‘Manipulated’ Kate photo sparks controversy as Kensington Palace stay silent

Kensington Palace is facing growing pressure over a “manipulated” official photograph of the Princess of Wales, with the controversy branded “damaging” to the public’s trust of the royal family.

The family portrait of Kate and her children, taken by the Prince of Wales was the first to be issued since the princess’s abdominal surgery and was released by the Palace to mark Mother’s Day.

But it was withdrawn with a “Kill” notice by international picture agencies hours later – and UK’s PA news agency on Monday – because of suspicions it had been digitally altered.

Concerns were raised over a missing part of Princess Charlotte’s sleeve and the misaligned edge of her skirt, with other speculation including the positioning of Kate’s zip.

The picture was released to reassure the public amid escalating conspiracy theories online over the state of Kate’s health in recent weeks, but the controversy – dubbed “Kategate” and “Sleevegate” – has been labelled an “extraordinary” turn of events.

Princess of Wales Mother’s Day message
A picture kill of the disputed photo (PA)

Graham Smith, of the anti-monarchy group Republic, said: “If the palace can’t offer a simple, innocent explanation then ‘Kategate’ is going to cause the monarchy serious damage.”

“The manipulation of an image that the palace says was taken by William is extraordinary.

“If true it is a deliberate attempt to deceive the public.”

He added: “This kind of dystopian behaviour you might expect from Soviet Russia, not modern Britain.

“The monarchy has always sought to manipulate and manage its image, but if they have tried to fake a photograph to silence online conspiracy theories, that is disgraceful.”

Kensington Palace has declined to comment so far, but the controversy is set to overshadow the Commonwealth Day service, one of the key royal events of the year.

Heir to the throne William and the Queen will gather with the royal family in Westminster Abbey on Monday in the absence of the King, who is continuing treatment for cancer during what has been a challenging start to 2024 for the Windsors.

Meanwhile, Kate’s uncle Gary Goldsmith defended the Waleses and claimed they would not have been responsible for altering the image.

The Celebrity Big Brother evictee said: “Obviously the family wouldn’t be the ones to do any touch-ups, so if that’s gone through some filter before it’s gone out to the broader world, but they wouldn’t be doing photoshopping themselves.”

He told Good Morning Britain: “The smiles on faces said it all for me, I thought it was beautiful.”

Mr Goldsmith added: “And this whole ‘sleevegate’ thing, just leave it alone.”

Royal photographer Ian Lloyd told BBC Radio 4 Today Programme that the situation was “very odd”.

“I’ve never seen this before where they criticize a photograph and try to withdraw it because obviously there’s some sort of inaccuracies and somebody at Kensington Palace is not terribly good at Photoshop,” he added.

The picture shows Kate sitting in a chair with her arms around Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, who are on either side of her, with Prince George standing behind, as all four smile at the camera.

In the social media post, Kate thanked the public “for your kind wishes and continued support over the last two months”.

Royal commentator Peter Hunt said: “This is damaging for the royals.

“They knew there would be intense interest in any picture they released of Kate.

“Their challenge is that people will now question whether they can be trusted and believed when they next issue a health update.”

Princess of Wales 42nd birthday
The princess is not expected back on official royal duties until after Easter (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The photo of the princess is the first released since she was admitted to the London Clinic for what the Palace said was a planned operation on January 16.

Details of the princess’s condition have not been disclosed but Kensington Palace said it was not cancer-related and that Kate wished her personal medical information to remain private.

The 42-year-old future queen was last pictured in public during a Christmas Day walk in Sandringham, Norfolk.

Kate is not expected to return to official duties until after Easter, and William, 41, temporarily stepped back from his royal role to juggle caring for her and their children as she recovered.

The PA news agency said it would be withdrawing the image from its picture service.

A spokesperson for the UK’s national news agency said: “Like other news agencies, PA Media issued the handout image provided by Kensington Palace of the Princess of Wales and her children in good faith yesterday.

“We became aware of concerns about the image and we carried a report about it last night, and made clear that we were seeking urgent clarification about the image from Kensington Palace.

“In the absence of that clarification, we are killing the image from our picture service.”