Catherine, Princess of Wales attends the Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church on December 25, 2023 in Sandringham, Norfolk. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

A Right Royal Mystery

Where is Kate Middleton?

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As you’ve probably heard, it’s been a while since Kate, the Princess of Wales, has been seen in public. Almost two months after she underwent “abdominal surgery,” according to Kensington Palace, one of the most photographed women in the world has been totally out of the public eye. And some are now starting to wonder if something is up. Is Kate okay? Is there more to the story than a routine medical procedure? On Sunday, amid all this chatter, a photo of the princess with her three children was posted to William and Kate’s social media accounts. But when photo agencies withdrew the image, saying it was doctored, a move meant to quell speculation sent it into overdrive. Forget the Streisand Effect: in an attempt to get out of the tabloids, Kate Facetuned herself onto the front page. 

An army of online sleuths combed through thousands of pictures of Kate, asking: Does Kate’s face look the same as it did on a Vogue cover because the image was ripped from the magazine shoot, or because she has the same face? Is the fact her kids are wearing the same clothes they were photographed in late last year evidence of foul play—or do they sometimes wear the same sweater more than once? 

Things were so serious that the visual investigators at Bellingcat had to take a break from investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine to weigh in on the matter. Meanwhile, the worrywarts over at The Atlantic declared the speculation around the image as evidence of our new “choose-your-own-reality information dystopia.” Except rampant speculation about the private lives of princes and princesses has been around a lot longer than the internet. Plus, there is an actual mystery here, beyond suspicious stitching on a child’s sweater: What is up with Kate?

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor at The Free Press.