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By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

March 22, 2024 | 7 min read

The Princess of Wales released a deeply moving video message Friday afternoon about her health, ending weeks-long speculation. The development has drawn attention to the Royal Family’s relatively hands-off approach to communication around the crisis.

After weeks of frenzied speculation and widespread conspiracy theories that have gripped the internet, the Princess of Wales announced in a heartfelt video message today that she’s been diagnosed with cancer.

In her message, filmed in Windsor by BBC studios, Kate Middleton explained that medical professionals detected her cancer during a major abdominal surgery that she underwent in January at the London Clinic (an operation that was publicized after the fact by the Palace). She said she is in the early stages of “preventative” chemotherapy treatment.

The news arrives amid another Royal health scare: it was revealed last month that King Charles, 75, was also diagnosed with cancer after undergoing treatment for an enlarged prostate.

A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace told news outlets today that the King is “so proud” of the Princess “for her courage” in sharing news of her diagnosis.

In the weeks leading up to today’s announcement, conspiracies about the Princess’ whereabouts and health spread like wildfire online, with major media outlets and social media users positing everything from a Brazilian butt lift, or BBL, to scandalous extramarital escapades.

Then, when a photo shared by the Princess of her and her children for Mother’s Day was met with a kill notice from leading photo agencies over evidence that the image had been digitally manipulated, speculation reached new heights.

All the while, the Palace became the subject of intense criticism for its failure to put out a more explicit statement or share undoctored images of Kate to quell growing public concern.

The Princess said in her message today that the Royals’ radio silence was due in part to the fact that the family simply needed time to process the shocking news in private. “William and I have been doing everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family," said the 42 year-old Royal. “As you can imagine, this has taken time.”

Nonetheless, publicity experts say that there’s a lesson to be learned from the Palace’s approach to its public communications about Kate’s circumstances.

“The Palace’s PR team handled her surgery and subsequent disappearance poorly, by not saying enough to quell the conspiracies and far-reaching speculation that resulted in the spreading of ugly rumors,” says Dini von Mueffling, who runs an independent PR firm in New York and helps organizations navigate publicity crises.

von Mueffling says that while it’s “understandable and right” for Kate and her family to be granted privacy during this time, ultimately “more forthright communication would have gone a long way to prevent nasty gossip.”

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Other PR pros, however, argue that standard publicity strategies need to be put on the back burner in such circumstances.

“What The Princess of Wales and the Royal Family were facing was not a PR problem, it was a human problem – and one far too many of our own families face today,” says Kara Schmiemann, senior director of crisis communications at PR firm Red Banyan. “While controlling the narrative, and getting out in front of the story to prevent widespread misinformation and speculation is important, ultimately, Catherine deserved respect, privacy and time to navigate and process such a deeply personal diagnosis and share it with her family before she shared it with the world.”

The sentiment is echoed by other comms experts, including Dr Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville. Freberg tells The Drum: “We need more empathy in the world. If we do not know the situation, we should pause any comment until we do. I hope we learn to think before we post or jump to conclusions.”

Nonetheless, Freberg acknowledges, like von Mueffling, that the Royal Family could have reigned in some of the wilder conspiracies with a more proactive communications strategy.

“The narrative was getting away from the Royal Family and Kensington Palace. Uncertainty spreads like wildfire with people jumping to conclusions – wrong or right – and brands and individuals [undergoing] a crisis need to take proactive actions to address these points. Owning this narrative and providing information in a timely and orderly manner is key.”

But ultimately, Freberg and others laud the Princess for her grace and rationality in sharing the news in the way she did today.

“Her statement was calm, collected and brought forth a clear reason for her absence from public light,” she says. “It came directly from her, which I felt was the right decision. Not only did she provide context for why she was absent, but also added another element for everyone to consider: empathy not just for her situation, but for the news this will bring to her family as well as those who are also battling cancer.”

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