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A royal surprise. Kate Middleton had the unexpected in store for Prince William during a 2016 skiing trip. How bad weather derailed a photo op and what a royal photographer asked the Princess of Wales to do instead. 

Royal photographer recounts William, Kate French Alps photo op changing due to weather in 2016

Kate Middleton, whom photographer John Stillwell asked to throw a snowball at Prince William during 2016 photo op, smiles with Prince William
Kate Middleton and Prince William | John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images

John Stillwell recalled snapping photos of the Prince and Princess of Wales on Hello!’s A Right Royal Podcast. In 2016, Stillwell traveled to the French Alps as a PA royal photographer to take photos of the couple with Prince George and Princess CharlottePrince Louis wasn’t born until 2018 — on their first ski trip as a family. 

The “idea,” he explained, was to take photos of William and Kate skiing with George and Charlotte. However, when the time came, the weather in the French Alps didn’t cooperate. 

“The skiing picture never happened, actually,” he recalled. “Where it was up on the mountains, it’s going to be misty, so I said, ‘Well, if it is, we’ll just do some pictures down here where they’re staying.’”

“Next morning it was misty, really badly,” Stillwell continued. “And I said, ‘There’s no point in going.’ Sometimes you can go up and get above the clouds, but this day was impossible. It was very low cloud, and I couldn’t see a thing, so we did it at the hotel.”

The photographer “looked around” for a suitable location, ultimately picking a “quiet road full of snow” with “trees in the background” behind the hotel. “So I said, ‘It’s gotta be just Will and Kate, not the kids, the kids we can do on the balcony afterward.’”

Photographer asked Kate to ‘have a snowball fight’ with William in the French Alps: ‘Just whack him in the face’

Kate Middleton, whom photographer John Stillwell told to throw a snowball during a 2016 photo op, throws snow at Prince William
Kate Middleton and Prince William | John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Stillwell had certain instructions for William and Kate when it came time for the photo op. Although William, he recalled, seemed a little apprehensive at first. 

“So we go around to the back there, and William sits and he’s saying like, you know, ‘What are you gonna do, it’s supposed to be skiing?’” Stillwell recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, no one knows you can’t ski today. We just do a picture, and you’ve got your ski gear on, so OK fine.'”

“He said, ‘What do you want me to do?'” Stillwell continued. “I said, ‘I’ll have you walk just 30 yards away, then walk back toward me and I’ll take some pictures. I’ll do some full-length, some half-length, some headshots.’”

William replied, “’Well, OK.’” However, Stillwell didn’t “think he was totally convinced, but it’s the best I could do.” 

As William walked away and Kate “started to,” the retired photographer “tapped” the now-mother of three on the shoulder. 

“I said, ‘Hey, when you get down there, make a snowball, have a snowball fight, but push it into his face,'” Stillwell recalled telling Kate. “She went, ‘Pardon?’ I said, ‘Just whack him in the face with a snowball.’”

“I didn’t think she’d do it,” he admitted, “but she did!” As for how William reacted, “he saw the funny side of it.”

Prince William and Kate Middleton are predicted to go skiing with George, Charlotte, and Louis around Easter 2023

It seems another ski vacation might be coming up soon for William, Kate, and their three kids. Hello! expects the family of five to hit the slopes in Courchevel, France, a longtime favorite royal ski spot, when the kids are off on Easter break. 

Previously, in 2022, royal watchers spotted the Prince and Princess of Wales at a luxury resort where they were said to be introducing George, Charlotte, and Louis to skiing.