How U.K. Media Is Covering Kate, Princess of Wales Amid Conspiracies

After a week of often hysterical speculation about her well-being, there were suddenly two plausible pieces of evidence that Catherine, Princess of Wales, was on the mend: a photo of her in a car driven by her mother and a confirmation by the British Army that she would attend a military ceremony in June.

But as with almost everything surrounding the health of Prince William’s 42-year-old wife in recent weeks, any sense of certainty quickly melted away.

A palace official said on Tuesday that the army had jumped the gun in announcing Catherine’s participation in Trooping the Color, an annual ritual that celebrates the birthday of the sovereign. And while British newspapers reported the existence of paparazzi shots, purportedly of Catherine, that were posted on social media on Monday, none of them published the images.

At the end of another hothouse news cycle, consumers of royal news were back where they started: in the dark about the princess, who had abdominal surgery in January and has not been seen during her lengthy convalescence.

The only certainty in the saga of Catherine is the appearance of her freewheeling, unfiltered uncle, Gary Goldsmith, on a British reality-TV show, “Celebrity Big Brother,” which aired on Monday evening. At any other time, Mr. Goldsmith’s appearance might have been an embarrassment for Catherine, who has tried to cultivate a dignified, disciplined image as a senior member of the royal family.

In the vacuum of news about her, however, experts say Mr. Goldsmith’s reality-TV antics may provide a welcome distraction for Britain’s tabloid papers. Their editors have struggled to balance their zeal for covering the royals — an almost boundless enthusiasm, in the case of a future queen once known as Kate Middleton — with a recognition that even most public figures in Britain are generally entitled to privacy in matters of health.

“The media is, unusually, lagging behind,” said Sarah Sands, a former senior editor at the BBC and former editor of The Sunday Telegraph. “They are left scratching their heads. Did they love her too much and pile too much pressure on her? Is the new role of the media to provide reassurance?

“Coming to the aid of the tabloids is the friendly pantomime figure of Kate’s wicked uncle, Gary Goldsmith,” Ms. Sands continued. Mr. Goldsmith, she said, “is likely to be the only inside commentary we are going to get for the next few weeks.”

If that’s true, it could spare the papers and broadcasters from having to make decisions like the one they faced on Monday, when the American celebrity gossip site TMZ posted what it claimed were the first images of Catherine since before she was hospitalized. The long-lens photos, which are grainy and show a woman in sunglasses who resembles Catherine, were taken near Windsor Castle, according to the site.

The Daily Mail said the pictures were not published in Britain because Kensington Palace, where William and Catherine have their offices, “appealed for her to be able to recuperate in private.” But The Mail went on to speculate that they were taken on Monday morning shortly after Catherine dropped off her children at school, helped by her mother, Carole Middleton.

Chris Ship, the royal editor of ITV News, referred to the images on social media but said, “We are not running them out of respect for her privacy whilst she recovers from her operation on the time scale we were given.”

Kensington Palace has said Catherine will not go back to her royal duties until after Easter. Last week, caught up in a swirl of conjecture and conspiracy theories after William abruptly pulled out of a function, it reiterated that statement and said it would provide only “significant updates.” The princess, an official said, was still doing well.

On Tuesday, the palace refused to comment on the photos, saying it did not want to give TMZ publicity. British newspapers have treated paparazzi photos gingerly since the death of Princess Diana, William’s mother, in a car crash in Paris in 1997, after a high-speed pursuit by photographers.

“The memory for the British press is still sharp,” said Ms. Sands, who was deputy editor of The Daily Telegraph at the time of Diana’s death. “It was full of dry-mouth remorse. Rules on privacy and duty of care changed profoundly.”

British courts have ruled that the right to privacy extends to members of the royal family, and the Editors’ Code of Practice, under which much of the British press operates, protects all individuals against unjustified intrusion into matters of physical and mental health.

Some critics were less generous about the media’s motives, particularly given that the images are easily accessible to anyone with a few swipes on an iPhone.

“What’s fascinating is how the nonsense on social media about Kate gives the papers a chance to write about something that there’s nothing to write about, while being judgmental about what’s out there on the web,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC.

This is the second time in four months that the British media has declined to publish details about the royal family even after they had circulated on social media. In November, papers did not print the names of Catherine and King Charles III after they were identified, in the Dutch edition of a new book, as family members who had allegedly asked about the skin color of the unborn child of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.

The floodgates broke only after Piers Morgan, a prominent TV host, disclosed the names on his program. Buckingham Palace said at the time it would contemplate legal action, but it did not act.

The mixed messages over Catherine’s attendance at Trooping the Color may end up being a simple case of bureaucratic bungling. The army said on its website that Catherine, in her capacity as colonel of the Irish guards, would review soldiers who are to parade in the ceremony on June 8.

But a Kensington Palace official said it was the palace’s job to confirm the schedule of the princess, and it has not yet done so. It has also not commented on the decision of Mr. Goldsmith, who is Carole Middleton’s younger brother, to join the cast of “Celebrity Big Brother.”

Mr. Goldsmith, 58, a former technology entrepreneur, pleaded guilty in 2017 to assaulting his wife, Julie-Ann Goldsmith.

In a promotional video for the show, a gleeful Mr. Goldsmith said: “Winding people up is probably my favorite hobby. Every part of me is just riddled with mischief and danger.”

Then he added, “I’m an absolute nightmare to live with. There’s a reason why I’ve had four wives.”