Princess Catherine thanked us all for something none of us did.

Maybe royals are made of sterner stuff, after all. 

Consider the first spoken words Catherine, Princess of Wales, has delivered publicly in months.

"I want to thank everyone for your messages of support and your understanding while I've been recovering from surgery."

Imagine the control it took to say that, sitting on a garden bench at Kensington Palace, setting records straight.

Because over a fever-dream fortnight of faux concern and full-blown conspiracy, "Kate Middleton" has been shown anything but.

What support? What understanding?

We speculated and we gossiped and we picked over the timeline of her year with the enthusiasm of a true-crime podcast host. We cherry-picked wild theories from all over the world. We analysed the rare glimpses of her face, her body, her hair, her hands. We decided she was dead, sedated, mad, betrayed. We jumped headfirst into our worst instincts and we splashed about in those dark waters for as long as it felt great. And then, when it began not to feel so great, we climbed out and started shouting at the ocean.


If you have been shouting since Saturday about how we should all feel ashamed of ourselves now we know the Princess, a 42-year-old mother of three, has just started a course of chemotherapy, I respectfully ask: Well, what did you think was going to happen?

When we were sharing memes and laughing at American late night show hosts and red-penning inconsistencies in the most pored-over family portrait of all time, what did we actually imagine the truth might be? That Kate really was growing out a fringe, or sun-baking on a Martian beach?

No. The most likely outcome was always this one: That she was ill. 

Too ill to fulfil her side of the bargain we imagine we have with people this famous, this public, this privileged: We gave you the palaces, now you give us everything. Most of all, your insides. Your feelings and thoughts and secrets. The most intrusive of paparazzi lenses couldn't actually give us what we craved, and what the staff at the London Clinic allegedly tried to steal — a look inside the Princess to decide if she was sick enough to dare to disappear.  

She was. 

And now here we are, in the familiar place of remembering that this two-dimensional figurehead is an actual person, suffering.

It's familiar because we've been here before. Prince Harry wrote an entire book about it, outlining the unbearable, systemised, sanity-threatening intrusions that he, and then his mother and his wife, endured as members of the royal family.


It's familiar because, over on what seems like another planet, we've seen scrutiny and gossip and a complete disregard for personal boundaries almost destroy Britney, Miley, Pamela, Amy, Angelina, Jen… 

Individually, there's always a justification. "She" wanted fame. "She" was out of control. "She" enjoyed it. "She" gave too much and then drew a line.

It was another time. 

It's not another time, now. It's this time. A more complicated one.

The people obsessed with conspiracies about Kate, passing them around like juicy lollies, were not the usual "mainstream media" suspects. The much-maligned British tabloids, as hard as it is to believe, were relatively restrained when it came to covering these past unprecedented weeks.

It was us. And when I say 'us', I don't mean me, although I also mean me. I've written about Kate for Mamamia several times these past few weeks. I've written about the rise of conspiracy culture. About Kensington Palace's inept, outdated PR strategies. And about why this singular story obsessed more people in more places than any other I can remember in years.

I stand by that. While there's always a media tension between whether what interests the public is really in the public's interest, there was no question of the newsworthy-ness of an official royal photograph being "killed" by multiple international picture agencies. There's no doubt that the publicly funded royals are deserving of scrutiny, or that they've lied to us plenty of times before. There was no question that we were all lost in some kind of mass cultural trance, worthy of examination.


But when I say "us", I mean everyone who shared and scrolled the TikTok sleuths, tagged each other in memes and gossiped at dinner. 

Anyone who got a quick hit of energy, validation and connection from passing around the latest complex theories to be held up to the light.

And that's almost everyone. Celebrities who abhor media intrusion shared memes and made jokes. News outlets around the world competed with their hot takes. And these people, individually and collectively, are not awful humans. Just humans, distracting ourselves from a complex world with gossip about people who have always been gossiped about. The royals are the original celebrities and they have been whispered about by courtiers and challengers and counsel for centuries. 

Fair game, we think. These people have mountains of money and palace walls to protect them. 

But what we've seen as we've woken from this mass delusion is the face of the person we've been b**ching about for weeks, looking us right in the eye. And her face is full of empathy. And pain. She's not concerned with our petty fictions. She's worried about her children. She wants them to be protected, before her. She wants to prioritise healing and family. Real things, that matter.

With that video, and those generous words thanking us for our non-existent support and understanding, Princess Catherine snapped everyone back to sanity. Reminded us of things we already knew: where there's smoke, there's fire. The simplest explanation is usually the right one. Gossip is an empty connection. Even princesses are people.

And we all wring our hands and vow to do better. Until the next time.

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