Princess of Wales apologizes for ‘confusion’ over altered Mother’s Day photo

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LONDON — Catherine, Princess of Wales, said Monday that she had been the one who altered an official photo that was retracted by global news agencies over concerns it had been doctored.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” Catherine said in a post on Monday morning. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day,” she wrote in a message on Kensington Palace’s social media account. It was signed, “C,” for Catherine.

The photo in question was released by Kensington Palace Sunday morning, in celebration of Mother’s Day in Britain. Catherine was shown sitting on a chair, surrounded by her three smiling children.

It was the first official photograph of the princess released since her abdominal surgery in January, and it seemed like an attempt to reassure Britons and quell wild rumors and conspiracy theories that have surrounded the princess since she suspended her public appearances.

It did not have that effect.

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Global news agencies — including Reuters, Getty Images, Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press — asked their clients Sunday evening to withdraw the image, with some citing a problem with the alignment of Princess Charlotte’s sleeve and wrist. Others on social media flagged what they said were oddities, such as the positioning of Prince Louis’s hands and the zipper on Catherine’s jacket.

Prince William and Catherine often release photos of their family on major occasions, such as Christmas or their children’s birthdays. Often it is Catherine, a keen photographer, behind the camera. But the palace said William took this photo earlier in the week at their home in Windsor.

The press release accompanying the photo asked that news outlets not alter the image “in any manner or form,” but it did not mention that the image had already been altered.

Media outlets worldwide, including The Washington Post, ran the photo. But on Sunday evening, the Associated Press issued a “kill notification,” an industry term, for anyone using the photo, saying that on “closer inspection it appears that the source has manipulated the image” — running afoul of standard journalistic practice.

The Post has since removed the image from its original story.

Britain’s Press Association (PA), which retracted the picture on its service on Monday morning, conveyed that the palace would not be issuing the original unedited photograph of Catherine and her children.

Her last public appearance was on Christmas Day, when she was photographed attending a church service in Sandringham. Kensington Palace announced in January that she would probably not resume official duties before April and that it would provide updates on her health only when there was “significant new information to share.” The palace also said Catherine was recovering at her home in Windsor.

The palace is typically tight-lipped when it comes to royal health, but the lack of recent photographs or updates nonetheless fueled weeks of speculation about her well-being and whereabouts.

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Dickie Arbiter, a former spokesman for Queen Elizabeth II, assessed that sharing the manipulated photo was an “innocent, naive mistake” by Catherine, whom he credited for having “owned up to it.”

He said he doubted that the palace or Catherine, who is one of Britain’s most popular royals, would take a hit for the blunder. “I don’t think the public are offside at all,” he said.

Royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith said the photo had the potential to “create a rather large credibility problem.”

“What were they thinking?” she said. “Here’s a woman out of the public eye for more than 70 days. There’s mounting anxiety, speculation, conspiracy theories.”

If the intent is to calm people down, Bedell Smith said releasing the original, unedited photo “would go along way to reassuring people.”

She noted that Catherine made headlines for how stunning she looked after giving birth to her children. “Maybe there is a culminated impact on her to have to meet that unrealistic standard. She is becoming middle aged, 42, it would be better for her and rest of us to move along comfortably like Queen Elizabeth did, whom we watched age over time.”

Bedell Smith added: “I love to look at [Queen] Camilla, who looks exactly the age she is.”

Royal biographer Catherine Mayer blamed the royal communications team for steering the family in the wrong direction.

“Royal press management isn’t easy,” Mayer wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “No palace job is. You’re working for people with limited real-world experience & unlimited decision-making power. There is (or should be) a line between royals’ private lives & public role. But this doesn’t explain serial mistakes in royal comms.”

The picture was “unsettling in ways beyond those identified,” she wrote. “Yes, one idea of monarchy is that it should project an idealised vision of the population. Another is that they should reflect it. The glossiness of the image stands at odds with the latter, more superhuman than human.”

She added: “If the royals really want to model important values to the nation, they should start by overhauling their approach to media in favour of transparency & scrupulous honesty. They should stand against disinformation, not contribute to it.”

The British royal family has long been attuned to image projection — Queen Elizabeth II, who used to wear brightly colored outfits for her public appearances, once said that “I have to be seen to be believed.”

These projections have been especially important when the royals have not been making public appearances.

Even though King Charles III has largely been out of the public eye since Buckingham Palace announced he was undergoing treatment for cancer, the royal Instagram account has been buzzing with posts — since his diagnosis, the palace has posted images of the king holding Zoom chats with foreign leaders and greeting ambassadors behind closed doors. In a video montage, he is seen reading “get well” letters. On Sunday, the royal Instagram account posted a decades-old photo of Charles kissing his mother’s hand.

On Monday, the royal family took part in the annual Commonwealth Day ceremony, a major set-piece event in the royal diary. While Prince William and Queen Camilla attended in person, Charles’s address was delivered with a prerecorded video message.

Somasundaram reported from Washington. Jennifer Hassan in London contributed to this report.

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