public's long-term trust in the royal family.

Not long after releasing the photo on Mothering Sunday, keen-eyed observers were quick to pick up on a number of flaws, including Charlotte's sleeve not lining up properly with her skirt, and Kate's zip appearing unaligned.

Then, several news and photo agencies including AP, PA and Reuters issued withdrawal notices, something that is practically unheard of for an official royal photo.

Kate took to social media the following day, writing: "Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C."

However, Kate's response has done little to keep the conspiracy theorists at bay. If anything, it's given them ammunition.

Not only are people picking up on the details and alignment of Kate, Louis, Charlotte and George's clothing, they're even paying attention to the leaves in the background and are questioning when the picture was taken. In an official notice, Kensington Palace said the photo had been taken in Windsor the week before Mother's Day.

'It wasn't obvious at a glance'

If there's one lesson we can learn from this episode, it's that you can't upload a photoshopped image to the internet and not expect people to pick up on it.

The Guardian's head of photography Fiona Shields says it "wasn't obvious at a glance", but of course, many people don't just stop there.

She suggests that there are far more accurate ways to digitally alter an image, should someone really want to, telling the newspaper: “If you really want to pull the wool over people’s eyes, it’s absolutely possible, and the only way to tell would be to compare the image to the original digital file.

"You wouldn’t do it like this. So I suspect it’s quite innocent and done by an amateur.”

Nonetheless, questions still remain over why Kensington Palace took so long to respond and refused to answer questions from picture agencies, which eventually forced them to withdraw the photo themselves.

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