Britain’s royal family was thrown into chaos this week with twin health crises that have sidelined their most recognizable and popular members: King Charles, Kate Middleton and Prince William.
First Kate, the Princess of Wales, was announced to be in the hospital after a mystery abdominal surgery — which Page Six understands is “major.”
She will be sidelined until Easter, with Prince William winding down royal duties to care for her and their three children. A Kensington Palace source told Page Six on Friday that Kate is “doing well.”
The sudden announcement meant two high-profile engagements that would have raised the couple’s international profile were canceled: a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and a trip to British troops stationed overseas.
Then, just 90 minutes later, Buckingham Palace announced that King Charles, 75, would undergo a procedure for an enlarged prostate, a benign condition — but a reminder that monarchs are human.
Queen Camilla, 76, will be the only one of the four most senior royals on public duties for some time.
It was a “Sliding Doors” moment: If the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had remained in the UK, they would now be the public faces of the British royal family, taking up the sidelined trio’s engagements. Indeed, Harry would even be a Counsellor of State, a member of the royal family who can fill in for the monarch. Since the couple’s move to the US, Charles has quietly taken Harry off the list.
One well-placed palace source told Page Six: “A situation like this would have given them a clear runway to dominate the coordinated family schedule.”
Instead, the couple has stayed silent and largely out of sight as the Duke of Sussex’s sister-in-law and father’s health issues became public.
In fact, Page Six is told that Prince Harry and Markle, 42, have not spoken personally to Charles since his 75th birthday on November 14.
Sources say that Harry would have been officially informed — as with all senior family members — of his father’s health situation.
But it is possible he first learned from reading the news on his phone.
By convention, family messages are normally passed between private offices, so the alert could have come from the King’s equerry, Major Johnny Thompson, to Harry’s staff via phone call, WhatsApp message or email.
However, the public announcement was made at 3:25 p.m. UK time, which is 7:25 a.m. in California, and Harry may well have seen news alerts before he received any private message.
Both the palace and a spokesperson for the Sussexes declined to comment.
The presence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the UK for this royal health crisis, in a parallel history, would not just have made Meghan the princess of hearts.
It may also have quelled some of the speculation and questions over Princess Kate’s condition and diagnosis, which remains unknown.
Palace sources have been keen to stress that the surgery is not a result of cancer, but have otherwise stayed silent, and declined to explain why they called the operation “planned” when it led to the cancellation of engagements.
Among those wondering aloud was the “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie, who asked British royal expert Daisy McAndrew, “It makes you wonder, why did you ever schedule [events] if you knew this was planned?”
If the Duchess of Sussex, who was once a hugely popular figure in the UK, could have stepped in at engagements for her sister-in-law, that information vacuum may have been easier to fill.
Instead, her and her husband’s absence has sharpened the judgment of her critics, including Hugo Vickers, royal historian and friend of the royal family.
Vickers claimed to Page Six: “Meghan Markle had no intention of pulling her weight.
“She surely had a little plan from the start, which did not include being a hard working supportive member of the royal family. Harry got on well with his family before he married. Afterwards? I rest my case.”
A new book by noted royal writer Robert Hardman, released last week, detailed that an aide reported Queen Elizabeth having been “as angry as I’d ever seen her” when Harry and Markle called their baby daughter Lilibet — the late monarch’s childhood nickname.
A further report in the Daily Mail said the late queen quipped: “I don’t own the palaces, I don’t own the paintings, the only thing I own is my name. And now they’ve taken that.”
At the time of Lilibet’s birth in June 2021, Sussex sources told Page Six that Harry had informed his grandmother he would like to name his daughter after her.
But a palace source told us this week: “I would believe Robert Hardman,” adding: “While the queen may have been polite, she had aides around her who would have seen her true reaction.”
Charles and Kate’s health crises cast a spotlight on Harry and Meghan’s decision to quit the UK back in 2020, turning to Hollywood careers, partying with A-listers and signing lucrative Netflix and Spotify contracts.
But the Spotify contract is over, they have yet to announce further projects for Netflix after their much-publicized documentary, and the couple have yet to reveal what is next professionally for them in 2024.
Markle still has no big project to launch as the next phase of her career — nearly a year after signing with Hollywood agency WME, run by uber-connected super-agent Ari Emmanuel.
Their only public engagement of the year so far has been in Beverly Hills, with Prince Harry being named Friday night as a “living legend of aviation” for his career in the British Army.
He was a helicopter flight officer who saw action in Afghanistan, and the backward-looking honor has been ridiculed by retired military figures in the UK.
In the next few weeks, we are told, Harry and his wife will visit Canada to launch the 2025 Invictus Games for wounded and disabled service personnel and veterans, which will be held in Vancouver.
The fact that it is Princess Kate whose condition is most serious highlights the shattered bond between the future queen, her brother-in-law and his American wife.
The Sussexes had been keen to go down a road of reconciliation after their bombshell Oprah interview leveled the explosive charge that senior royals had questioned what skin color their future children would be.
But then came the publication of Omid Scobie’s book, “Endgame” in November, which named both Charles and Kate as the “royal racists.”
Neither the Sussexes nor the Palace have spoken out about Scobie’s allegations, and Page Six is told that the Princess of Wales would have still tried to keep the family from a full-scale fracture.
“I know that in years past, Catherine’s taken the high road,” a source told Page Six. “She’s always good about sending birthday cards and Christmas presents, whatever the family fractions may be.”
A palace source told Page Six that the absence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex also means they could not help William with Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte as they navigate their mother’s absence and recovery. The families would have been steps away from each other on the Windsor estate.
“In times like this, close-knit families, neighbors, friends often lean in to help — particularly with young children who can struggle to comprehend a parent being in hospital or away,” the source said.
“In a parallel universe, they’d likely be the first on the doorstep with a casserole and a lending hand for their family.”