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Catherine, Princess of Wales, has become an increasingly important member of the royal family

Catherine, Princess of Wales, has revealed she has cancer and is undergoing preventative chemotherapy after weeks of speculation over her health and absence from the public eye.

In a statement she called the news a “shock” and asked for privacy for herself and her young family. She has not been undertaking public duties since having abdominal surgery earlier in the year.

The 42-year-old princess – known as Kate – is a key member of the slimmed-down royal family: wife to the future king, mother of the next-in-line to the throne but also an admired and popular figure in her own right.

She has become all the more important to the British royals since Harry and Meghan quit as senior royals, Prince Andrew became engulfed in scandal, and the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Born in 1982, Kate spent her early years in Berkshire, west of London.

One of three children, Catherine attended the prestigious Marlborough College before taking a degree in History of Art at St. Andrew’s University in Fife, Scotland, in 2001.

It was there that she met Prince William, then the 19-year-old son of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and Princess Diana.

After graduating in 2005 with a degree in art history, Kate briefly worked as an accessories buyer for British women’s fashion chain Jigsaw, continuing to date William amid frenzied media attention until they split up in 2007.

Their split lasted only a few months, however, and they publicly announced their engagement in November 2010. William asked for Catherine’s hand in marriage in a remote hut in a wildlife reserve on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak. Kate’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring originally belonged to Princess Diana.

Media coverage at the time focused on Kate’s middle-class upbringing in Berkshire, southeast England, the Middleton family, and her mother Carole’s career journey from flight attendant to successful entrepreneur, spinning a “fairytale” narrative of the first commoner in more than 350 years to marry a prince in the direct line of succession to the throne.

Catherine, William and their family on the Buckingham Palace balcony during Trooping the Colour in 2023. - Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Catherine, William and their family on the Buckingham Palace balcony during Trooping the Colour in 2023. - Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Much pageantry and fanfare accompanied their wedding at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011. Kate wore a custom-made Alexander McQueen dress, complete with such precise detailing that seamstresses had to replace their sewing needles every three hours, according to British Vogue.

Around 1,900 guests attended the ceremony while the British public were granted an extra public holiday to mark the occasion. Across the country, 24 million viewers – about a third of the population – tuned in to watch. The US viewership was estimated to be around 22.8 million.

Afterward, Kate settled into her role as the Duchess of Cambridge, accompanying her husband on royal tours and playing an increasingly active role within the monarchy.

Her first pregnancy was announced in December 2012, when she was admitted to hospital with severe morning sickness.

Prince George, the couple’s eldest child, was born in July 2013. Princess Charlotte was born in May 2015, followed by Prince Louis in April 2018.

Kate has been an advocate for raising awareness around mental health, fronting the “Heads Together” campaign that aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

A keen sportswoman, Kate has highlighted the benefits of sports and outdoor pursuits as the patron of the Rugby Football Union and The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, among other organizations.

As a senior member of the royal family, Kate carved out a role for herself highlighting the importance of early childhood on life outcomes, establishing the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, which commissions research and collaborates with charities to raise awareness.

She also became known for the sleek, tailored style she wears at royal engagements. Her transformation into a global fashion icon meant many of the clothes she was seen in sold out almost immediately, a phenomenon that became known as the “Kate Middleton effect.”

Since undergoing abdominal surgery in January, Kate has been out of the public eye as she recovers from her initial surgery. However, she apologized earlier this month after Kensington Palace released an edited photo the princess took to mark Mother’s Day.

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