Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Leave Kate Middleton alone

The photo of the Princess of Wales and her family that sparked the row (Credit: Instagram)

Well done everyone for ruining Mother’s Day for the Princess of Wales. I hope you’re proud of yourselves. A young-ish mum posts a lovely photo of herself surrounded by her beaming kids and instead of saying ‘Ahh’ you pore over it like lunatic sleuths for signs of villainous photoshopping. End result: mum issues an apology. For doing something sweet. On Mother’s Day. You all need to get off the internet.

The obsession with that pic of Catherine and her three children has become unhinged. It’s still on the front pages of the papers. ‘PICTURE OF CHAOS’, screams the Mirror. Oh behave. There’s war in Europe and the Middle East, an energy crisis, a lame-duck government waddling to defeat and people waiting five days in A&E to see a nurse, and you’re still yapping about a princess slightly misaligning her daughter’s sleeve while editing a family photo? 

The obsession with that pic is unhinged

Kategate is nuts. It has a whiff of decadence, too. I can’t be the only person wondering what it says about our country that so many people have oodles of time to scrutinise a pic like jumped-up Columbos. Do people work? ‘This photo raises even more questions about Kate’s health and whereabouts!’, the Kate truthers cry. No it doesn’t. Your obsession with it raises questions about your sanity, though.

Hypocrisy is at play. I bet you every one of the hacks writing breathless reports about Kate’s scandalous doctoring of a photo have on occasion filtered themselves into oblivion for profile pics on social media. Everyone does. Colour added to pallid faces, crow’s feet trimmed, blemishes erased. I thought we all knew that pretty much every photo we see online – whether of celebrity or civilian – has been touched up in some way?

The way people are banging on about the princess’s photoshopping – which caused tiny glitches, imperceptible to us normal folk who don’t tend to whip out the magnifying glass every time a mum posts a photo online – you’d think she was engaged in Stalinist levels of deception. Photo agencies have even ‘killed’ the photo now. That’s overkill, isn’t it? It’s a fundamentally true image, despite its microscopic bugs, not a sinister attempt to hoodwink the public.

That’s the thing, though: in our conspiratorial age, nothing is innocent. Nothing is an honest error. Rather, everything must always point to some vast act of duplicity, to a dark, hidden agenda, to an ulterior motive that we must devote ourselves like little David Ickes to uncovering. And so it was that the princess’s pretty Mother’s Day pic got swept up in the feverish speculation over where she’s been and what she’s up to these past few months.

Catherine had an operation in January, you see. The reason for her surgery has not been revealed. All we’ve been told is that she will be out of action until some time after Easter. And it is no exaggeration to say that this has driven vast numbers of people over the cliff edge of sanity. It has provoked an orgy of restless conjecture. All over the internet there are folk in the grip of some kind of delirium as they invent ever-more potty theories about what’s really up with Kate.

Newspapers react to the Princess of Wales’ altered mother’s day photo (Credit: Getty images)

Maybe she’s in a coma. Maybe she’s dead. Maybe she’s divorced William. Maybe she’s done a runner from royalty entirely. That there is not one sliver of proof for any of these wild claims matters not a jot to the truthers. They’re too far down the rabbit hole of Kate hysteria. And many will never re-emerge. Even when she returns to public life they’ll carry on. Brace yourselves for maniacal analyses of every future pic of the princess as nutters wonder: ‘Is that REALLY her?’

This is where Kategate crosses the line from annoying to ominous. The Kate obsession speaks to our society’s sick, covetous lust to know every detail about famous people’s lives. Some people really cannot believe that a well-known person has had surgery and we haven’t been furnished with every detail. And ideally some before and after surgery pics too. And a Hello! spread on ‘My battle with [whatever it is]’. And an uplifting memoir with grisly insights into Kate’s illness followed by the emotional pay-off of her journey to recovery.

That’s what we have come to expect in our strange, nosey times. We crave the emotional titillation of peering into people’s private lives, seeing their every foible, bearing witness to their every trouble, shedding an ersatz tear over their every ailment. That this isn’t normal – and that Kate’s desire for post-surgery privacy is normal – seems to have passed people by. It really is testament to our unhealthy expectation of 24/7 access to the lives of the famous that people have literally gone insane because a princess is quietly convalescing for a few months.

Back off, you weirdos. Get a life and let Kate live hers.