Catherine, reliable face of a modern monarchy, faces a personal battle in the public eye

Catherine, Princess of Wales
Catherine, Princess of Wales, is seen in a still from a video recording, released Friday, announcing that she has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.
(Associated Press)

One of the most famous, photographed and talked-about women in the world is fighting a very personal battle.

Catherine, Princess of Wales, disclosed Friday that she is being treated for an unspecified form of cancer.

The revelation went alongside a request for “some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment” and was in part an attempt to quell the rumors and speculation that have built since the palace announced in January that the princess, 42, had undergone abdominal surgery and would be out of sight for several months.


An admission that she altered an official family photo — one meant to reassure the public that she was doing well — only made things worse.

It was a rare misstep for the princess, who has hardly put a foot wrong in her journey from Prince William’s shy “commoner” girlfriend to the glamorous young mother who, more than any royal since Princess Diana, boosted the popularity and appeal of the British monarchy worldwide.

The princess has enjoyed overwhelmingly positive coverage from the news media in recent years, but her relationship with journalists hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

Catherine, Princess of Wales, has an undisclosed form of cancer. She announced the news online after months of speculation about her health and whereabouts.

March 22, 2024

From ‘commoner’ to princess

The former Kate Middleton is the oldest of three children brought up in a well-to-do neighborhood in the county of Berkshire, west of London. The Middleton family has no aristocratic background, and the British press often referred to Kate as a “commoner” marrying into royalty.

She attended the private school Marlborough College and then University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met William around 2001, and they became friends and then housemates. Their relationship came to be in the public eye when they were pictured together on a 2004 skiing holiday in Switzerland.

Middleton graduated in 2005 with a degree in art history.

After a doctored image and unsatisfying apology, the palace fell into a pattern familiar from Princess Diana and Meghan Markle: making a difficult situation worse.

March 12, 2024

Uneasy relationship with the press

The pair’s relationship came under intense public scrutiny from the start.

In 2005, Middleton’s lawyers asked newspaper editors to leave her alone, saying photographers were invading her private life. That didn’t stop media interest in her relationship with William, or unkind headlines calling her “Waity Katie” when the couple briefly split in 2007.


The couple’s 2011 wedding sparked a level of royal-mania unseen since the nuptials of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

After the wall-to-wall wedding coverage, William and Catherine retreated to a relatively quiet life away from the limelight in rural Wales for two years while he completed his military service.

The palace’s disclosure that King Charles III has cancer shattered centuries of British history and tradition, but the royal withheld details of his illness.

Feb. 7, 2024

But the royals’ tussle with the press again came to the fore in 2012, when they sued a French magazine for publishing photos of a topless Catherine, snapped while they were holidaying at a private villa in southern France.

Media pressure largely eased when Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018, and the tabloids’ critical eye turned to scrutinize the biracial American actress. The papers often depicted Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, the newcomer to the royal institution, as a contrast to reliable, staid Catherine, mother to the future king and a darling of the front pages with her elegant outfits and photogenic smile.

Catherine rarely revealed her thoughts in public, though in recent years she has grown in confidence as a public speaker and a champion of early education. In 2021, she showed she had talent as a performer, surprising the audience at a Christmas carol service with her piano playing.

Relative privacy

Motherhood brought about a determination to forge a more controlled relationship with the media. In 2015, when Catherine and William’s firstborn, Prince George, was 2, the couple appealed to journalists to stop taking unofficial photos of him. They said they wanted their children to lead as “normal” a life as possible.


Since then, Catherine and William have periodically released their own photos of their children — George, 10; Princess Charlotte, 8; and Prince Louis, 5 — to mark milestones such as birthdays and Christmas.

In 2022, the family moved from Kensington Palace in central London to a cottage near Windsor Castle, underscoring the desire to raise the children in relative privacy.

That went well until January, when palace officials announced that the princess was hospitalized for abdominal surgery. They said she would not appear for public engagements until Easter.

Her decision to keep details private fueled a social media frenzy. The release of a photo to mark Mother’s Day in Britain, withdrawn later by the Associated Press and other news agencies over concerns about digital alteration, only fanned more questions.

The fallout over the photo again left Britain divided over just how much privacy the royals are owed.

“I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits,” the princess said in her statement. “We hope that you will understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment.”


Hui writes for the Associated Press.