Kate Middleton spotted after rampant speculation about her post-op whereabouts

Catherine has been spotted for the first time since December, months after her January hospitalization, which spawned rampant conspiracy theories, and viral suppositions about her alleged “disappearance.”

The Princess of Wales, formerly Kate Middleton, was photographed Monday by Backgrid, a photo-hosting agency, near Windsor Castle in the U.K. sitting in the passenger seat of an Audi driven by her mother, Carole Middleton, according to TMZ.

The Daily Mail reported that Monday’s princess sighting came via paparazzi pictures that were not authorized by the palace.

The casual outing — featuring the princess in sunglasses and without security — is the first time that the 42-year-old has been seen in public since she celebrated Christmas at Sandringham estate in eastern England with husband Prince William, their three children and rest of the royal family, People reported.

The senior royal was admitted to the London Clinic on Jan. 16, Kensington Palace said, for a planned abdominal surgery and successfully underwent the procedure. The palace added, however, that the princess was expected to be hospitalized for 10 to 14 days after the mystery surgery and “before returning home to continue her recovery.” She would return to her public duties after Easter — March 31 — based on current medical advice, the palace said.

“The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate,” Kensington Palace said. “She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible; and her wish that her personal medical information remains private.”

Despite her desires, the announcement — coupled with father-in-law King Charles III’s simultaneous health issues — ignited even more interest in her condition and plenty of wild speculation given her absence from the public eye, as well as that of her children and parents. Amid theories about an organ donation to Charles, a Brazilian butt lift, mommy makeover or the possibility that she was in a coma, the topic (hashtag #whereiskatemiddleton) has been a talking point ever since.

As many a Redditor and casual social media user wondered, “What is going on with Kate Middleton?” the BBC analyzed the “royal dilemma” over Kate’s health, the New York Times touched on the rumors swirling around her, Vogue tracked “The Curious Case of the ‘Disappearing’ Princess,” and this newspaper tried to figure out what the frenzy over her alleged “‘disappearance’ says about the royals — and us.”

Kate left the hospital on Jan. 29 and returned to Adelaide Cottage in Windsor, where she was reunited with her kids. Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, temporarily stepped back from his royal duties to manage childcare but continued with other royal engagements in Wrexham and London.

Last week, the 41-year-old prince — who is also expected to take on more royal duties after his father’s cancer diagnosis — provided further fodder for the rumor mill when he cited a “personal matter” for his absence from the funeral of his godfather, King Constantine of Greece.

Nonetheless, a spokesman reiterated the palace’s stance that there would be no “running commentary” provided on Kate’s health despite Internet rumors.

That, according to the Telegraph, was testing the Firm’s policy of “never complain, never explain.”

“From our perspective, we were very clear from our statement at the start of this in January that the Princess of Wales planned to be out of public action until after Easter, and that hasn’t changed,” a spokesperson for the family told the Telegraph.

“We were always clear we wouldn’t be providing updates when there wasn’t anything new to share,” the spokesperson said. “The last thing anyone wants is a running commentary of the Princess of Wales’s recovery. Nothing has changed from that approach in January.”

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