Getting to the Bottom of the Kate Middleton “November Photo” Theory

Was the edited Mother’s Day picture actually taken last fall? I tried to find out.

Falling down the rabbit hole comparing the Baby Bank visit (left) and Mother’s Day photo (right). Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: The Prince and Princess of Wales/Youtube; @princeandprincessofwales/Instagram
Falling down the rabbit hole comparing the Baby Bank visit (left) and Mother’s Day photo (right). Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: The Prince and Princess of Wales/Youtube; @princeandprincessofwales/Instagram
Falling down the rabbit hole comparing the Baby Bank visit (left) and Mother’s Day photo (right). Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: The Prince and Princess of Wales/Youtube; @princeandprincessofwales/Instagram

By now, you’re probably aware of the controversy surrounding the photo of Catherine, Princess of Wales (a.k.a. Kate Middleton), and her children that was released by Kensington Palace to mark Mother’s Day in the U.K. Finally, after two months of conspiracy theories and rumors about Kate’s health following the royal family’s January 17 announcement that she had undergone “planned abdominal surgery,” the world was given not just a family photo allegedly taken by Prince William but a real statement from the princess thanking the public for their “kind wishes and continued support.”

The snap of Kate, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis was supposed to clear up all the drama and reassure everyone that everything is fine in the House of Windsor.

It did exactly the opposite.

One by one on Sunday night, the world’s major newswire agencies began issuing instructions to remove the image from circulation, saying in turn that the photo had been manipulated to a level beyond their editorial standards. On Monday, as news organizations began to break down the picture’s many Photoshop abnormalities, Kensington Palace released a mea culpa throwing Kate under the bus. So far, the palace has refused to release the original picture despite vocal requests from the global media.

There may be a good reason for that.

A viral TikTok uploaded on Sunday night lays out a compelling case that the photo — which the palace said William took earlier this week at the family’s home in Windsor — was actually snapped last year in November or early December.


I have a strong suspicion that this “new” photo of Kate Middleton and her children was taken in November 2023 baded on the outfits. There is ample evidence of bad Photoshop throughout this photo and it is my personal opinion that it is because it is old and they try to change the outfits so that it didn’t look like a match. This is pure speculation and opinion based on my own research. #katemiddleton #whereiskate #whereiskatemiddleton #princessofwales #kensingtonpalace #britishroyals #british #popculture #popculturenews

♬ original sound - Allyn Aston

In the TikTok video, singer and podcaster Allyn Aston posits that the picture of Kate and her children was captured on the day the four visited a Baby Bank (a type of charitable organization that distributes secondhand children’s clothes, equipment, and accessories to those in need) to donate items and put together Christmas gift packages. The official Kensington Palace YouTube account uploaded a video showing the visit on December 11, 2023, and the press was told at the time that the visit took place “a few weeks” before the video was released on social media.

Aston, 37, is a Georgia resident who neither follows the royals nor considers herself a fan. “If I am fully transparent, I was not paying much attention to them until maybe about a month ago, when people started questioning where Princess Catherine was,” she said via email. Aston said she started noticing the Photoshop errors when the image was posted on Kensington Palace’s social-media accounts, but she wasn’t planning on contributing to the discussion until the wire agencies started putting out the kill notices.

“That’s when I realized it was potentially even more serious than some bad Photoshop fails,” she said, “and I decided if it really was fake, there was a good chance there were remnants of the photos it came from or evidence of the time period, so I went looking.”

In the grand tradition of TikTok sleuths, Aston searched for documentation and stumbled upon the network of hyperspecific fashion blogs that track Kate’s outfits (as well as those of her children). It didn’t take long for her to find the Baby Bank event. Although she initially disregarded it because the Princess of Wales wore a white sweater that day, Aston “kept coming back to it because the silhouette felt so familiar.”

“I thought it might be a coincidence until I saw the picture of Princess Charlotte’s red ruffle-neck sweater, and then I thought, Now hang on. That’s the same exact color and neckline in the ‘new’ photo.” She examined the video frame by frame and noticed even more similarities. The clothes “all seemed pretty strikingly similar aside from the colors of some of the pieces,” she said.

As I read Aston’s email, pausing several times to pull up specific images from the official Kensington Palace YouTube video of the Baby Bank visit, I thought, I can’t believe that I, a credentialed royal reporter, am poring over some random TikTok. But pretty soon, I couldn’t help but think Aston’s observations are … pretty compelling? It’s not as if the palace hasn’t allegedly lied to reporters before. News that William had contracted COVID-19 in April 2020 was hidden from the media until November of that year, and royal correspondents alleged that the Palace explicitly told them he was not ill when they asked at the time.

And this isn’t the first instance of eagle-eyed members of the public spotting signs of Photoshopping in official royal images given to the press, which are known as “handouts.” Louis appeared to be missing a finger (and possibly possessing a third leg) in the Waleses’ 2023 Christmas card, and many thought Baby Charlotte was Photoshopped into the family’s 2015 one. William and Kate have also released pictures taken on one day across a period of months countless times before. As one of many examples, the family’s 2022 Christmas card, last year’s Mother’s Day photo, and the image released for the couple’s anniversary in April 2023 were clearly all taken during the same photo shoot. The tenth-wedding-anniversary video released in April 2021 was clearly filmed the day their 2020 Christmas card photo was taken. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

So what was so wrong with the Mother’s Day image that the world’s news agencies agreed that publishing it would be a violation of journalistic standards? What had been done to it? What was it hiding?

As I painstakingly went through Aston’s TikToks, scouring royal fashion blogs (such as UFO No More, Dress Like a Duchess, Kate Middleton Style, and Royal Fashion Police) and wire photo archives, I could feel myself falling down one of the stranger royal rabbit holes of my ten-plus years on this beat. How strange? Hours later, I found myself examining children’s teeth so closely that orthodontists would be proud.

Point One: Kate

The cream-colored Reiss sweater Kate wore for the Baby Bank visit has the same shape and falls the same way as the “navy” sweater she’s wearing in the Mother’s Day photo — could it be the same garment with the color changed via Photoshop? Maybe. But it could also be the same sweater in a different color.

Although Aston says in her TikTok that the sweater comes in only cream and camel, the U.K. Reiss website shows that at one point it was available in navy and orange. Thus we come to the theory’s first big test: Should this possible error in Aston’s video render the whole thing meritless? Kate is well known for buying an item of clothing she loves in multiple colors. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that she could have changed sweaters, putting on a clean one for the visit to the Baby Bank. Not a deal-breaker, but worth noting.

She appears to be wearing the same boots and the same jeans in the video and the Mother’s Day photo, and her hair falls in similarly loose waves in both, though it clearly appears to have been Photoshopped in some places. Kate is also wearing her rings for the Baby Bank visit but not in the photo.

There’s another point Aston doesn’t mention, but since we’re going all in here, it needs to be said: Kate’s face in the Mother’s Day picture looks quite different from the way her face looks in the TMZ photo taken on March 4. According to the palace, the Mother’s Day photo was shot the same week as the paparazzi image that upset them so much they got the U.K. media to refrain from publishing it. Could Kate’s face really change that much in a matter of days? Is it the result of merging different photos? Could the section of the picture around her face have been “cut out and replaced,” as the Telegraph reported?

8/10 Tinfoil Crowns: Suspicious, but the bulk of the tinfoil comes from her face, not her clothes.

Point Two: George

Before we get to the children, I need to make a disclaimer: Kate loves dressing her babies in the same clothes, especially if those clothes are blue. I wrote about this at BuzzFeed News — Charlotte has essentially been wearing the same dress since she was a toddler. Certain pieces of clothing have appeared on multiple children over the years, but there are typically some slight variations in apparel.

Of all the photo participants, the future king is the least visible. George is wearing a white-and-blue-checked collared shirt under a blue sweater in the Baby Bank video. You have to squint in the Mother’s Day image, but he appears to be wearing a blue shirt with blue checks under a blue sweater. The thing is, the shirt and sweater blend together, and his whole neck area is super-blurry — it almost looks like one garment. Could his white shirt have been Photoshopped to make it blue? Multiple media outlets have identified George’s sweater and shirt as items that were Photoshopped.

Though you have to zoom in to see George’s shoes in the photo, they appear to be the same ones he wears in the video: sneakers with white stripes.

As far as the rest of his appearance goes, his hair looks the same in the video and the photo, but let’s go a little deeper. If you look at the press photos from the Sandringham Christmas walk on December 25, George’s hair appears shorter than it does in the Mother’s Day photo. Are we looking at the natural results of three months’ growth? Or did he get a haircut between the time the photo was taken and Christmas Day?

6/10 Tinfoil Crowns: On account of suspicious sweaters and similar shoes.  

Point Three: Charlotte

Let’s break out the tinfoil, folks! First, Charlotte is clearly wearing the same Cyrillus sweater in the video and the photo. She also appears to be wearing the same tights and shoes; you can see the little tassels on both. The biggest difference between the two is that in the Mother’s Day image, she’s wearing a checked skirt (she wears a denim one in the Baby Bank video) and an additional sweater on top of the one with the distinctive ruffled or scalloped collar — or is she? As Aston highlights, two of the most obvious Photoshop errors in the Mother’s Day image involve Charlotte’s skirt and outer sweater. First, the left side of the skirt doesn’t appear to be attached to her body. Some have hypothesized that it could be a pocket, but it doesn’t resemble any pocket I’ve ever seen. Second, the outer sweater suddenly disappears around Charlotte’s left hand (the cuff vanishes). Could the checked skirt have been Photoshopped over the denim skirt? Could Charlotte have put on a cardigan before taking the photograph? Could it have been edited in?

Here’s where it gets good. In the video, we see a close-up of Charlotte writing and observe that she is wearing a handmade bracelet, specifically the notoriously flimsy type of braided creation that girls trade with one another. The bracelet is clearly tied to her right wrist — you can see the ends of the knot in the clip. You have to look carefully in the Mother’s Day photo, but if you zoom in on Charlotte’s right wrist, you can see part of the bracelet and some of the loose threads. Sure, girls lose them and make new ones all the time, but these two look very similar. The pieces of thread peeking out from under Charlotte’s sweater appear to be pink and white, like the bracelet she wears in the Baby Bank video. What are the chances that an 8-year-old girl would still be wearing this handcrafted piece of jewelry almost four months later? I can speak from experience here: You tie them onto the wrist and 99 percent of the time have to cut them off. The bracelets also start to smell weird after a while. I don’t think Kate would stand for it.

Now we come to teeth. Like any good detective, I must not exclude information that detracts from a hypothesis. In the Mother’s Day photo, you can see that Charlotte’s lateral incisors (the teeth on either side of her two front teeth) aren’t completely grown in, but they’re almost halfway there. In the Baby Bank video, these teeth haven’t grown enough to be visible when she smiles (her top lip covers them). You get a good look at her teeth in a photo from the December 8 carol service, however, and her lateral incisors look shorter than they appear in the Mother’s Day image. (I would like to state for the record that I am aware this is objectively insane behavior, and in my defense, I wasn’t going to go down this path until I saw literal photo-analysis experts tweeting about using the children’s teeth to fact-check the Mother’s Day image.)

6/10: Tinfoil Crowns: The bracelet must be counterbalanced by the teeth.

Point Four: Louis

In both the Baby Bank video and the Mother’s Day image, Louis is wearing a sweater over a checked, long-sleeved collared shirt. In the video, he wears a white shirt with blue checks under a blue sweater, and in the photo, he wears a white shirt with blue and yellow (or maybe brown?) checks under a green sweater — or does he? First, the shirt collars appear almost identical, the one exception being the color, which the internet informs me is something easily changed in Photoshop. I noticed a number of abnormalities on or around the green sweater the youngest prince wears in the Mother’s Day photo. The pattern is interrupted on his right shoulder, and though the sweater is in focus in the image, Kate’s hand, ostensibly around her son’s waist, is blurry. What’s going on here? Was Louis’s sweater edited from one pattern and color into another in Photoshop? If not, we know the sweater he’s wearing is an actual sweater made by Cyrillus, so maybe he could have swapped them between the time the photo was taken and the evening Baby Bank visit. For what it’s worth, Louis’s pants appear to be the same in the video and the photo. The shoes are different; he’s wearing sneakers for the Baby Bank visit, but honestly … don’t his shoes in the Mother’s Day picture look pretty similar to Charlotte’s? Could this be a copy-and-paste job?

Which, and I can’t believe I am saying this, brings us back to a child’s teeth. I’m not happy about it either, but in this case, truth seekers must be tooth seekers. Thanks to the Wales children’s huge smiles in the Mother’s Day photo, we can clearly see Louis has lost one of his bottom teeth (it appears to be a central incisor, which are the first type of tooth to fall out). There’s only one moment in the Baby Bank video when you can see the youngest prince’s bottom teeth, but in that moment, there’s no missing tooth. He also appears to have all of his teeth during the Christmas Day walk at Sandringham. Of course, the tooth could have been Photoshopped out of an older picture to reflect a recent loss.

6/10 Tinfoil Crowns: Once again, the key to the truth appears to lie in the smile.

Point Five: Foliage

The internet has decided that breaking this whole thing open could lie in the background greenery. The problem is no one can be sure what type of plant is growing behind the Waleses, and the experts who do know aren’t telling for some reason. (I emailed my father, an avid gardener, to ask for help identifying the plant and his response was “some kind of tree or shrub.”)

No Tinfoil Crowns awarded: Too unclear.

So where does that leave us on the November-photo theory?

Well, first, there have been some developments since the Mother’s Day image was released. Specifically, some keen detectives at Sky News got their hands on the photo’s metadata, which revealed new details about the image itself. Unfortunately, the metadata doesn’t provide the answer everyone wants to know. The picture was 100 percent without a doubt snapped at the Waleses’ Windsor home, Adelaide Cottage (which nobody has contested, to the best of my knowledge), but there’s no information pertaining to the date it was taken. However, we do know the image was saved twice in Adobe Photoshop on a Mac computer, first at 9:54 p.m. on Friday and then again at 9:39 a.m. on Saturday.

Is this significant? It depends on where you stand with Aston’s idea that the Mother’s Day photo was taken on the day of the Baby Bank visit. Was the image, as the Daily Mail and the Times have reported, taken on Friday afternoon and then edited that evening? Or was Friday just the time that Kate (or someone else) started editing an old image to get it ready for distribution? (My request for comment from the palace has gone unanswered.)

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that other conspiracy theories are circulating on the internet. Millions of people have viewed tweets hypothesizing that Kate’s head was copied and pasted from the then–Duchess of Cambridge’s 2016 British Vogue cover. Fortunately for truth seekers, one of the world’s foremost experts on digital image manipulation (I’m serious), Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins, dismissed this idea on Twitter and talked to me over email about the various amateur #KatePhotoGate theories.

“The Vogue thing is completely ridiculous,” Higgins said. “If any reasonable person actually takes the time to look at the details of the photos, they’ll see lots of differences, like the light reflecting differently in her eyes, more wrinkles and lines, different pools of light on her face, her lower teeth being more visible, and so on. It was clearly just taken from a very similar angle.” (Kate also wears a cowboy hat in the Vogue picture, and I have to wonder why palace photo editors would select that image if it meant they would have to edit out the hat.)

I knew from his Twitter feed that Higgins has seen Aston’s TikTok (he’s the expert who suggested dental analysis as a method of investigation), so I asked him to weigh in on the “old photo, new edits” hypothesis.

“It reminds me a lot of other conspiracy theories where they’re clearly building the analysis around a theory rather than building a theory from analysis,” he said. As an example of this faulty reasoning, Higgins pointed to Aston’s incorrect claim that Kate’s sweater comes in only cream and camel: “It’s really poor analysis, but I usually see that stuff about terrible war crimes, so at least it’s not that.”

As an expert, does he see an end in sight?

“At this point,” he replied, “I think if there was a video of Kate holding a paper with today’s date on it published, we’d still have an online army explaining how you can tell it’s an AI-generated fake from the pixels.”

“This whole saga has been a perfect microcosm of how conspiracy theories are formed: lack of trust in a source of authority, a gap in the information filled with speculation, distrusting parts of online communities believing and amplifying speculation as fact,” Higgins said.

Despite all my work, I have a feeling that my investigation, like so many elements of this bizarre royal saga, will inevitably end in uncertainty. The information void around the royal family and the media covering it continues to grow every day and nobody or nothing has proven worthy of public trust. That’s why so many of us have fallen down this royal rabbit hole. It’s why, hypothetically speaking, a person could find themselves spending the last hours of their birthday scrolling second-by-second through a YouTube video in search of a smoking gun.


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