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Voices: Kate’s apology over THAT photo has only made things worse

The Princess of Wales apologised for photoshopping a family portrait  (Prince of Wales )
The Princess of Wales apologised for photoshopping a family portrait (Prince of Wales )

How was it that the joyous Mother’s Day picture of the Princess of Wales with her three children has turned into the mother of all Photoshop fiascos?

It was designed to kill stone dead the absurd conspiracy theories that have surrounded her absence after serious abdominal surgery in January, for which she was hospitalised for a fortnight and from which she has been recuperating ever since.

The official line from Kensington Palace – that the patient is expected back at work around Easter – had pretty much held since the planned medical intervention was first made public in December. Aside from some lurid speculation on social media and one hazy papped photo of someone in a car with Kate’s mother, there had been nothing to suggest anything untoward was actually going on.

Yes, Prince William missed his godfather’s memorial service at short notice, to attend to “a personal matter” – but that wasn’t necessarily sinister, either. Reassuring noises were made, and the Prince of Wales was soon out and about again.

Well, now look what they’ve done. The picture is the story, and has fuelled yet more conspiracy theories.

Some inexpert photoshopping of the family photograph, apparently undertaken by Kate herself – in a statement on Monday morning, she admitted: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing” – has called the credibility of the future queen’s medical story into question, and undermined faith in the institution.

I have to say, when I first clapped eyes on the image – taken by the Prince of Wales, last week in Windsor – it seemed to me there was something about Kate’s head that looked like it had been plonked onto a big patch of black where her torso should be, but I’m no expert. What is plainly the case, and not disputed, is that some of the pixels, at least, don’t stand up to close scrutiny.

The fact that four international news agencies took the unprecedented decision to “kill” the photo on Sunday evening amid claims of doctoring meant it became subject to wild gossip. Then a government minister weighed in, saying that news photos should be “honest” and “accurate”. The photo has since become a “meme”, and not a helpful one.

The Princess of Wales’s apologetic statement will help get the rumours under control. But Kensington Palace still faces questions about why Kate is not wearing her wedding ring in the picture. Assuming that’s actually her hand.

Does any of this matter? Yes, because the monarchy matters, Kate is the future queen, and because the royal family is of great concern to many people. Like all national institutions, it is damaged by the perception (or reality) that it is not being straight.

Contrast the way that Buckingham Palace dealt with the King’s cancer – much more disclosure about his condition, but not so much as to be prurient and with periodic updates, photographs and video. It’s a huge story, but it’s been handled in a prosaic, balanced, matter-of-fact way. Charles’s PR hasn’t always been successful, to say the least, but in his present role it has been a model of good sense, and he’s carried the public with him.

Down the road at Kensington Palace, they have somehow contrived to turn a relatively prosaic story about a non-life-threatening condition into a huge story about trust and truth. Perhaps, as was once the case, they should leave the official photography to the professionals.

That was always the case when the family used court favourites such as Cecil Beaton, Dorothy Wilding, Yousuf Karsh and the Queen’s own brother-in-law, Antony Armstrong-Jones, and Patrick Lichfield. They at least knew what they were doing, and the snaps were good.

Kensington Palace has learned the hard way that charming amateurism and Adobe Photoshop have their limits.