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William contracted COVID-19 in April, Kensington Palace confirmed this week. He self-isolated in his family home in Norfolk, Anmer Hall, and followed Government guidelines but did not go public with his diagnosis despite his alleged breathing difficulties. At the time, his father Prince Charles had only recently recovered from the same disease while Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been hospitalised and spent some time in intensive care after contracting COVID-19.
Reports claim the Duke of Cambridge was “hit pretty hard by the virus” but that he kept it concealed from the public because “there were more important things going on and I didn’t want to worry anyone”.
Having the heir and second-in-line to the throne ill at the same time as the Prime Minister is certainly likely to have put the public even more on edge during the first few months of lockdown.
However, other royal watchers have questioned the Palace’s approach.
Daily Express royal correspondent Richard Palmer tweeted that the cover-up “raises serious questions about whether we can trust anything he [William] or his advisers say”.
While the Firm is known for trying to maintain the royals’ sense of privacy where it can, many feel this has undermined the message of unity and transparency the Royal Family were conveying at the start of the pandemic.
For instance, in a rare rallying message to the public in April, the Queen said, “together we are tackling this disease” and that “if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it”.
Additionally, there are some advantages to allowing the public to know of royal illnesses.
Writing for the BBC history magazine, historian Lucy Worsley explained: “It is counter-intuitive to suggest it, but royal health issues can actually strengthen the monarchy, not least by creating sympathy and affection for the afflicted individual.”
Her article was published in 2013, and was in written reference to King George III’s terrible — and public — decline during the final years of his reign, but can be applied to the modern Royal Family.
She explained that monarchs “suffered many of exactly the same biological and psychological weaknesses as the rest of us”, even though it is often hidden from the public.
When George III was going through a tricky episode, he withdrew from his royal duties, and made the divided Parliament realise how much they actually appreciated his “calming effect on their squabbles”.
Britons admired him for his piety and dedication to his wife Queen Charlotte — but it was his decision to humanely treat two insane assailants who tried to attack him which made his reputation soar.
It’s thought his own experiences with mental illness contributed to his compassion.
The famous monarch was said to have had porphyria for years, until recent research suggested that he may actually have been suffering from bipolar disorder.
Ms Worsley explained: “One of the reasons that the porphyria argument caught on is because it seemed to remove the supposed stigma of mental health issues from the Royal Family.”
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Similarly, the Prince of Wales’ COVID-19 diagnosis is thought to have had an impact on the general public, by forcing the UK to take the pandemic seriously.
Helen Lewis in The Atlantic earlier this year explained that until the heir’s positive test, “coronavirus has been an abstract idea for most Britons” — but Charles’ ill health gave the illness gravity.
She added: “it is ghoulish to contemplate, but having such a high-profile confirmed sufferer of the virus might save lives.”
By extension, William’s illness would have contributed to the public reaction — especially as he is significantly younger than both Charles and the Prime Minister.
In April, the Duke of Cambridge would have been 37, showing that the virus can affect everyone.
Ms Lewis added that knowing people of different age groups had contracted it stopped COVID-19 seeming like it was “someone else’s disease — someone old, someone vulnerable, someone not like me”.
William and his wife Kate Middleton were instead left to front the Royal Family’s response to the lockdown — the Duke is said to have carried out 14 video calls in April alone.
The couple were presented as the strong backbone of the nation while the Queen, who is at high-risk at 94, stayed locked down in Windsor Castle and Charles, 71, recovered from the virus in Balmoral.
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