Mystery surrounded the detail of Prince William’s diagnosis with coronavirus Monday, as royal officials pulled down the shutters and refused to comment on the extraordinary revelation that the second-in-line to the throne was diagnosed with the virus at the beginning of the pandemic, but did not make it public.
William’s office at Kensington Palace flatly refused to comment to The Daily Beast on a series of questions sent via email.
After confirming the Sun’s initial report to the BBC, the palace went into its well-worn “no comment” mode on Monday, declining even to answer basic questions such as when Prince William was diagnosed with the virus, what treatment he had, whether other senior royals were informed, whether William isolated from his own family at all during his illness, and whether they had contracted the virus. (Sources at Kensington Palace strongly suggested to The Daily Beast that Kate Middleton and the couple’s three children had not contracted the virus.)
In the absence of any official confirmation from the palace, observers and social media sleuths have been left trying to figure out the timeline and course of his infection from his zoom appearances.
On April 8, William and Kate were together as they carried out their first royal engagement via video call to school children whose parents were frontline workers.
From April 9, William took a seven-day break from any public video messages.
Although the Sun, which broke the story of William’s infection, did not provide an exact date for when he was diagnosed, it said that William caught the virus “days after” his father, Prince Charles, got it. The media were told of Charles’ diagnosis on April 7.
However, by April 23, having made several solo video appearances in the meantime, William was pictured with his family clapping for NHS carers.
They were standing outside, which would have mitigated the risk of any transmission if William was still contagious, but it still seems hard to explain his proximity to his family on April 23 if he caught the virus, as the Sun suggests, just two weeks previously.
His casual attitude seems particularly surprising as the Sun suggested that William got a bad case of the virus, quoting a source as saying, “At one stage he was struggling to breathe, so obviously everyone around him was pretty panicked.”
Confusion also surrounds exactly how the news leaked out. The Sun says that William apparently mentioned his infection in an off the cuff remark at “an engagement.”
Again, details of what engagement, or who he spoke to, are opaque. The Sun reported that he explained away his decision to conceal his infection by saying, “There were important things going on and I didn’t want to worry anyone.”
However, William and Kate are also well known for jealously guarding their privacy and for considering some things “private” and off-limits to the media that royals in the past have had no problem revealing.
The author and royal biographer Penny Junor, who has chronicled the lives of all the senior royals (and even their dogs) told The Daily Beast, “It’s obviously very unusual for the royals to keep an illness like this private. When William was hit over the head with a golf club or when Charles fell off his horse, we knew about it because it was deemed to be in the public interest for us to know these things about heirs to the throne.
“I suspect this is William—who jealousy guards his privacy and likes to do thing his own way and likes being control—feeling this was a private matter, a family matter. William will one day be king, that time will come, but at the moment I think he should be allowed to live as normal a life as possible.”
However, other informed and influential commentators expressed other opinions. Richard Palmer, royal correspondent of the Daily Express, said on Twitter, “If the future King contracts a potentially fatal virus that the entire world is worried about during a lockdown and he and those around him cover it up, that raises serious questions about whether we can trust anything he or his advisers say.”
The royal writer Christopher Andersen, author of the New York Times bestseller Diana’s Boys, told The Daily Beast, “It really defies imagination that the powers-that-be at Buckingham Palace would allow William to keep his COVID-19 diagnosis from the British people at a time when figures like Prince Charles and Boris Johnson were very public about coping with the virus.”
Andersen said the “secrecy” risked fueling “all sorts of fantasies and conspiracy theories,” such as that the queen had also been infected.
“Had they been smart, palace operatives would have made William’s diagnosis public, which would have further emphasized the fact that this virus is no respecter of class or position,” Andersen said.
William may think his health is nobody’s business but his own. But as a key figure in a hereditary monarchy, he can’t be entirely surprised if others beg to differ.