Kate Middleton ‘battling much more than cancer’

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I think there is a real opportunity right now for someone to write a children’s book about princesses. Not the usual sort, the cotton candy fairytale, singing mice variety where a dishy chap in a billowy white shirt on a nice big horse turns up to whisk some lithe blonde off for a lifetime of lolling on divans and never having to unload the dishwasher, but a book about what that princess life is really like.

In one word, horrible.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from the current wave of finger-pointing and shaming going on after Kate the Princess of Wales revealed that she has cancer, it is that marrying a prince is not something anyone should set their cap at if they don’t have an iron stomach and a titanium backbone.

In fact, it’s even worse than you might imagine, according to Tina Brown, legendary Diana biographer and friend and former Vanity Fair editor who has revealed the full, horrifying extent of what Kate is currently going through.

This is not going to be pretty.

Over the course of the last few weeks, utter Kate madness has, of course, infected social media, a sort of emotional, psychological contagion with the loudest voices veering from indignity, sneering, mockery and paranoia to this week’s exciting new flavours of shame, finger-pointing and a particularly unappetising variety of self-flagellation.

But if it’s been rotten out here, then things sound like they have also been a mess inside the HQ of Kate and her prince-maybe-charming, Prince William the Prince of Wales, per Brown.

Writing for the New York Times this week, the legendary media identity said of the Wales camp, “I am told the turmoil behind the scenes has been intense, resulting in what has felt like a series of baffling press screw-ups.”

That “turmoil” comes down to not just Kate’s diagnosis but the possible ramifications of King Charles’ own health woes too.

In February, when His Majesty announced that he has cancer, the world reeled. When his daughter-in-law came to say exactly the same thing, the world positively lurched sideways and couldn’t get up off the floor for a bit.

For us, the madding, tweeting-crowd, this cancer double-whammy shocked our M & S knickers off; for William and Kate it has meant having to abruptly confront the possibility of a dramatically, profoundly altered reality.

What is shocking and all just academic for you and I is, for the prince and princess, painfully real.

According to Brown, the King’s cancer “has put William and Catherine in frightening proximity to ascending the throne just when they had hoped for a span of years to parent their children out of the public eye. The prospect of it, I am told, is causing them intense anxiety.”

And “intense anxiety,” as all of us armchair medical experts who have spent far too much time on WebMD can confidently attest, is exactly not what a real doctor would be recommending for the princess to be taking on right now.

“Catherine is battling more — much more — than cancer,” Brown writes. “A tidal wave of premature responsibility is crashing in her and William’s direction. Frozen, unready and with Catherine now seriously unwell, the Prince and Princess of Wales await the awesome burden of the crown.”

It defies imagination to think about what the Princess of Wales must be going through right now, the deeply personal, emotional convulsions as the couple face the possibility of a radically altered future bearing down on them.

This was not how it was meant to be. In 2011 whe William and Kate married and the UK’s party sausage roll industry revelled in record sales, the couple’s ascension to the top jobs seemed assuredly to be something decades and decades off, so remote a prospect it could barely be glimpsed on the horizon.

The couple, the world and you would have to think the Waleses themselves assumed, would serve a lengthy apprenticeship, in the same model as Charles, having masses of lovely time to learn ropes, get the hang of things and gradually mentally acclimatise to being King and Queen.

That equation has now been chucked out of a Buckingham Palace top floor window.

As Brown puts it, the Princess of Wales is currently grappling with more than just a truly pernicious disease but to also contend with the extreme mental load of the chance that their destiny could be bearing down on them at high speed.

Let’s get one thing straight. All of this is theoretical. None of this could happen. The King is no doubt getting the best, the brightest and most cutting-edge cancer treatment on Earth. This time next year I’d like to think he will be paragliding the Yorkshire Dales while Queen Camilla refuses to leave her second favourite drinks fridge. Cured, hale and hearty and raring to go, the King will be working his hand-mended socks off, only occasionally breaking for a slim slice of afternoon seed cake.

But in the meantime, it is not only the world that has to get used to the idea that he is not invincible and immortal but his son and daughter-in-law too.

One day they will become King and Queen.

It’s one thing to know in an abstract sense what will happen one day and it’s another entirely to see it, overnight, appear directly in front of you, solid, hard and all-too-real.

What this means is that Kate and William are not just having to confront her having cancer but to bear the sheer psychological weight of this inevitability too.

Charles had more than 50 years as the Prince of Wales to prepare for his accession and even Queen Camilla had 17 years of their marriage to get used to fully grasp and accept what lay ahead for her husband and by implication her too. (It was only in 2022 that the late Queen made it known that she hoped Camilla would be crowned Queen alongside her son.)

It is inconceivable that the princess does not acutely, painfully understand that everything pretty much comes down to and rests on her. As Brown writes, “The future of the monarchy hangs by a thread, and that thread is her.”

The question I keep thinking about is, how much can one woman – even one as outwardly blemish, imperfection and foible-free as Kate – actually take before things snap and break?

It is not as if recent months and years have seen the Waleses skipping through the daisies blithely untroubled by anything more pressing than Waitrose running out of their favourite parmesan or Uncle Andrew popping around to nag to borrow a tenner.

The various wringers through which the royal family and the Waleses have been wrung, including the Duke of Yuck’s downfall, Megxit and Spare have, Brown writes, “put William and Catherine under unmanageable pressure.”

All I can think is, poor, poor, poor Kate. No wonder we spin kids such ridiculous fantasies about what being a princess is like. The truth is sometimes just far too bleak.

Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.