News of Princess Kate’s Abdominal Surgery Was a Complete Surprise to Almost All of Her Loved Ones and Colleagues

“There had been no indication that anything was wrong.”

Kate Middleton tersely smiles at an engagement
(Image credit: Getty)

The Princess of Wales’ abdominal surgery on January 16 was certainly a surprise to the world—but it seems it was also a surprise to those within the Firm and the royal family itself. (As far as we know, she remains in hospital at The London Clinic; she was expected to be there for 10 to 14 days, and the two-week marker since her surgery is this upcoming Tuesday.)

Kate’s last public outing before her hospitalization was on Christmas Day, when she—alongside husband Prince William, children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis, and the rest of the royal family—attended church services at St. Mary Magdalene at Sandringham, where the royal family traditionally spends Christmas. People reports that “there was no hint of any impending issue” on Christmas morning, and that “Kate beamed as she greeted well-wishers, exchanging laughs and cheerful banter with the public following a church service.” 

Kate Middleton on Christmas Day 2023

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The outlet continues that “Within their broader circle of family friends, there had been no indication that anything was wrong, and the carefully guarded news about Kate’s situation came as a surprise even to those who work closely with the royal family.” After spending the holiday season at their country home, Anmer Hall (which is on the Sandringham estate), the Wales family of five caught up with family and friends for outings in the Norfolk countryside; around the New Year, they spent time with Kate’s family, People reports, and as they resumed their daily life at their Windsor home, Adelaide Cottage, they celebrated Kate’s 42nd birthday privately on January 9. The next day, George, Charlotte, and Louis returned to school at Lambrook, and William returned to work the day after that, on January 11.

As William got back to work, “it became evident that some expected public engagements for Princess Kate were unconfirmed—and behind the scenes, there were schedule changes and growing concern,” People reports. Five days later, Kate was in surgery.

She is expected to be in hospital until this week, but away from public royal duties until after Easter, which this year falls on March 31. “It is sensible to take the time,” a source close to the royal household told People. ‘That is a great example to the rest of us, as you’re often told to get back to work as soon as possible, which can be damaging.” (Though Kate will not be undertaking public duties until at least April, it is understood that she will be working from bed as she recovers from surgery.) 

Kate Middleton on Christmas Day 2023

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A former patient at The London Clinic said “The physical therapists are amazing, helping you recover and get back on your feet. After abdominal surgery, you need a lot of patience, and it’s a bit scary at first.”

Kate will have ample support in the form of not just William and their nanny, Maria Teresa Borrallo, but in her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, and her siblings, Pippa and James. “Her parents are an enduring factor in the upbringing of their grandchildren,” a Palace source told People. “And they will be a reassuring presence when she goes back to Windsor to recuperate.” Of Kate’s care at home, they said that “She is in great hands and will have lots of care and support at home.”

There was reportedly no indication that anything was amiss with Kate to most of her family, friends, and colleagues, and her surgery, hospitalization, and recovery plans were kept a closely guarded secret, Hello reports. The outlet further reports that not only were her plans for surgery shrouded in secrecy, but now that the surgery is done, the press is not allowed to camp outside of The London Clinic like they did at the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, where Kate gave birth to all three of her children as the expectant media waited outside the hospital’s doors. The media frenzy was called “The Great Kate Wait,” especially with George’s birth, where the press camped out even weeks before he was eventually born on July 22, 2013. “The then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge learnt from this experience, and for the following two births of their children, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, media were only invited down to the hospital once Kate was in labor,” Hello reports. 

Lindo Wing

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now, the media are being turned away to not just protect Kate’s privacy, but the privacy of the other patients at The London Clinic. “So much secrecy has surrounded the Princess’ hospital stay and lengthy recovery,” Hello reports. (Interestingly, King Charles, Kate’s father-in-law, is also at The London Clinic, recovering from a “corrective treatment” for an enlarged prostate that he underwent on Friday.)

“When the royal children were born it was a moment for celebration and there was a controlled arrangement in place for the media to be outside the Lindo Wing to report on it,” said Hello’s royal editor Emily Nash. “This is a different situation to the royal children’s births, and you have to consider the privacy of the other patients coming in and out for treatment, as well as that of the Princess.”

Although the Palace has confirmed that Kate’s health issue was not cancer-related, Page Six reports that the surgery was described as “major.”  

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.