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Voices: Kate is living a nightmare. If there was ever a time to end the monarchy, it’s now

Have you heard the latest conspiracy theories about Princess Kate? Of course, you have. But in case you’re still feeling lost, a refresher: back in January, Kate underwent what the palace described as a planned abdominal surgery with an extensive recovery period, which would require her to be off public duties until after Easter.

On Mother’s Day (if you’re a US reader, don’t panic: the UK and the US celebrate Mother’s Day on different dates), the palace released a photo of Kate with her three children. This would have been a big nothingburger, if not for the fact that the image appeared to have been digitally altered, which led news agencies like AP and Reuters to issue a “kill” notice and take it down.

The controversial photo that was supposed to prove Kate was alive and well but which, it turned out, had been Photoshopped (Prince of Wales)
The controversial photo that was supposed to prove Kate was alive and well but which, it turned out, had been Photoshopped (Prince of Wales)

Flamboyant speculation ensued about Kate and her whereabouts. In an apparent bid to calm everyone down, the Twitter/X account for Kate and her husband William shared a statement, the tone of which can only be described as “what happens when you get abducted and your captor poorly updates your Facebook status to make it look like you’re still alive”.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” the statement reads. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day.” It’s signed “C”, as in “Catherine”, as in Kate.

To say that statement missed the mark is an understatement of epic proportions. Speculation doubled. Tripled. Quadrupled. It became a giant snowball of speculation rolling down the hill to eat us all.

 (Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu via Getty Images)
(Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu via Getty Images)

It’s clear that the palace has been less than transparent about what’s going on with Kate. Whether or not you think we’re entitled to know is another problem entirely—and precisely the sort of unsolvable issue that emerges when dealing with an institution like the British monarchy.

The deal is terrible for everyone involved, from the get-go. You either believe that the royals are bankrolled by public money and therefore that the public is entitled to every detail of their life—that they cannot functionally have any private life at all. Perhaps fair in theory, but unmanageable in practice. Or, you believe that the royals are entitled to the same amount of privacy as any regular citizen whose luxurious lifestyle is not funded by British taxpayers’ money—which doesn’t entirely work out either. The royal family’s entire stated purpose has to do with public work, and with maintaining an image.

In this particular case, Kate is likely a person experiencing normal-person problems—but she’s doing so in the context of an institution whose incompetence has proven so vast that people cannot wrap their brains around it. It’s seemingly easier to believe any of the rumors that have emerged around Kate’s whereabouts than to believe that an institution that supposedly runs on PR can, in fact, be that bad at PR.

The monarchy doesn’t work for the people—it never has, of course; that’s literally not what monarchy is designed for. But it has become painfully clear that it doesn’t work for the royals, either. You don’t have to take Harry and Meghan’s word for it—though I don’t see why you wouldn’t.

Just consider that whatever Kate’s current situation is, the institution which is supposed to ensure her wellbeing has instead flubbed its way into an embarrassing nightmare of international scale. Then, zoom out for a bit and consider what being a royal entails: being committed from birth to a life you don’t necessarily want, to a kind of work you very well might have no affinity for, all while being a public figure without any chance of returning to anonymity.

Sure, the royals are set financially, and they can rest easy knowing that their material needs are more than covered for the rest of their lives. That’s an immense privilege—that, again, is the point of a monarchy. But what about other needs? What about the right to live a private life if one decides to do so? What about a chance to shape the outcomes of one’s life? Being born into a royal family comes with restrictions we wouldn’t find acceptable in most other contexts. The institution is clearly not adapting to the modern age, either. (See: “Like many amateur photographers…”) It’s time for it to fade away.

But what of the tourism? What of the economy? The idea that the royal family is a net positive for the UK’s economy has been debunked multiple times, and—to quote The Independent’s then-economics editor Ben Chu in 2018—“we should treat even estimates of economic activity linked to the royals with a large dash of skepticism.” As Chu pointed out at the time: the royals do enjoy significant financial advantages; big royal events like weddings and coronations can displace economic activity instead of creating it; and nothing says that tourists will stop visiting the UK’s historic institutions without reigning royals. Former palaces in countries that used to have a royal family are visited just as often by tourists, and tourists to the UK have never so far ended up having an audience with a reigning monarch.

What I do know is this: if an institution can’t be trusted to speak publicly about photo-editing software without triggering a scandal, then it shouldn’t be trusted with millions of pounds in public funds—nor should it be granted considerable institutional power. If there was ever a time to let the monarchy go, it’s now.