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Health announcements about King Charles III and Kate mark a departure for the tight-lipped UK royals

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — The double health announcements from the United Kingdom’s royal family — on Kate, the Princess of Wales’ abdominal surgery and King Charles III ‘s prostate treatment — have put a spotlight on the private lives of senior royals.

Details of royal health are always a tricky issue in the U.K., because members of the monarchy are private individuals but also, in a sense, public property. Charles, 75, is head of state, and Kate, 42, is destined to be queen when her husband Prince William succeeds his father on the throne.

The brief media statements on the health scares were so unusual that they dominated Thursday’s newspaper front pages, with headlines calling them “royal health bombshells.”

The disclosure of Charles’ and Kate’s health details was seen by some royal observers as a sign that the monarchy is adapting to modern communications after centuries of staying tight-lipped about health matters.


Royal officials announced Wednesday that Kate had undergone “planned” abdominal surgery and was expected to remain in The London Clinic, a private hospital, for 10 to 14 days. She isn’t expected to resume public duties until April.

The princess’ office at Kensington Palace didn’t offer further details, but said that her condition wasn’t cancerous. Though she has generally experienced good health and is seen as fit and sporty, Kate was hospitalized during her pregnancies because of severe morning sickness.

William also has postponed some official duties so that he can devote time to his wife and their three children. He visited his wife on Thursday, and British media reported that the Princess of Wales was “doing well.”

Soon after the announcement of Kate’s hospitalization, Buckingham Palace said that Charles will undergo a “corrective procedure” for an enlarged prostate next week. The palace said the king’s condition is benign. Queen Camilla said Thursday that Charles was “fine” and “looking forward to getting back to work.”


When U.K. monarchs had real power, news of illness was withheld for fear it might weaken their authority. The habit of secrecy lingered after royals became constitutional figureheads.

The British public wasn’t told that Charles’ grandfather, King George VI, had lung cancer before his death in February 1952 at the age of 56, and some historians have claimed that the king himself wasn’t told he was terminally ill. The public death announcement said only that the king had “passed peacefully away in his sleep.”

His father, King George V, died in 1936 after suffering from heart and lung disease. A half-century later, diary extracts were published revealing that the king’s physician had injected the terminally ill monarch with morphine and cocaine to speed his death — partly so it could be announced in the morning newspapers “rather than the less appropriate evening journals.”


The U.K. and international media have been focused on the health of Britain’s senior royals in recent years as the late Queen Elizabeth II faded from public view during the last months of her 70-year reign.

Even then, few specific details were released about the late monarch’s condition. The public was told only that the queen was suffering from “mobility issues.” The cause of her death in September 2022 at the age of 96 was listed on the death certificate simply as “old age.”

Wednesday’s announcements gave more details than the public would have expected in the past.

Some royal experts said that while the latest statement on Kate was coy and shrouded in some secrecy, the one on Charles showed that the monarch was keen to try a new and more open kind of communication.

The publicity was seen as a decision by Charles to help boost awareness of prostate health, and encourage other men to have their prostates checked.

“I think it symbolizes the kind of campaigning king that Charles is — he wants to put this issue on the agenda by being quite open and candid,” Ed Owens, a royal historian and author, told The Associated Press. “We know that King Charles wants to talk about issues of personal significance — and there’s nothing more significant or personal to him than his health.”

Releasing the news about both royals on the same day was also about news management, Owens added. While Kate’s condition sounded more serious, the king’s can be seen as a “positive news story to complement a more complicated one in the case of Catherine’s health,” he said.

“It means that we haven’t got the story rolling on about what exactly (Kate’s) been suffering from. Rather, we are instead talking about King Charles III and him wanting to set a good example to other men his age,” Owens said.


One headline dubbed the release of Charles’ health details the “King’s public health message.” It’s worked: Prostate Cancer UK, a charity that promotes public awareness of prostate health, says there has been a surge of interest in its work thanks to the royal announcements.

“We have been receiving lots of calls from men and women that are concerned about them and their loved ones, wanting to talk about their prostate problems and signs and symptoms,” said Sophie Smith, a senior specialist nurse at the charity.

An enlarged prostate is common in men over age 50. The condition affects how one urinates, and isn’t usually a serious health threat. It’s not cancer and doesn’t lead to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

“It’s about getting that conversation started,” Smith added. “We know that men often don’t talk about it, they don’t sit with their mates and say, ‘I’ve getting problems going to the toilet.’ It’s something quite personal, a bit taboo.”


While Charles’s condition wasn’t worrying, the announcements that the monarch, Kate and William would all be out of action in one way or another in the coming days did lead to larger questions about what happens to matters of state in more serious cases.

This is especially of interest because Charles presides over a much more “slimmed-down” monarchy than his predecessors, with just four royals under 65 years old: William, Kate, Charles’s younger brother Prince Edward and his wife Sophie.

When monarchs can’t undertake their duties on a temporary basis, “Counsellors of State,” who include senior royals like Queen Camilla and Prince Harry, can stand in and deputize if needed.

“It points to a fundamental question — how does the king get the monarchy ready for the middle of the 21st century with this smaller family in tow?” Owens said. “I think it points to the fact that he has to reduce the amount of engagements, the amount of work that is being undertaken by this family.”

Article Topic Follows: AP-National

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