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Britain's embattled royals are making an awful situation worse

Camilla, the Queen Consort, King Charles III, Prince William, and Kate Middleton in royal portrait taken on September 18.
Queen Camilla, King Charles III, Prince William, and Kate Middleton in a royal portrait taken in September.Chris Jackson/Getty Images via Instagram
  • The British monarchy is in a crisis period, royal experts have noted.

  • Kate Middleton's absence has sparked speculation and conspiracy theories.

  • Prince Andrew has returned to the public eye, adding to the monarchy's image problem.

It's been more than two months since Kate, the Princess of Wales, was last seen in public, sparking wild conspiracy theories.

But for Britain's royal family, that may be the least of its problems.

Two family members have cancer. One just died. Meanwhile, Prince Andrew is back in the limelight, and Prince Harry's relationship with his brother remains uncertain.

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These are just a handful of challenges the British royals face today. The royal commentator Jack Royston told Business Insider it was "possibly the worst start to the year" the family had experienced in decades.

And both Royston and Kristen Meinzer, a royal expert and podcast host, said things were probably to get worse unless a drastic change was made.

As King Charles III and Kate step back from duties, the monarchy is missing some of its key players. And with no leader in sight, Prince Andrew returned to the fold at a memorial service for Greece's King Constantine on Tuesday, sparking speculation over his future position within the monarchy.

It's a PR nightmare, experts say.

Two months of family tragedies

In January, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, announced she had been diagnosed with skin cancer after previously recovering from breast cancer.

It was promptly followed by news that King Charles had been diagnosed with cancer on February 5 following a hospital procedure for an enlarged prostate in January.

The details of Charles' condition and the type of cancer weren't disclosed.

King Charles and Queen Camilla wave while holding an umbrella.
King Charles and Queen Camilla attending a church service in February.Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace, a spokesperson for the monarch said that he was "positive about his treatment" and that he looked forward to "returning to full public duty as soon as possible."

He was photographed a handful of times in the weeks following, including at an in-person meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Buckingham Palace on February 21. The king told Sunak that the messages of support he'd received had "reduced me to tears."

King Charles III meets with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
King Charles III meets with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Buckingham Palace for their first in-person audience since the King's diagnosis with cancer.Jonathan Brady/Getty Images

"For people who want to rant and rave about Harry and Meghan, this is significantly worse than the Oprah interview and 'Spare,'" Royston said, referencing the title of Prince Harry's 2023 memoir.

"Nothing puts things in perspective more than the word cancer," he added.

Harry flew to the UK to see Charles shortly after the news of his cancer broke, prompting commentators to question whether he would return to the royal fold. Speaking to Good Morning America, Harry said that he was "grateful" he got to see his father and that he could "absolutely" imagine the circumstances around the king's health bringing them closer together.

But even so, Harry's future visits are uncertain. Multiple outlets reported on Thursday that he lost his appeal against the government's decision to downgrade his police protection while in the UK, which he lost when he resigned from royal duties.

There have been other tragedies, too. Most recently, on Tuesday, it was announced that Lady Gabriella Kingston's husband, Thomas Kingston, died at the age of 45. An inquest on Friday heard that his death was caused by a traumatic head wound, and that a gun was found near his body.

Lady Gabriella — second cousin to King Charles — and Thomas Kingston tied the knot at St. George's Chapel in Windsor in 2019.

A palace spokesperson said in a statement that the king and queen had been informed and that they joined "all those who knew him in grieving a much-loved member of the family."

Kate's absence marks a shift in the royal PR strategy

The king's hospital stay in January took place at around the same Kate was being treated for a planned abdominal surgery.

On January 17, Kensington Palace announced that Kate would remain in hospital for between 10 and 14 days after the surgery before continuing her recovery at home. They added that she would unlikely return to public duties before Easter, which falls at the end of March.

Kate Middleton attends Wimbledon in July 2023.
Kate Middleton attends Wimbledon in July 2023.Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images

While Charles showed the public he was doing well after his diagnosis, Kate has taken a different approach. As BI previously reported, she hasn't been seen in public since Christmas Day.

The royal's absence has sparked conspiracy theories and speculation about her whereabouts on social media.

Meinzer told BI it was unusual for Kate to stay out of the public eye for so long, especially as she'd been transparent about her health in the past.

When Kate was pregnant, she was open about her experience with hyperemesis gravidarum — a condition that causes severe sickness — and she took photos for the press outside the hospital after giving birth to all three of her children.

Prince Louis birth
Prince William and Kate Middleton pose for photos after the birth of Prince Louis outside the Lindo Wing.Chris Jackson/ Getty Images

"Charles' camp has been far more transparent than William and Kate's. Nobody is wondering about Charles because they followed the No. 1 rule of PR, which is to get ahead of the story," Meinzer said.

"Charles' statements haven't been 100% transparent, but transparent enough — using words like 'cancer' instead of 'abdominal procedure,'" she said, adding that the vague language around the princess' condition has only heightened speculation.

Royston said the palace's refusal to release a photo of Kate was a shift from its previous strategy.

"The weird thing is, the palace could make it all go away with one single photo of Kate, but they seem to not want to do that," Royston said.

Royston suggested the palace could release a new photo of Kate through one of the charities she supports, or alternatively, something more laid back — a selfie or a photo taken by William — could be released through the couple's social-media channels.

A Kensington Palace spokesperson told BI on Thursday that the princess was "doing well."

"As we have been clear since our initial statement in January, we shall not be providing a running commentary or providing daily updates," they said.

Prince Andrew is back in the limelight

In Kate's absence, a disgraced royal has taken back the limelight.

Prince Andrew, who resigned from royal duties in 2019, and Sarah Ferguson were photographed at a memorial service for the late King Constantine of Greece on Tuesday.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson are photographed with members of the royal family before the Thanksgiving Service for King Constantine.Andrew Matthews/Getty Images

Kate and King Charles were absent from the ceremony. Though William was originally intended to give a reading at the event, he later pulled out because of "personal reasons," The Telegraph reported.

Several publications published photos of Andrew and Sarah Ferguson smiling and walking front and center into the church.

"Prince Andrew leads the Royal reserves," the Daily Mail wrote, alongside photos of the pair walking ahead of other non-senior family members.

"Prince Andrew leads royals," The Independent wrote.

"Why are these two leading the family parade suddenly?" Meinzer said. "It just makes no sense."

The royal commentator Victoria Arbiter previously told BI that while Prince Andrew's public life was over, he would still be able to attend private family events.

But there's no denying the prince's latest appearance seems more significant because it correlated with the king, Kate, and Prince William's absences.

And with the upcoming release of "Scoop," a Netflix film about Andrew's disastrous "Newsnight" interview in 2019, any future appearances he makes with the royals are likely to gain more traction.

While Camilla was in attendance at the event, she was pictured arriving separately. Meinzer said it would've looked better from a PR standpoint if she had been photographed leading the charge instead of Andrew. Royston said William was still regarded as more of a leader than Camilla because of his position in the line of succession.

Meinzer a lack of leadership wasn't a good look, adding that Andrew's appearance and Kate's absence "does not install faith in the monarchy."

"If you look at the number of conspiracy theories out there about Kate, if you look at the complete disgust that the public has with Andrew, the public does not have faith in this institution right now, and they don't find it to be a respectable institution in the slightest," Meinzer said.

"There needs to be a big change, or things are just going to get worse."

Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

Correction: March 1, 2024 — An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the announcement of Thomas Kingston's death. Buckingham Palace announced he had died on Tuesday, and a Friday inquest heard that his death was caused by a traumatic head wound, not that suicide was the cause.

Read the original article on Business Insider