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Kate apologises over editing family photo as royals under pressure to release undoctored image

The Princess of Wales has been forced to apologise after she admitted editing a Mother’s Day photo at the centre of an escalating royal row.

Six picture agencies, including the UK’s most respected news agency PA Media, took the unprecedented step of withdrawing the family photograph through so-called “kill” notices amid suspicions it had been manipulated.

It prompted Kate – who has been at the centre of conspiracy theories over her health since having abdominal surgery in January to make a rare personal statement on the furore, admitting that she sometimes “experiments with editing” and apologising for any “confusion”.

But, despite coming under pressure to release the original image to repair the PR damage caused by the row, Kensington Palace said it would not be reissuing the unedited photograph.

Kate was said to be very upset over the controversy with friends telling The Independent that she wanted to own the issue as soon as she could and do the right thing.

Her apology came hours before she was seen in public for the first time since the picture was released and only for the second time since her surgery earlier this year.

The picture of the mother with her three children sparked widespread speculation over whether it had been digitally altered when it was shared to mark Mother’s Day (Prince of Wales)
The picture of the mother with her three children sparked widespread speculation over whether it had been digitally altered when it was shared to mark Mother’s Day (Prince of Wales)

She was seen leaving Windsor with her husband, the Prince of Wales, in a car on Monday afternoon. William was on his way to the annual Commonwealth ceremony in Westminster Abbey while Kate is understood to have had a private appointment.

The photograph of Kate and her children – Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – was the first to be issued since the princess underwent surgery at the London Clinic on 16 January. Details of her condition have been kept private and she is not expected to return to official duties until after Easter.

But the picture sparked widespread speculation over whether it had been digitally altered. Among the numerous concerns raised over the picture were a missing part of Princess Charlotte’s sleeve and the misaligned edge of her skirt, as well as the positioning of Kate’s zip and the lack of a wedding ring on her finger.

As concerns mounted, international picture agencies began withdrawing the image, culminating in the UK’s national news agency issuing a kill notice on Monday morning. In a highly unusual move, PA Media said it had released the photo “in good faith” but had been forced to recall it due to the “absence of clarification” from the palace.

Within minutes, Kate posted a statement on social media, personally signed C for Catherine, in which she publicly took the blame for the edited picture.

The Prince of Wales speaks with guests as he attends an annual Commonwealth Day service ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday (POOL/AFP/Getty)
The Prince of Wales speaks with guests as he attends an annual Commonwealth Day service ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday (POOL/AFP/Getty)

She said: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.”

Royal sources insisted the princess made “minor adjustments” and that she and her husband merely wanted to offer an informal picture of the family together for what was a “wonderful” Mother’s Day.

The picture had been released to reassure the public as conspiracy theories over the state of Kate’s health gained ever more traction online in recent weeks.

But the palace faced growing pressure over the debacle – dubbed “Kategate” and even “Sleevegate” – with the controversy branded damaging to the public’s trust of the royal family.

The princess’s confession raises questions over whether – or to what extent – the images have been altered in the past.

William and Kate have an established track record of issuing their own photographs to mark special occasions including their children’s birthdays.

Sky News said an examination of the photo’s metadata revealed it was saved in Adobe Photoshop twice on an Apple Mac on Friday and Saturday and the picture was taken on a Canon camera.

Guests watch a video of King Charles delivering a message during the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday (Henry Nicholls/PA Wire)
Guests watch a video of King Charles delivering a message during the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey in London on Monday (Henry Nicholls/PA Wire)

Public relations and crisis consultant Mark Borkowski called the fiasco a “massive own goal” and said the unedited photograph should be released to regain trust.

He said: “If they’re really going to regain any sort of trust they should release the unedited photo, it can’t be that bad if they just made a few tweaks.

“I find they have risen to the challenge, provided the statement as an explanation – the question is with all the conspiracy theories running around, is whether people believe it and I’m not sure that they will.”

Photo director for Agence France-Presse (AFP) Eric Baradat told The Independent: “It’s clear to any experienced digital image professional that it has been doctored. It’s been done in a very amateur way.”

When the news agencies reached out to the palace over the weekend, he claimed it told them the photo had been retouched, but it would not comment further nor release another image. AFP decided to recall the picture in what Mr Baradat believed marks the first time the agency has pulled an official image from the British royal family.

In its advisory issued to the media on Sunday, AP said: “At closer inspection, it appears that the source has manipulated the image. No replacement photo will be sent.”

Queen Camilla and the Prince of Wales attending the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey (Henry Nicholls/PA Wire)
Queen Camilla and the Prince of Wales attending the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey (Henry Nicholls/PA Wire)

The Associated Press (AP), Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Getty Images are among the international news agencies that withdrew the picture.

The controversy also overshadowed the Commonwealth Day service, one of the key royal events of the year, which Prince William attended at Westminster Abbey on Monday afternoon.

The heir to the throne and the Queen gathered with the royal family in the absence of the King, who is continuing treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer, during what has been a challenging start to 2024 for the Windsors.

However, Charles did deliver his annual address to the family of nations via a video message in which he pledged to continue to serve the Commonwealth “to the best of my ability”. He also expressed his gratitude to those wishing him good health as he said the union of 56 member countries was a “precious source of strength, inspiration, and pride” to him.

Since his cancer diagnosis was announced on 5 February, the monarch has stepped back from public-facing duties but is continuing with behind-the-scenes work on his red boxes of state papers as well as holding some in-person meetings.

Less than three weeks earlier, on 16 January, Buckingham Palace had announced the 75-year-old was to undergo treatment for a benign enlarged prostate in hospital – hours after it delivered the news Kate had undergone her operation at the London Clinic the previous day. Details of the princess’s condition have been kept private, and she is not expected to return to official duties until after Easter.

The Independent has contacted Kensington Palace for comment.