The 173 days Kate was away left a huge hole in the nation’s hearts: NATASHA LIVINGSTONE on the shock felt inside and outside Palace walls during the Princess of Wales’s cancer battle

Kate Middleton


Wearing Princess Diana’s earrings and an Alexander McQueen royal blue coat, Kate’s megawatt smile, as she held her children’s hands and greeted Sandringham crowds on Christmas Day, betrayed not a hint that anything was wrong.


Kate Middleton

Bolstered by the joyful success of her star-studded carol service days earlier at Westminster Abbey, she looked set to have a bumper year ahead, with talk of a glamorous trip to Italy.

But as the whole world now knows, that patina of good health and happiness was illusory.

Kate’s attendance at St Mary Magdalene Church in Norfolk was to be her last formal public appearance for six months.

Her absence – a very long 173 days until yesterday’s Trooping the Colour – has left a massive hole in the heart of the nation.

As ever, it’s often only when we miss someone that we truly realise how much we treasure them.

After December 25, there was not a whisper from the Princess for 23 days. Perhaps that was not surprising. January is a quiet month in the royal calendar. But then a heart-juddering announcement, out of the blue, on an icy Wednesday afternoon changed everything.

The Princess, Kensington Palace announced, had undergone ‘planned abdominal surgery’ the previous day, January 16 – exactly a week after her 42nd birthday.

The procedure had been successful, and her condition was thought to be non-cancerous, but aides said she would remain in hospital for up to 14 days.

Ninety minutes later, Buckingham Palace announced more bombshell news: King Charles would be treated at the same London hospital for an enlarged prostate. Suddenly, the core of the monarchy shifted from palaces to the polished wards of the London Clinic. Royal engagements were replaced with bedside visits, ceremonial robes swapped for medical gowns.

After 12 nights, the King and the Princess were both discharged on January 29. While Charles waved at well-wishers as he exited the front door with Camilla, Kate slipped out discreetly to be driven home to Windsor.

And so began her period of ‘recuperation’, with aides making it clear that her return to public duties would not be until after Easter and would depend on medical advice.

Amid this helter-skelter of royal health concerns, Buckingham Palace made another dramatic announcement on February 5: Charles had been diagnosed with cancer.

Suddenly the slimmed-down monarchy was looking rather threadbare, thrusting William – among others – further into the spotlight. Throughout February, the Prince juggled caring for his wife and three young children with his royal duties.

Unbeknown to the public, it was towards the end of this month that Kate started a course of ‘preventative chemotherapy’, with ‘post-operative tests’ having detected cancer. She remained out of the public eye.

While the British media respected her privacy, a photo was published by the US gossip website TMZ on March 4. It showed the Princess wearing sunglasses in the passenger seat of an Audi driven by her mother, Carole Middleton, near Windsor Castle. Inevitably, ill-informed online gossip erupted, with the hashtag #whereiskatemiddleton trending.

As the unseemly chatter continued, the official message about Kate’s condition was muddied when, on March 5, the Ministry of Defence was forced to backtrack on claims that she would attend the practice parade for Trooping the Colour in June.

Readers will need little reminding of what happened on Mother’s Day the following Sunday. In an apparent effort to reassure the public and squash vile internet rumours, the Palace released a photo of Kate beaming with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. It was said to have been taken by William a few days earlier at their home in Windsor.

Within minutes of it being made public, several seeming anomalies were spotted. Why were the hands blurred? Wasn’t there something strange about a jacket zip?

The Associated Press news agency issued a ‘kill notice’, saying the image had been manipulated – a decision followed by three other leading agencies.

In response, an unprecedented mea culpa was shared on Kensington Palace’s social media platforms. Kate apologised for confusion, saying: ‘Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing.’