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How the Princess of Wales became the most important royal of them all

The Prince and Princess of Wales were coming to terms with the news privately (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Archive)
The Prince and Princess of Wales were coming to terms with the news privately (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Archive)

Over the last few weeks, it felt as if the world had collectively lost its mind. You couldn’t open social media without being bombarded by yet another ludicrous conspiracy theory about the Princess of Wales’s whereabouts: that she and William were on the brink of divorce, that the Mother’s Day photograph she’d released was a fake, that the woman spotted in the viral video taken outside a Windsor farm shop was in fact a Kate lookalike.

Then some of the world’s most famous faces decided to pile in. Kim Kardashian shared a series of pictures captioned, “On my way to go find Kate”, to her 364 million followers on Instagram, while Blake Lively made a “Photoshop” jibe alluding to the Princess’s absence from public life when she launched a new drinks range earlier in the month.

Now, of course, we know the shocking truth about where the Princess has been, and what she has been battling with. On Friday Kate released a moving video that revealed she has cancer, and that she has spent the last few weeks coming to terms with this devastating news, as well as – most importantly – finding the right way to share it with her three young children, George, 10, Charlotte, eight, and Louis, five.

As the nation tuned into the six o’clock news to hear the distressing revelation, we were greeted by a Princess who was at her most honest, vulnerable and raw, telling her story in her own words. The powerful video sent shockwaves around the world and further cemented what we already knew: that the Princess of Wales has become the most important member of the royal family.

A charity has praised the Princess of Wales for raising awareness of the worries experienced by people diagnosed with cancer (BBC Studios/PA) (PA Wire)
A charity has praised the Princess of Wales for raising awareness of the worries experienced by people diagnosed with cancer (BBC Studios/PA) (PA Wire)

Over recent years, Kate has increasingly emerged as the face of the Firm, providing a much-needed breath of fresh air while reforming the pale, male stuffy face of the monarchy. She has always been adored by the public and in a recent poll was revealed to be the nation’s favourite royal, pipping the Prince of Wales to the top post by two per cent (she took first place in the same poll last year, too). “The Princess of Wales has always had a unique, separate relationship with the public, outside of her role within the royal family,” says royal expert Christine Ross. “This special, personal connection with the people has made her stand out amongst other members of the royal family.”

While Charles may be the reigning monarch, William and Kate are the Firm’s future. When Kate launches a new initiative or steps out in a fresh look, it makes front page news. Now we’ve seen what happens when the world’s most famous and visible woman retreats from the public eye for a couple of months: the rumour mill goes into overdrive and a global frenzy ensues. There are even suggestions from Whitehall that China, Russia and Iran have been fuelling disinformation about the Princess in a bid to destabilise the nation, while it’s alleged that three workers at the London Clinic, where both the Princess and the King were treated, have attempted to access her private medical records. While the world came out in sympathy after the King’s own cancer revelation last month, the reaction has been nothing like the level we’ve seen directed at Kate.

Indeed, the announcement of the Princess’s cancer diagnosis on Friday felt even bigger than the monarch’s revelation at the beginning of February. Then, a simple statement was released by Buckingham Palace, stating the King had been diagnosed with a form of cancer but that he remained “wholly positive about his treatment and [looked] forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.” Kate, meanwhile, chose to reveal her own diagnosis via a deeply personal two-minute video, which was filmed on 20 March. Sitting on a garden bench surrounded by daffodils, wearing the everymum uniform of a striped top and jeans, she spoke from the heart as she shared the news and told the nation she was undergoing a course of preventative chemotherapy.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Palace insiders have said that the decision to film the video came solely from Kate, with a close friend of the Princess quoted as saying: “It allowed her to speak directly to the public who, overwhelmingly, have always been with her and her family and who don’t buy into the noise and gossip. It was all her, she wrote every word of it, it came together very quickly.” It’s said the decision stemmed from the fact Kate felt duty bound to share her condition with the public in the hope that it would help others. She also knew that by recording a video herself, rather than releasing a written statement, it would appear more personal and more compassionate.

“The late Queen always said you had to be seen to be believed and embraced television to release statements to the nation,” says Claudia Joseph, author of Kate: The Making of a Princess. “Now William and Kate are increasingly releasing videos as they are more immediate and allow people to get a glimpse into their world.” While William supported Kate’s choice to reveal the news the way she did, it was a decision he sorely wished she didn’t have to make. “On every level he wishes she didn’t have to do it,” a close friend was quoted as saying. “But it was her decision, it wasn’t begrudged, and he fully supported it.” That Kate chose to appear in the video alone, without William by her side, was also key. “This was her as a strong woman sharing an innately strong message to the nation. She didn’t need anyone sitting next to her,” said one royal source.

With both the King and the Princess recovering from cancer, questions around the efficacy of a slimmed down monarchy – and how it will cope without its star players – have arisen. There are suggestions that across the pond, the Duke of Sussex has intimated to friends that he would be happy to undertake some royal duties if required. But considering how strained relations have been with his family of late, this seems highly unlikely, despite the fact that it’s said both Harry and Meghan “reached out” privately to convey their personal support to William and Kate after the video was released. While some see this as an olive branch from Montecito, there are also reports that the Sussexes were “blindsided” by the Princess’s announcement and only found out around the same time as the rest of the world on Friday, showing just how far they remain from the royal fold right now.

 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Instead, the Queen has had to step up, along with the Princess Royal, who remains at the top of the table in terms of the number of engagements she carries out every year. Though even Anne has been forced to admit that the current regime is struggling, saying in a documentary last year: “I think ‘slimmed down’ was said in a day when there were a few more people around. It doesn’t sound like a good idea from where I’m standing, I would say. I’m not quite sure what else we can do.” It's likely we can expect to see other members of the Firm fill the gaps, including the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and the Duchess of Gloucester, who has been supporting the Queen at public events while the King focuses on his health. “The royal family may take this unprecedented time to reflect on what a slimmed down monarchy looks like, and how to best utilise the King’s relatives to support the monarchy,” says Ross. “We may see different members step up, such as Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie or Lady Louise, to carry out charitable and diplomatic duties.”

 (Chris Jackson/PA Wire)
(Chris Jackson/PA Wire)

It's thought the King, for his part, will make a return to royal duties as soon as humanly possible. “The King is expected to be at Trooping the Colour, if he is well enough, and is champing at the bit to do more engagements,” says Joseph. There is currently no timescale for Kate’s return, though. William and Kate have now retreated to their Norfolk home of Anmer Hall for the three-week Easter holidays, where they can hunker down and spend some much-needed family time with their three children. “The Princess of Wales has stressed the importance of her healing, in mind, body, and spirits,” says Ross. “I suspect she will take this time to heal both physically and mentally, while being as present for her children as possible.” Here’s hoping she is finally given the peace and privacy to do just that.