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Royal insider says Princess Kate photo scandal shows "wheels are coming off" Kensington Palace PR

Royal family image controversy
Manipulated royal photo draws global scrutiny 05:16

London — Three days after an image of Catherine, the Princess of Wales, and her children was dropped by international photo agencies over photo manipulation, one veteran royal watcher told CBS News on Tuesday that Kensington Palace just keeps "digging themselves deeper into this mess, frankly, that they've created."

In January, it was announced that Kate, as the princess is commonly known, would be having a planned abdominal surgery and taking time to heal privately until Easter on March 31. After she wasn't seen in public for some time, speculation began to grow online about her whereabouts and well-being.

When the family photo of Kate and her three kids was published on her and her husband's social media pages on Sunday, the date of U.K. Mother's Day, it was immediately scrutinized, and people quickly noticed some clear signs that it had been altered.

It appeared the image had been edited in a number of places, with one of Kate's hands unusually blurred and a zipper, a skirt and some tiles appearing misaligned. On Monday morning, Kate issued a brief apology for causing confusion and admitted to editing the image.

"The palace did always say, 'We're not going to give you any health updates on [Kate's] condition. She's going to have this operation, and she'll be back,'" CBS News contributor Tina Brown, author of the book "The Palace Papers," said Tuesday of the messaging from the palace. "She is indeed [entitled to privacy] and should have it. The problem is that when you released the picture, it is a health update. The picture is a health update saying, 'Look at me, look at us, I'm perfectly fine.' So, of course the world descends on that picture to dissect it."

Brown speculated that releasing the original unaltered image, which media outlets have requested and many online have called for, but Kensington Palace has declined to do, would most likely be impossible.

"I'm deeply skeptical that there was an 'original'" Brown said on "CBS Mornings." "I think it's a jigsaw of different pictures."

Brown said a short public appearance by Kate — even just a brief one via Zoom — would help calm public scrutiny.

"At the end of her life, Queen Elizabeth II, she had bone cancer. And in the last eight months of her life, she was on Zoom. She managed to come out onto that balcony and hold onto that stick. People didn't realize that she was actually wheelchair bound in the last six months of her life. The public never saw that, but that was what it was. So why they can't simply have Kate on a sort of, 50-second Zoom, saying, 'I'm here, I'm fine.' Bam. That's the end of it. The kind of hiding that they're doing, it seems excessive to me," Brown said. "I think all she needs to do is wave from a car window. That's really all she needs to do. And smile. And it's puzzling that that doesn't happen."

CBS News reached out to Buckingham Palace for confirmation of Queen's Elizabeth II's condition prior to her death in September 2022 and was told "any such details of her majesty Queen Elizabeth's health or condition were not confirmed or guided in any way." The palace has never said she had bone cancer or used a wheelchair, though it did say she had "mobility issues." Queen Elizabeth's death certificate says she died of "old age." A 2022 biography of Queen Elizabeth by Gyles Brandreth, reportedly a close friend of the late Queen's husband, Prince Phillip, said he had heard she had myeloma.

Brown said Kensington Palace was going through a staffing transition, and that could be the reason for some of the issues.

"It's possible that this was a transitional bad staffing situation, where no one is really properly paying attention, but clearly the public is going to look at a hand with no wedding ring and say, 'Where is it?'" Brown said. "I think that the wheels are coming off in terms of the sort of press situation there at the palace."

Brown added that, in today's world, a public relations problem cannot be handled by simply retreating from the public eye.

"This old idea, really, that you can completely disappear, it just doesn't work. It didn't work in [Princess] Diana's day," Brown said. "I do think [Kate] clearly feels ill and depleted, and she wants this time. But I also think, you know, there's been so much strain and stress on her. She's been trying to say, 'Can I just recover quietly and in peace?' just like Diana tried. And they won't let you do it."

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