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Breaking down the PR debacle that is Kate Middleton's Mother's Day photo

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Princess Kate finally reappeared this week after having abdominal surgery - well, sort of. The royal family released a photo of the Princess of Wales and her children on Sunday in honor of Mother's Day in the U.K. But shortly after the picture came out, it went viral because it looked doctored. It prompted a public relations disaster for the palace and made people wonder what's really going on with Princess Kate. Joining us now to discuss this PR debacle is Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes. Hey, Linda.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi.

SCHMITZ: So we have, most of us, seen this picture. There are some inconsistencies with the clothing, the children's hair. Kate apologized to the public a few days ago. She said that she had edited the picture herself. Why was that not enough to quash these rumors that the palace is hiding something?

HOLMES: Well, back in January, the palace had said that Kate had had surgery and would be recovering privately until at least Easter, which is March 31. As far as I know, that's still what's happening. And even though they said not to expect regular updates, the lack of updates or pictures of her led to this spiraling speculation about whether something else was going on and to this idea that she was missing. And that had really revved up by late February. So when this photo was posted, the palace didn't say it was current, and they didn't say it was - you know, look, she's fine. It was just a photo of her and the kids on Mother's Day.

But because people were already speculating so much, especially, I would say, on TikTok, having this sort of clumsily edited photo show up fed this idea that something was afoot. And later, as you said, we see this message marked as being from Kate, saying she personally edited the photos, which I think people just didn't believe. I don't think they thought that she was in there messing with the clone stamp tool or whatever on photos that wind up getting officially released. So in the end, it made it worse.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. So what does this photo scandal say about the royal family's relationship with the press this year? You know, in the past, it seemed like they were better at controlling the narrative.

HOLMES: Yeah, the royal family is pretty famous for being controlling about coverage around, say, Diana or Harry and Meghan. This has looked like kind of a clown show, honestly, and maybe that's because the narrative isn't built by tabloids as much as it once was. It's built in this decentralized way, so you can't go and negotiate with TikTok or Reddit and come to an agreement with them the way you can with a newspaper. And I think the palace miscalculated the risks of just struggling to get control of this speculation and ultimately feeding into it.

SCHMITZ: So Linda, where does the palace go from here?

HOLMES: I think what options they have depend on what the story really is. I think they probably should have stuck to we'll let you know. People still would have speculated, but they might have avoided pouring gas on the fire. And honestly, privacy is hard when being a public figure is sort of your only job. So I don't know anybody will ever have the kind of opacity that the queen had, for example.

SCHMITZ: That's Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes. Thanks, Linda.

HOLMES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.