Times change, but the monarchy has evolved with them. So what does the future have in store for the little boy destined to become George VII, asks Anne Sebba
It’s a boy, George Alexander Louis Cambridge, as we all now know. But it’s also a boy who will one day be king. And precisely what that means for the Queen’s third great-grandchild, the third in line to the throne, a future head of state for 16 nations and one of approximately 2,000 babies born in the UK on Monday, 22 July 2013, is hard to predict.
What is certain is that by the time he is crowned George VII, he will have had to have adapted to the inevitable changes the nation and the monarchy will face in coming years, just as his ancestors have had to evolve. In fact, it is because our Royals have evolved over recent generations that the institution of monarchy in Britain is more popular than it has been for decades.
First, however, as any parent will know, it’s the emotion that matters, and the Duchess of Cambridge must be allowed privacy to express that freely without prying cameras. I, too, had my first baby at St Mary’s Paddington (OK, in a public ward, not the private Lindo Wing, opened in 1937 by Queen Elizabeth, William’s great-grandmother). But in spite of the joy – and I clearly remember thinking ‘Where has all this torrent of unconditional love been hiding until now?’ – when my beautiful first-born son arrived, I also remember crying inexplicably. The tears just flowed, partly from exhaustion and physical pain but also because I was overcome with emotion and beset with worries at the same time.
Would I be a good enough mother? Would I be able to breastfeed? And what did the future hold for this wonderful, defenceless bundle?
Giving birth is tough, undignified and occasionally dangerous, even today. And when it’s over, both parents need time to recover, celebrate and enjoy this new life. Alone.
I was allowed to go home, learn to fold nappies and make other mistakes with my newborn undisturbed by anyone other than (more or less) wellmeaning grandparents.
The arrival of this baby, of course, has been very different. Never has a pregnancy been shared by so many millions of people and never has a new mother been given so much advice from so many unknown ‘friends’. The whole world was – and still is – watching.
When the Duke and Duchess left the hospital – itself steeped in history for housing the laboratory where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, as well as being the favourite hospital for Royal births once it was decided that Royal babies were better off being born in hospitals than in palaces – they looked like any other first-time parents taking their baby home. Dad even had his sleeves rolled up as he (effortlessly) installed the car seat.
Finally, they can spend time reflecting, like other parents, on who the baby looks like and whose eyes he has.
Unlike other parents, though, they will also be considering how best to equip their tiny baby to be a 21st-century monarch – and how to maintain little George’s privacy while also preparing him for a life in the public eye. It’s a conundrum that will be at the heart of their future lives.
It is, however, one that I believe the Duke and Duchess will handle with aplomb. For from the moment that the birth announcement was made, it was clear that William and Catherine were determined to take the best historical practices and adapt them to the future. And so far it looks as if the Cambridges are adept at negotiating this path between continuity and evolution, which the present Queen has done so admirably for more than 60 years. T
here was, for example, the traditional 41-gun salute for this baby, who will one day be head of the country’s armed forces, and his parents appear to have named him in tribute to the Queen’s father, George VI. But unlike previous heirs to the throne, Prince William will enjoy two weeks’ paid paternity leave from his job as an RAF Search and Rescue pilot, learning to become a ‘hands-on’ father and getting to know his new son.
George, too, is more representative of modern Britain than his forebears. For however royal the new Prince may be, he also has (on his mother’s side) middle- and working-class roots.
Catherine has revived the monarchy not just with her charisma but also thanks to her solid ancestry on her father’s side ‘in trade’, while on her mother’s side she is descended from working-class labourers and miners from Sunderland and County Durham. Carole Middleton, the child’s only biological grandmother and one who is likely to be extremely active in the boy’s upbringing, was herself raised in a council flat.
Indeed, Carole will probably play a more crucial role than the hired nannies or governesses of times past. And she will be a fine role model for a very modern king.
But what of the other babies born on 22 July, each of whom will be given a special silver commemorative coin, worth £28, in a pink or blue pouch? Will their lives be in any way comparable to this child, whose destiny is to inherit one of the oldest thrones in the world?
The royal baby may be entering a life which will be shielded from many of the pressures and frustrations that are everyday occurrences for the rest of us. But the position brings its own, at times intense, challenges that will test his parents every step of the way. The world is changing for all of us, Royals and commoners alike, and we must all evolve and adapt to thrive. I wish them well.
Anne Sebba is the author of That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, published by Phoenix, £7.99