Alexander Larman

Charles, Kate and the changing attitude to royal illness

(l-r) Kate Middleton, Prince William, King Charles and Queen Camilla (Credit: Getty images)

It was a detail that most novelists or screenwriters would have rejected as being too much. Shortly after yesterday’s announcement that the Princess of Wales will be hospitalised for up to a fortnight after abdominal surgery at the London Clinic, a second proclamation was made. We learnt that King Charles is to attend hospital next week for treatment of an enlarged prostate.

One day, two senior royals, two health conditions. Yet what makes the events newsworthy beyond mere gossip and speculation are the differences – and similarities – in how the stories have made it into the public domain.

Most well-wishers will be grateful for the relative candour with which their conditions have been revealed

Traditionally, the Royal Family’s health issues have been publicised, when they have been at all, with a mixture of euphemism, opacity and downright falsehood. When George VI, a lifelong heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer, not only were his subjects not informed about it, but the King himself was not told the truth about the seriousness of his condition, allowing him to remain in ignorance until he died of a separate cause. This sense of family health being a private matter lasted throughout the reign of his daughter Elizabeth II: Princess Margaret’s declining health was barely mentioned in public in the last years of her life. Even the late Queen’s final illness was handled in a secretive fashion that meant, on the day she died, well-informed journalists knew the news before some of her family did.

In the case of the Princess of Wales and the King, there seems to be no immediate cause for concern. Yet it’s also a tale of two press releases. The initial statement put out about Catherine’s health from Kensington Palace was both unexpected and vague, causing widespread confusion and alarm amongst the millions of well-wishers that the princess has both in Britain and overseas.

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