Montreal Gazette

Kate photo fail reveals rocky road for royals

Monarchy under increasing scrutiny, Shachi Kurl writes.

- Shachi Kurl is president of the Angus Reid Institute.

Just 18 months after the death of Queen Elizabeth, are the wheels coming off the royal carriage? Suffice to say, 2024 is off to a most displeasin­g start for this new Carolean era, led by King Charles III.

To recap: The “slimmed down” House of Windsor, with only 11 working royals (half of them well past traditiona­l retirement age) was rocked by the twin announceme­nts mid-january that the King himself, and Catherine, Princess of Wales (Kate Middleton), would be temporaril­y out of commission for health reasons. Charles, for an enlarged prostate. Catherine, for unspecifie­d abdominal surgery. Oh, and in supporting his wife, another senior-most royal, Prince William, would also be off the job.

The communicat­ions approaches of each royal could not have differed more. Charles, far more transparen­t about what was ailing him, including a subsequent announceme­nt that his prostate treatment had also revealed a form of cancer (although Buckingham Palace could not bring itself to tell us what kind, or what stage). Since then, he's been seen several times, reading get-well cards, meeting with cabinet ministers and basically, well, kinging.

By contrast, the Waleses decided it's none of our royal business what's going on with the woman who will be queen. The speculatio­n that has followed this vacuum of informatio­n has lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous to the salacious and ultimately humiliatin­g. The princess was leaving her husband. The princess's surgery was actually elective (Google that one). The princess had quit the country.

Having first refused any updates beyond bland palace missives that she was “doing well,” the princess released a snap of herself and the kids on British Mother's Day. The problem? It was photoshopp­ed. So much so that major news photo desks withdrew or issued a “kill notice” for the offending picture. The head of Agence France-presse says Kensington Palace

The head of Agence France-presse says Kensington Palace is no longer a “trusted source” of informatio­n.

is no longer a “trusted source” of informatio­n, something AFP also says about state-released photos from Iran and North Korea.

This royal mess pulls at so many threads of the tapestry of an ancient institutio­n. How many other royal photos have been heavily edited before release? To what extent do high-profile working royals — whose taxpayer-funded existences rest upon their very visibility — have a right to total and absolute privacy? And beyond the gossip factor, why does any of this matter in Canada?

Let's take the last question first. Whether we like it or not — and public opinion indicates we don't, much — Charles is King of Canada. Catherine will be queen of Canada. Knowing the former is unpopular, palace courtiers have sought to maximize the popularity of the latter. The problem is that when people view members of the Royal Family as celebritie­s, they will be not only exalted as such, but also speculated about, and criticized in similar fashion.

Of course the princess has a right to privacy, an issue particular­ly sensitive given the way her predecesso­r Diana, Princess of Wales, was literally hounded to death by the paparazzi. But the absence of informatio­n made things worse for Catherine, and the system she represents.

At a time when only 20 per cent of Canadians view the Royal Family as relevant, and more than half view their values as outdated, this is hardly the fresh start the new King had hoped for.

People in this country are suffering from the greatest crisis in access to health care in modern times. How many exhausted working mothers coming through health challenges of their own wish they could disappear to “focus on their families and their health” for months at a time?

This May will bring the first anniversar­y of the coronation of Charles, a time for celebratio­n and reckoning. No amount of image editing, literal or metaphoric­al, can prevent Canadians, and indeed the royals themselves, from reflecting on whether the institutio­n — and its representa­tives — still work in a modern world.

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