These are anxious times for the Royal Family and most people of good will wish them well. Some of us may feel that the illnesses and problems that plague royals should remain private, and that’s a totally understandable feeling.
But we live in the age of social media and the Internet, when speculation about every public figure is broadcast on mobile phones and laptops across the planet.
They might expect to control what is said about them. But they can’t stop rumormongers, and if they are clumsy in handling information about themselves, they only make the speculation more sensational and cause more damage.
That is what is happening now with the Royal Family and those who control their ‘PR’. It’s no exaggeration to say that earlier this week, the internet exploded with wild, sometimes disturbing theories about the royals’ health.
The Princess of Wales remained at her home in Windsor recovering from her abdominal surgery at the London Clinic
The main victim was the poor Princess of Wales, who is recovering at her home in Windsor after having undergone abdominal surgery at the London Clinic, where she remained for two long weeks.
The immediate cause of the surge of interest was the comparatively trivial news that, on indecently short notice, Prince William had missed the funeral of his godfather, King Constantine, at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, five minutes away. from his house.
It seemed trivial, at least, until Kensington Palace made a point of saying that his absence was due to a mysterious “personal matter.” Inevitably, this made us all nervous, not least the rumormongers.
Was Kate sicker than we had been told? Was everything going well with her marriage? A whole host of questions came to the public’s mind that never needed to be asked. Not because the public is nosy or lascivious, but because the Palace had fed them half-truths.
Such was the whirlwind of speculation, worry and conspiracy that the Palace felt compelled to issue a lukewarm update on Kate’s health, saying she “continued to do well”.
But that didn’t solve the problem either, because we still don’t know what’s going on.
I fear the only way to stop this kind of frenzy in our ugly social media age is for the Palace to come clean about the royals’ health. And I say this as a royalist who admires both the King and Princess of Wales.
You might ask why don’t we all mind our own business and leave the Royal Family alone? But there are reasons for this that will not go away.
The King, 75, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this month and has since received treatment for the disease.
The first is that all these conjectures and scandals on the Internet feed off each other and destabilize the monarchy that we value so much. While gossip and rumors circulate about it, I can rarely remember the institution – no king, no Princess of Wales and a sudden disappearance of Prince William – looking so vulnerable.
The second reason is that, whether they like it or not, the King and his family are public figures, funded by taxpayers’ money. What happens to them is not private in the sense that the rest of us have private lives.
In other countries, such as France or the United States, the health of the head of state is a public matter and quite detailed bulletins are published.
The people have the right to know about the health of their head of state. But of course, royals may find it difficult to adjust, as things used to be very different.
King George VI, a heavy smoker, was known to be seriously ill in the years after the Second World War, for example. But how sick he was and how advanced his cancer was was hidden from the public until a lung was removed during an operation carried out at Buckingham Palace itself. Then it became clear that, although he was still in his 50s, he was living on borrowed time.
A generation earlier, George V’s doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn, had performed what we might describe as an act of “assisted dying” on the 70-year-old king in 1936, injecting him with fatal doses of morphine and cocaine, when he was Of course the end had arrived.
Then the announcement was made that “the King’s life is moving peacefully toward its end.” They delayed the newsletter until it was too late to appear in the Evening Standard, a newspaper considered too humble to publish such a story. The King’s death must first be announced in The Times.
So it was easy to control what the media knew and what they considered correct to publish.
In deference to the monarchy, the British press did not even mention the rumor circulating on all lips that the new king, Edward VIII, was in love with a married American woman, Wallis Simpson. Only on the eve of her abdication (when he left the throne to marry her) did any news of this story of vital public interest emerge.
We no longer live in that world, but in one of information overload and, even worse, misinformation. A world in which the Royal Family complains about rumors and speculation, but unfortunately encourages them by giving only partial bulletins on health issues.
The King, at least, has been more direct than William and Kate. They told us about his treatment for an enlarged prostate and then informed us that he has cancer.
We are led to believe that this information is part of an unprecedented new openness by the royals about their health. It may well be. But I think we should know more.
Feeding the public with little things was always going to encourage dirty hypotheses. What was needed was a simple and sincere statement: ‘During treatment at the London Clinic, it was discovered that the King was suffering from X cancer. He is undergoing treatment.’ More bulletins will be published when Her Majesty’s health status is known.
The King has already come much of the way to maintaining an unwritten contract with the public, who have the right to know about his well-being.
He has appeared in public during treatment and has expressed his “lifelong admiration” for cancer charities. Surely nothing will stop you, in the next newsletter, from sharing the details of his illness and thanking us for our continued love and good wishes, which are said to have brought him to tears.
Clearly, we can’t expect that approach from William and Kate, who have been much less transparent, perhaps in light of the fact that William is not yet king.
Of course, a delicate balance must be struck. His numerous admirers and sympathizers do not want to interfere in his private sorrows. And they and their children are entitled to our respect.
What William is not entitled to is the kind of private life we take for granted. He is the heir to the throne and taxpayers have the right to know who will be his next Head of State.
We all hope that King Charles recovers quickly from his cancer and reigns over us for a long time. But he is a 75-year-old man who suffers from a serious illness.
At the moment, rumors are circulating about the Prince and Princess of Wales, making us wonder if he and Kate are fit to take over, should this terrible duty be imposed on them.
Our hearts go out to them, but unfortunately, they are not in a position to hide the harsh reality of their health from us, no matter how much they want to.