Why Haven’t There Been Any Updates on Kate Middleton’s Health?

When Kensington Palace responded recently to questions about Kate Middleton’s absence from public life with a short sentence saying absolutely nothing new, it immediately circulated in news stories worldwide. In the absence of an actual update on her recovery from abdominal surgery, it is perhaps not surprising that this piece of non-information was treated as an update. But in truth, as they made clear, Kensington Palace has held firm to their original stance that they would only say something “when there is significant new information to share.”

It is not surprising that the Princess of Wales’s absence from public life has sparked discussion and—exacerbated by the social media age—much speculation. Her status as a senior working royal with a visible role meant that the Palace was always going to have to be upfront with some kind of explanation for her absence. But, at her request that her “personal medical information remains private,” they have not given any details, beyond the fact that she had abdominal surgery, about what she is facing.

the british royal family attend the christmas morning service
The Wales family on Christmas day 2023.Samir Hussein - Getty Images

The private approach to such things might seem unusual to people in the U.S., who are used to often hearing specific information about the President’s and First Lady’s health, such as when Joe Biden had a colonoscopy or Jill Biden had basal cell carcinomas removed. However, the royal family is not obliged to provide such information, and over the years varying approaches of openness have been taken depending on the circumstances and preferences of the individual.

While the internet may be something of a wild west, when it comes to reporting by credible media organizations in the UK, there are clear guidelines on individual’s right to privacy. For newspapers and magazines, this is specifically protected in the UK’s Editors’ Code of Practice. “Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications,” the code states. In a clause on hospitals, the guide states, “The restrictions on intruding into privacy are particularly relevant to enquiries about individuals in hospitals or similar institutions.”

UK broadcasters abide by Ofcom regulations, which contain a section on privacy guidance. “Any infringement of privacy in the making of a programme should be with the person’s and/or organisation’s consent or be otherwise warranted,” the guide states.

Privacy around her condition is clearly, and understandably, important to Kate and that is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for not providing unnecessary updates. While there is an argument that an update might calm speculation, it is just as likely to increase it. The more information people have, the more information there is to discuss and analyze. As she has made the decision not to be public about her situation, then an update also has the potential to be misunderstood—an image, for example, where she looks well could spark a lack of understanding for her recovery time.

royals attend church service
King Charles and Queen Camilla attend Sunday church services at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, February 18, 2024.Joe Giddens - PA Images - Getty Images

This is different to King Charles in many ways. Firstly, he is Head of State and, while not obliged to provide health information, his constitutional position does make the question more pertinent. Because he has told us he has cancer, we know that when we see pictures of him smiling and waving, looking at cards from the public, or greeting the Prime Minister that does not necessarily mean he is able to fulfill all his duties.

In truth, two months is not such a long time to be out of the public eye; Kate was last seen on Christmas Day and her surgery was on January 16. But in the internet age when we have become used to saturated coverage and a constant stream of activity and images, it perhaps feels longer.

Kensington Palace made it clear from the outset that the Princess is not expected to appear until after Easter. If that changes then it will make sense for the public to be informed. But until then, unless she changes her mind about maintaining her privacy around her condition, as Kensington Palace reiterated this week, do not be expecting updates.

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