Kate Middleton’s ‘Photogate’ Drama Explained – From ‘Historic’ Kill Notice To #WhereIsKate

Kate Middleton’s Mother's Day photo scandal explained as royal experts offer their exclusive takes on the story to IGV.
Credit: Alamy

Why is everyone suddenly talking about Kate Middleton? And why is her ‘manipulated’ Mother’s Day photo such a big deal? The Princess of Wales’ recent activity, from her surgery announcement in January to her public apology earlier this month, has become a hot topic of conversation for many. Here, IGV gives you the lowdown on everything you need to know along with exclusive commentary from royal experts…

The Princess of Wales, 42, has not been seen in public since Christmas Day, causing many people to become concerned about her whereabouts.

Since the beginning of the year, Middleton has been the subject of rumours, speculation and even conspiracy theories about where she is and why she’s not been seen.

Kate Middleton
Royal experts have exclusively weighed in on the Kate Middleton drama with IGV. Credit: Alamy

This concern prompted the royals to release a photo of the Princess with her and Prince William‘s three children, Prince GeorgePrincess Charlotte and Prince Louis, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

However, the public immediately noticed something strange about the image, and before long the world’s biggest press agencies issued a ‘kill notice’ ordering news outlets to stop using it.

So here’s everything you need to know about ‘Photogate’ and the events leading up to it, along with interviews from royal experts explaining their thoughts on the viral story.

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Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

The last time Middleton was seen in public was during a walk on Christmas Day.

She appeared happy and healthy on her way to church at the royal Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, alongside her husband, Prince William, and their three children.

Kate Middleton on Christmas Day walk, 2023.
Kate Middleton was last seen in public during a walk on Christmas Day (pictured above). Credit: Alamy

Then, on January 17, the palace shockingly announced that Middleton had been hospitalised for ‘planned abdominal surgery’, the details of which were kept private.

Middleton was reportedly discharged 14 days later on January 29, but no photographs were taken of her leaving the hospital, which raised suspicion among conspiracy theorists.

For most of February, there were no updates on the Princess or her condition, leading speculation to become even more rife.

London Clinic at Devonshire Place.
Kate Middleton underwent ‘planned abdominal surgery’ at the London Clinic at Devonshire Place in Marylebone. Credit: Alamy

On March 4, the first image of Middleton since 2023 was released to the public by TMZ, but many social media users questioned why the picture was such low quality along with Middleton’s seeming change in appearance.

This speculation led the palace to take action, with the Prince and Princess of Wales releasing an exclusive picture of the family for Mother’s Day in the UK.

The palace told the press that the portrait had been taken by Prince William in Windsor last week.

But this image, presumably intended to ease public concern over Middleton’s whereabouts, only served to spark even more concern.

The image was obviously (and quite poorly) edited, including major mistakes to Princess Charlotte’s sleeve and skirt, Middleton’s zipper, and Prince Louis’s sweater.

These obvious edits led to major news agencies putting out a historic ‘kill notification’ on the image – which is a huge deal.

“In the Public Relations industry, a ‘kill notification’ is the coup de grâce of the media circuit,” one person explains on X, formerly Twitter.

“For the Associated Press (AP) to issue this update, it means that something is TERRIBLY wrong. Think of it as a Cat. 5 cyclone. This is literally a death blow to any press source.”

And now, one of the world’s biggest news agencies has claimed that Kensington Palace is no longer a ‘trusted source’ following the furore over the doctored image.

Kate Middleton's Mother Day photo.
This Mother’s Day photo has sparked controversy after being pulled by multiple news outlets. Credit: @princeandprincessofwales/Instagram & X

“To kill something on the basis of manipulation is rare,” Phil Chetwynd, global news director of Agence France-Presse (AFP), told BBC Radio 4’s Media Show.

“We do it once a year maybe, I hope less. The previous kills we’ve had have been from the North Korean news agency or the Iranian news agency.”

Chetwynd added that Kensington Palace was asked to provide the original image before it was pulled, but the agencies did not receive a reply.

This unprecedented response fanned the flames for conspiracy theorists – who began asking if the image was taken last year, or if Middleton’s face was superimposed from her Vogue cover.

But what made things even worse for the royals was their bizarre explanation for the edited image.

Kate Middleton and Prince William.
Royal commentator Kinsey Schofield says the Photoshop fail has escalated into an ‘historical event’. Credit: Alamy

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” a statement, apparently from Middleton, reads.

“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.”

Speaking to IGV about the significance of the ‘kill notice’, royal commentator Kinsey Schofield, host of the To Di For Daily podcast, says: “As a follower of Kardashian culture, I don’t see the big deal in digital tweaks.

“But the rules were broken when the palace sent the photo off to news agencies who determined that the altered image went against their standards.

“The consequence was several agencies sending off a ‘kill notice’ asking the media not to utilise the photo due to suspected manipulation.

“It is something we haven’t seen in royal history, escalating a Photoshop fail to a historical event.”

Kate Middleton
Royal expert Stacy Jones says ‘numerous factors’ could have played a part in editing the photograph. Credit: Alamy

However, Schofield tells IGV that she doesn’t believe the editing is anything more than a silly mistake.

She explains: “I suspect that the Princess of Wales having the rare instance of downtime opened her up to more screen time.

“Catherine has been instructed for decades now to avoid social media, and likely hasn’t had the time or the reason to explore the types of editing tools, apps, or social media filters that have become so familiar to us.”

Royal expert Stacy Jones, the CEO and Founder of Hollywood Branded, agrees.

She tells IGV: “Kate has not been taken by aliens to another planet.

“Someone made an error and it became of enormous interest to both her fan and hater base.

“The Princess of Wales likely gave into public pressure and speculation surrounding her health and whereabouts and thought that this would be a quick and easy solution.”

However, Jones also acknowledges that the impact of the scandal should not be understated.

Kate Middleton
Royal expert Stacy Jones says the royals shouldn’t take such a ‘lackadaisical approach’ when it comes to PR. Credit: Alamy

She tells IGV: “Social media allows the royal family to communicate directly with the public, offering a mix of personal authenticity and public expectation.

“But as we are experiencing currently, any perceived manipulation can quickly escalate into controversy.

“It was not well choreographed and when you are as popular as Catherine, you can’t take a lackadaisical approach to your PR executions.”

She adds: “The decision to edit photographs could have been influenced by numerous factors.

“From internal protocols, a social media team member’s editing mistakes, or even the most basic of reasons – she may have edited it herself. Mistakes get made.”

Since then, another picture of Middleton has surfaced, but once again, the internet is not satisfied.

The image shows Middleton, but she’s in shadow and looking away from the camera.

Eagle-eyed fans also noticed that the bricks at the car windows looked remarkably different to those around the edges of the car, leading to further questions about editing.

This series of social media blunders has led to a major online scandal, with #WhereIsKate trending and conspiracy theorists having a field day.

Kate Middleton
#WhereIsKate is now trending on social media. Credit: Alamy

Looking to the future, Schofield has suggested what she thinks the royal family should do to ease the public’s concern.

She tells IGV: “I would auction off the original photo or photos to great causes championed by the Prince and Princess of Wales.

“Elevating charities that are important to them but also releasing the photos to shut everyone up on their terms.

“Not looking like they gave into public or media scrutiny. I think that could be a happy ending.”

Though many members of the public have seen the edited photo as a cause for concern, not everyone has seen it that way.

Kate Middleton
The Princess of Wales is expected to remain absent from public duty until after Easter. Credit: Alamy

Royal expert Angela Levin, an award-winning journalist, biographer and broadcaster, made her feelings very clear during a brief conversation with IGV.

“It’s only a photo,” she tells IGV. “Everyone should calm down.”

The royals have remained adamant that Middleton will be absent from public duty until after Easter, so we can’t expect any real conclusion to the story until then.

But in the meantime, speculation is only likely to increase as proof of Middleton’s whereabouts remains unknown…

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Written by Annie Walton Doyle

Annie Walton Doyle is a content editor at IGV who specialises in trending, lifestyle and entertainment news. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London, with a degree in English Literature. Annie has previously worked with organisations such as The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Harvard University, the Pulitzer Prize and 22 Words.