How the lads caught royal fever

#KateGate has become the biggest crossover event since Taylor at the Super Bowl

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A paparazzi photo from earlier this week that purports to show Kate leaving the palace

On Tuesday’s episode of ESPN Radio 710’s “The Travis and Sliwa Show,” sandwiched between discussions of Chuck Taylor sneakers making a comeback and the Kobe Bryant statue with a typo, The Princess of Wales entered the chat

“The—what are we calling it? Not disappearance. That’s too strong,” one host said as they got into a discussion of her whereabouts. “The absence!” another interjected. And the first host confirmed: “The absence of Kate Middleton. That she has not been seen in public for going on two and half months now.”

As their female producer provided the broad strokes of the situation, one of the male hosts knew enough already to be able to say, “There’s other smoke. There’s other layers.” He then referred to the fact that William had only been seen visiting his wife in the hospital once

Similarly, Spencer Hall, whose college football podcast Shutdown Fullcast did a full #KateGate segment this week, tweeted this on Tuesday:

A week ago, this probably wouldn’t have made much sense to his nearly 200k followers or to the listeners of his podcast, which he co-hosts with Ryan Nanni, Jason Kirk, and Holly Anderson. But this week, fans didn’t skip a beat. One replied to Hall’s tweet: “This is the year. Kate Middleton has improved so much under this new offense. She’s focused. She’s having fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s a dark horse for the Heisman.”

And that’s because the British Royal Family, with their sloppy and frankly unhinged response to questions about Princess Kate’s wellbeing, has finally done what was once considered impossible: They’ve made guys care about the inner-workings of their bizarre, uncanny, shadowy world.

A TikTok user offers a theory on what Kate’s up to

For those of you who’ve somehow ducked this blockbuster story, here’s the very abridged version: Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales and wife to heir to the throne Prince William, was last photographed in public Christmas Day. In early January, Kensington Palace—where Kate, Will and their three children live—announced Kate would be having abdominal surgery, would spend two weeks recovering in the hospital, and then after recovering at home, would resume public-facing royal duties at Easter. However, there were no photos released by the palace for more than two months, leading royal watchers to wonder if she was actually gravely ill, or possibly even dead. And that’s when the photo was released: It showed Kate seated outside draped on all sides by her kids. 

But the photo only made things worse. Even an untrained eye could catch obvious photoshops. Despite a half-assed social media apology supposedly from Kate herself saying that she’d been the one to edit the photo, the damage was done. Major news organizations retracted the photo, and suddenly the story went from niche intrigue to mainstream PR catastrophe. Suddenly husbands and boyfriends were asking their wives and girlfriends for the latest scoop, and it became the hottest topic in both soccer mom and soccer dad group chats. 

“Really the point where I became interested was when the doctored photo went out, because I'm not interested in the royal family, but I am interested in rich people thinking they can get out of a jam.” Ash McGonigal, a 43-year-old husband, father, musician and filmmaker from Lawrence, Kansas, told me. “For me, it's the fact that it's literal palace intrigue that suggests a behind-the-scenes farce.”

It was similarly the utter hubris of it all that attracted the attention of the Ed Balls group chat. Made up of old friends Kyle, Mikey, Asher, Richard and Peter, the chat—coincidentally named after a UK Politician whose 2011 tweet is the stuff of internet legends—has been together since the early days of Covid lockdown. 

They’re in their early-to-late 30s and based in the Washington, DC Metro area. Four are heterosexual married dads, one is gay, one is British, and all of them work in political communications. They’re also all completely enthralled in how poorly Kensington Palace has managed this whole affair, and kindly let me join their group chat Thursday morning to witness their royal banter.

So how did Kate first get on their radar? Richard said that Mikey, the resident Brit, dropped this meme Sunday:

But Mikey shared proof that Peter was really the one to kick it off:

The Windsors have been a main topic of conversation for the guys of the Ed Balls chat in the past week, straying from their typical banter about sports, meat, and politics.

“I hadn’t intended on getting into this specific drama, but TikTok had other plans for me,” Asher admitted. He was instrumental in getting his straight guy friends up to speed on the conspiracies swirling around online. “I think what made this one different is 1) It’s funny because it’s not here 2) It’s shockingly bad comms/crisis control that is fueling it day by day which makes it funnier 3) The stakes are low so it’s easy 4) Importantly, it’s hit a point on the internet where all of our corners of interest have noticed it.”

When I asked for those corners of interest, Mikey answered, “Pop culture/political news/media industry gossip.” Kyle and Peter both said they listen to UK politics podcasts, and Richard admitted to reading Prince Harry’s memoir: Coupled with Asher’s mastery of TikTok and Mikey’s Britishness, this group wasn’t exactly completely alien to royal dynamics. 

“I think that whatever surgery Princess Kate had on her torso resulted in an ostomy bag, which is both unseemly and private— neither of which she seems keen to be in public,” Kyle said, echoing an opinion shared by many Twitter denizens. Asher mentioned an absurd theory that Kate is going to be on “The Masked Singer.”

I tried to mostly observe, but at one point I asked the group if there was any part of them that wondered, well, what if there’s something seriously wrong with her? And does that make the memes feel weird?

Henry, naturally, was a wry reference to the late war criminal Henry Kissinger.

Even after chatting with the guys, I still felt like I needed expert confirmation of the greatest crossover event since Taylor at the Super Bowl. So I reached out to journalist Ellie Hall, who covered the royal family for a decade at BuzzFeed and continues to as a freelancer

“It's been fascinating for me to watch it sort of go from the toxic hellhole that is royal internet to complete mainstream consciousness,” Hall told me via phone Thursday. “Like, people I haven't heard from in years texting me—dudes, too—being like ‘Ellie, what's going on with Kate Middleton?’”

One of Hall’s theories is that the collective cultural memory of Princess Diana is still so strong, and Kate’s situation is bringing back the memories of Diana’s troubling life and death. 

“Now you have another Princess of Wales who's missing, who might be in danger. ‘Is there something happening to her?’ I think that was one of the things that sort of subliminally clicked interest in this for some people because like, ‘oh wait, this happened before, right?’” she said.

Another big factor, Hall said, was the death of Queen Elizabeth and the coronation of King Charles. “We're in a new time. There are new rules going on right now.” 

And that’s when a little lightbulb went off in my head: What if men are more dialed into the monarchy than ever because there’s a King now? Could the masculine shift at Buckingham Palace have subconsciously made it more appealing to them?

“With the queen's death, we've now reached a place where not only is there a king—the next two monarchs will be kings,” Hall said, referring to Prince William, who is next in line, and his eldest son, George. “The people who are born now, if the monarchy survives, are only gonna have kings. And most people have only known Queen Elizabeth II. So yeah, maybe!”

And for some of the guys who’ve jumped into a royal scandal for the first time, they’ve still managed to stay somewhat grounded. 

“My theory is boring,” Eric, a 31-year-old project manager in Seattle, told me. “Just that they’re getting divorced and she doesn’t care anymore, which is fair. The palace has a long history of being pretty awful to women members of the family and how they’re treated (Based on my watching The Crown and seeing some Meghan and Harry headlines), so maybe she’s just done playing the part.”

But maybe this very straightforward explanation offered to me by David, a Brit in his mid-20’s, is really all there is to it: “To offer my theory on the wider question of why men are suddenly interested, maybe it's the tendency to form strong opinions from incomplete information and then defend them obsessively.”

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