Weddings are good for the celebrity media business. But steadily happy marriages are not. This might help explain the sudden interest in both the British and American press in a vague, unsubstantiated, but oddly persistent rumor of trouble in the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
At first, this seemed like a story about a cooling friendship, which the British tabloids were covering closely for reasons that were not instantly apparent to casual royal watchers. The saga began when Kate and William started spending more time at their 10-bedroom Georgian manor in rural Norfolk last year, becoming part of a country-posh set referred to as the “turnip toffs.” Kate and her Norfolk neighbor, a woman named Rose Hanbury, are around the same age, both have young children, and both also have long hair in nearly indistinguishable brunette hues. Rose is married to the seventh Marquess of Cholmondeley (pronounced, for God knows what reason, “Chumley”), who is 23 years her senior; her grandmother was a bridesmaid at the queen’s wedding. Kate is married to the future king of England. The couples were natural inhabitants of the same social circle.
The story of Kate and Rose’s apparent feud broke in the Sun, a British tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, which reported on March 22 that Kate told her husband that Rose needed to be “phased out” as a friend for an unspecified reason. This was not enough to make the story truly take off because: Who cares? It looked like nothing more than a tiff between two toffs.
OR WAS IT??? Two days later, a columnist in the Daily Mail, another British tabloid, rebutted the Sun at oddly extravagant length. Longtime royal reporter Richard Kay opened his March 24 column with multiple paragraphs of general praise of Prince William: He’s content, he is popular, he is respected, he is happy, “he carries none of the emotional baggage that plagued the life of his father.” This was a strange lede, as no one had really said otherwise. Kay went on to quote several anonymous sources insisting that the couples weren’t even that close to begin with, but anyway, they are still as friendly as ever. When the couples first heard the rumors, Kay reported, they laughed! They laughed so hard! Later, both families then considered legal action to combat the rumors, but ultimately decided not to sue because none of the reports have included any details, which are nonetheless very, very upsetting to the family for some reason.
Suddenly the story about nothing looked quite juicy. Why would William and Kate, who are the subjects of hundreds of speculative media reports a year, consider suing over a vague rumor about a cooling friendship with an obscure neighbor? Much more damaging stories about a supposed feud between Kate and her sister-in-law, Meghan Markle, have circulated for months, and no one, as far as I know, had threatened to file suit. A dishy British reporter named Giles Coren tweeted (and then deleted) what had started to seem like the only possible explanation: “Everyone knows about the affair, darling”—between Rose and William, that is.
That was enough for some in the American press to finally turn subtext into text. Radar reported last week that Kate was jealous of Rose, a former model, because she believes William is “crushing on” her. The American tabloid In Touch put the story on its cover this week and finally came out with it: WILLIAM CHEATS ON KATE—With Her Friend! (Meanwhile, Slate contributor Nicole Cliffe offered a wildly speculative and wildly entertaining Twitter thread on the subject, musing that perhaps the rumored feud between Kate and Meghan was really a feud between Harry and William over the latter’s cruelty toward his own wife and children.)
Not all American tabloids have followed suit. Us Weekly’s website has no mention of the scandal on its active page of reporting on the royal family; as I write, the page has 13 mentions of Meghan Markle, 12 of Prince Harry, one mention of William, and zero of Kate. People magazine, which also has a designated page for royal news, has not mentioned the affair rumor either. That page has 68 mentions of Meghan and only eight of Kate. For these more respectable celebrity magazines, the biggest royal story of the moment is Harry and Meghan’s official new Instagram account, which racked up 3.9 million followers in two days. Other outlets have written about the affair coverage, recognizing both the irresistibility of the rumor and the lack of hard evidence for it.
In other words, the story hasn’t broken as an actual story quite yet. But some tabloid watchers, including the blog Lainey Gossip, point out that In Touch’s piece could give cover to British outlets who have been waiting for an excuse to dive in (and are subject to stricter libel laws than the American press). The 21st century has been an abnormally sunny era for the British royal family, at least in terms of the public image of their personal lives. Charles married Camilla, William married Kate, Harry married Meghan. It’s been all romance and babies for years now. But this spell of domestic bliss followed decades of tabloid-fueled sagas of marital misery, tawdry infidelities, and divorce. If there’s any substance to rumors of drama between Will and Kate, we’ll surely be reading about it soon.