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Kate Middleton Frenzy Is the 'Curse of Being a Modern Royal,' Former Palace Aide Says (Exclusive)

How the Mother's Day photo crisis burst the floodgates for information on the Princess of Wales

<p>Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty</p> Kate Middleton at the Remembrance Sunday service on November 14, 2021

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

Kate Middleton at the Remembrance Sunday service on November 14, 2021

Kate Middleton's Mother's Day photo crisis is a microcosm of the modern demand for information about the royal family.

"There was no malintent. But it unleashed up a pent-up feeling that people wanted information — unfortunately, that’s the curse of being a modern royal, a former longtime palace aide exclusively tells PEOPLE. "It was a complex reaction."

The Princess of Wales’ absence from the public eye following abdominal surgery in January hit a fever pitch with the release of a family photo for Mothering Sunday in the U.K. on March 10. After multiple global photo agencies pulled the picture of Princess Kate with her kids — Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis — due to suspicion of manipulation, the royal mom shared an apology.

"Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. 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," Kate, 42, wrote on social media, signing the personal note with a "C" for Catherine.

The rumor mill continued to churn, and it immediately became clear that Princess Kate and Prince William were at the center of a storm unlike any they’d faced before.

<p>The Prince and Princess of Wales/Instagram</p> Kate Middleton with her three children, Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

The Prince and Princess of Wales/Instagram

Kate Middleton with her three children, Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Related: Why Kate Middleton Wanted to Deliver Cancer News Alone Without Prince William by Her Side (Exclusive)

Princess Kate isn't the first member of the British royal family to face intense scrutiny from the public. Meghan Markle recently said the social media "bullying and abuse" that she experienced peaked during her pregnancies with son Prince Archie, 4, and daughter Princess Lilibet, 2.

"You just think about that, and to really wrap your head around why people would be so hateful. It’s not catty, it’s cruel," the Duchess of Sussex, 42, said during a panel at SXSW earlier this month.

Prince Harry has also lamented the media's coverage of the royal family, saying in the Netflix show Harry & Meghan, "There's leaking, but there's also planting of stories. So, if the comms team wants to be able to remove a negative story about their principle, they will trade and give you something about someone else's principle. So the offices end up working against each other."

The Duke of Sussex, 39, added that after a 2020 story in The Times reporting that the rift between the brothers was caused by Prince William's "bullying," he realized "it's never gonna stop."

"Every rumor, every negative thing, every lie, everything that I knew wasn't true and that the palace knew wasn't true and internally they knew wasn't true, that was just being allowed to fester," Meghan said.

"So there was no other option at this point," Harry added. "I said, 'We need to get out of here.' "

Dan Kitwood/Getty Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in March 2020
Dan Kitwood/Getty Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in March 2020

After weeks of online speculation around the Princess of Wales’ health, she released a personal video message on March 22 to announce that she is undergoing "preventative chemotherapy" after tests following abdominal surgery "found cancer had been present." Kate described the diagnosis as a "shock" and asked for privacy for her young family as she completed treatment.

The update sharply contrasted the palace’s succinct statement on Feb. 5 announcing King Charles has cancer.

"This was the day that the royal family came crashing down to earth, and you realize they are just human beings," royal historian Amanda Foreman tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story.

Related: Kate Middleton Reveals Cancer Diagnosis: Full Recap

The circle of knowledge around Princess Kate’s diagnosis was said to be "very tight," and her husband and children will continue to rally around her as she focuses on her health.

This weekend, the Prince and Princess of Wales' family will shift tradition by opting out of the royals' traditional Easter church outing and instead spend the weekend privately at home. Prince William isn’t expected to return to work until after Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5, are back in the classroom later in April.

<p>Samir Hussein/WireImage</p> Kate Middleton and Prince William visit SportsAid at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre to mark World Mental Health Day on October 12, 2023.

Samir Hussein/WireImage

Kate Middleton and Prince William visit SportsAid at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre to mark World Mental Health Day on October 12, 2023.

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"He is a very reliable, strong person. She doesn’t feel isolated in this because of William, who is right beside her," a longtime family friend tells PEOPLE of the bond between William and Kate.

"This is about supporting her and her feeling supported. It is a joint effort. She doesn’t feel isolated at all," the insider says. "The nuclear family that they have created so well is an immense support not only to him but to Catherine too."

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