LONDON-The gun salutes in Hyde Park and the Tower of London set for Monday heralding the birth of the Princess of Cambridge will come during what promises to be an extraordinary week for Britain.
Not only did the royal family – and the British public – get the baby girl they’d hoped for, but the princess’ arrival served as a happy distraction from Thursday’s upcoming general election that pits Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party against Edward Miliband’s Labour. Voters aren’t particularly keen on either alternative, and the election is likely to yield no overall majority, weeks of political wrangling – and the threat of a weak minority government.
The news of the birth knocked politics – and the scrapping politicians – off the front pages of British papers, and turned the usually spiky press misty-eyed. “Elections can be very exciting. But nothing is as special and miraculous as the arrival of a new child into the world,” The Sunday Telegraph wrote in an editorial, calling the birth “a reminder of the things that really matter in life,” while the Daily Mail declared “Wasn’t She Worth the Wait Kate!” on its cover and The Sunday Times printed a souvenir special cover wrap with headlines such as “The new people’s princess,” recalling the words of the baby’s late grandmother Princess Diana, and a shot of William with Kate and the baby and the quote: “Me and my girls.”
Most papers splashed the closeup image of the newborn Princess of Cambridge, fast asleep in her mother’s arms and decked in a cream knitted bonnet and a white crochet blanket, on their front covers and filled inside pages with pictures of Prince William and toddler Prince George waving to the crowds outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and of the young family together. The Duchess of Cambridge wore a Jenny Packham bespoke silk dress with a buttercup print as she left the hospital, marking the second time she turned to British designer Packham to dress her for a post-birth photo-op.
A range of official commemorative china celebrating the birth is already for sale and the Royal Mint has created some 2,000 silver pennies for all the babies born on May 2. Retailers up and down the country are already counting the future profits the petite princess is set to generate.
Last Tuesday night at St. James’s Palace during an event to highlight the work of the London College of Fashion, Prince Edward’s wife, the Countess of Wessex, said during a speech that she was sure the industry was “keeping its proverbial fingers crossed that it’s a girl…a baby princess would be a welcome addition to the fashion coffers.”
While it’s unlikely the little princess will ever wear the British crown – she’s fourth in line to the throne in a family famous for its longevity – she’ll not only be generating retail sales at home and abroad, she’ll also have ample opportunity to redefine what it means to be the spare to the heir.
A few weeks ago, during a royal engagement in south London with his very pregnant wife, Prince William said he expected baby No. 2 – who’s tipped to be called Alice, Charlotte, Elizabeth or Victoria – to be a “game changer” compared with the first born, who was a life changer.
The game-changing part could be true – in myriad ways – as this new princess will have far more room than Prince George to shatter the royal glass ceiling, and more opportunity than any royal child before her to forge an independent life, and inhabit – part-time, at least – the real world.
“The first born has a destiny, while the second can have a life they really want – irrespective of whether they are a boy or a girl – and a proper, satisfying job, one they love doing,” said Peter York, the consultant, writer, social commentator and co-author of the 1982 book “The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook,” which famously featured super-Sloane Princess Diana – the new baby’s grandmother – on the cover.
York says there was a time not long ago when the British royals lived the same life as the British upper classes, but as the latter moved on, studied at university and joined the professional classes, the royals did not. “They fell behind their peers, who have had to adapt to modern life,” says York, adding that the royal children need to understand that life is also about aspiring to a job that fulfills them, stretches them, or teaches them about the world.
Prince Harry has been a casualty – of sorts – of the royals’ failure to move with the times. Although he was able to pursue his passion by serving in the British Armed Forces for a decade, he’s been having trouble finding a wife. One of the reasons is because the women he craves are too busy fulfilling themselves elsewhere, and can’t be bothered with the demands of royal life.
Chesly Davy, Prince Harry’s long-term Zimbabwean love, broke off their relationship in 2011, telling the press that royal life was not her style. She pursued her dream of becoming a lawyer, taking up a position as a trainee at the big City of London firm Allen & Overy. Ditto for Cressida Bonas, Harry’s last serious girlfriend, who opted to pursue a career in acting and dancing. She recently danced in a short film for Mulberry and next month, she’ll star in a one-woman show in London’s West End called “An Evening With Lucian Freud,” by Laura-Jane Foley.
Some royals have managed to build lives for themselves outside the palace walls. As a young woman, Princess Anne competed for years in equestrian competitions as a member of the British Eventing Team and took part in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Her cousin David Linley, Princess Margaret’s son, trained as a cabinetmaker and opened eponymous luxury furniture and design shops in Britain. He is currently chairman of Christie’s U.K.
Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips became a member of the Great Britain Eventing Team, won BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2006, and scooped a silver medal in the London 2012 Olympics. One of Queen Elizabeth’s cousins, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was a practicing architect, educated at Cambridge University. It was only when his elder brother died that he was forced to take on more royal responsibilities.
“I think a career is very much a possibility,” says Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty Magazine and author of the book, “A Century of Royal Children.” “It’s still limited, but they can do something worthy. I can’t picture them being a super businessman or woman in the City, but I can see them doing something, maybe academic. They can go and be a geek or study art history or do something a bit different. But whatever they do, they will have to be aware of their royal blood, their birthright. It does restrict them.”
There are those who say it’s not viable, however, for the No. 2 to dream about any kind of life that doesn’t involve smiling for the public, cutting ribbons, promoting charities, and behaving properly at all times.
“They can no longer lead any sort of private lives,” says Dr. Bob Morris of University College London’s Constitution Unit. “The media intrusion is 24/7 and it cramps any room for private manoeuver.”
Seward would agree – especially when it comes to holidays. “The British don’t like seeing their royal family having a good time, prancing around on beaches. They really don’t like seeing them on yachts. We really want our royals to be in Scotland, fishing, or walking with sturdy boots on. It’s very British, and I don’t know why. There’s somehow a kind of resentfulness of the British,” she says.
Hugo Vickers, the royal historian, biographer and broadcaster, says real world lives just don’t work. “Prince Edward tried it a little bit when he went off to do his film company, but I don’t think these things are usually a very good idea. In the case of royal children, the good that they can do in other ways is so much richer with opportunity. Look how popular Prince Harry is now with the charity work he is doing. He has a sense of purpose, he is now forging a new life,” says Vickers, adding that it’s difficult to shake the royal aura in the real world. “The media will follow you wherever you go longing to misinterpret what you do.”
Vickers believes the basic role of the younger child will be to support the older one “and be, alas, prepared to step in if necessary, the way that [King] George VI did when his brother abdicated.”
That is particularly relevant for the young princess, the first female royal who will be able to hold her place in line to the throne, thanks to the recently ratified Succession to the Crown Act 2013. The new act means that if Kate and William decide to have any more children, no younger brothers will be able to leapfrog over her in the order of succession.
Although nearly 80 years have passed since King Edward VIII relinquished his throne so he could wed his divorced lover Wallis Simpson, abdication remains a dirty word in Britain – and is therefore unlikely. That said, some believe “social” abdication, when a monarch decides to step down to make way for the heir, is a possibility.
“They’re all going to be terribly old when they succeed,” says Morris of UCL. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth turned 89 in April; her mother Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother died aged 101; and her husband Prince Philip will be 94 this year. Prince Charles, first in line to the throne, turns 67 in November.
Morris believes Britain’s “gerontocracy” might encourage social abdication – all the rage on the Continent. King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and King Albert II of Belgium have all stepped down aged in their 70s – and for a variety of reasons – over the past few years. “Social abdication might come up, and then that raises the question. ‘What is a monarchy for?’” he says.
While it remains unclear how William, Kate and their children will rewrite the rule book – if at all – it’s likely that the first 21 or so years will be pretty predictable, not to mention profitable for the country.
According to the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, England the tiny princess could potentially be worth a billion pounds, or $1.5 billion, over her lifetime. Some 80 million pounds, or $119.4 million, could be generated immediately following the birth from sales of baby clothing, souvenirs, celebratory cakes and bubbly.
Professor Joshua Bamfield, the organization’s director, says as the the years roll on, the main beneficiaries of the princess effect will be fashion and clothing retailers, as the young royal will be inevitably be considered a trendsetter – whatever she wears.
While she’s still in onesies, it’s likely she’ll spend a few days at Kensington Palace before moving to Anmer Hall, the young royals’ newly refurbished, 10-bedroom home in Norfolk, England, on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. Prince William has already started his nearly six weeks of paternity leave, and the couple are due to move in as soon as the paint is dry.
As for future schooling, it’s unlikely the little princess will ever step foot in a state school, and will most probably start her education at a swish independent one in Norfolk, not far from Anmer Hall and Prince William’s future place of work as a civilian pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service. There is always the possibility that the family will eventually return to live in London, in which case she’d likely attend a posh all-girls school such as Francis Holland.
She’d likely be sent away to boarding school as a teenager – Kate and her sister Pippa Middleton both boarded at Marlborough College – although Wycombe Abbey, the country’s top girls’ boarding school, could also be a possibility. After university, it’s doubtful she’ll be spending her days riding horses, cutting ribbons and hunting for a husband. Indeed – if Peter York is right – the young royal could easily pursue a career as a veterinarian, art historian, biographer or landscape designer, should she be so inclined.
“She can go to university, and doesn’t have to do the things prescribed by the Sloane Ranger Handbook,” says York, who also concedes that being a 21st-century royal requires a “brilliant balancing act. You want the accommodation of magic, but also a down-to-earthiness. The people want to know the royals are like us – but not like us.”
Let the game changing begin.