If a certain baby is even dimly aware of the global attention already trained on his or her arrival, he or she might well be tempted to linger in the privacy of the womb. Palace officials say the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge expect their firstborn in mid-July, but some excitable members of the British press are predicting an appearance as early as next week.
Never mind North West: the hotly anticipated debut of a new cast member in Keeping Up With The Cambridges is set to be the biggest celebrity event of the year. William and Kate have chosen not to find out in advance if their baby will be a Prince or Princess of Wails. A change to the laws of succession means the child will enjoy equal rights to the throne irrespective of gender. The future of Britain’s monarchy—and the monarch’s continuing role at the helm of the Commonwealth and as head of state in 15 Commonwealth realms—will rest on the infant’s downy head.
Yet Baby Cambridge’s sway is likely to extend well beyond countries with links to the crown. Even before birth, the soon-to-be-third-in-line-to-the-throne is already a figure of international influence, destined to shape worldwide consumer choices, inject millions into the British economy, and, more profoundly, to play a prominent role in debates around childbirth and child-rearing, as this piece, in the latest issue of TIME, explains.
Those debates are already playing out in a swirl of supposed “exclusives” about William and Kate’s plans for the birth and for parenting that are full of what might charitably be called baby pap. Nor are the press shy of giving advice to the prospective parents. What is certainly true is that the Cambridges face unusual challenges as they contemplate how to go about the task of raising a happy, grounded child.
Growing up in the spotlight can pull anyone out of shape. And for royal children, that exposure has often been compounded by the starchy formality of palace life, parental absenteeism, the outsourcing of parenting to nurses and nannies of varying ability and staying power, and the children’s banishment, at ages as young as 8 or 9, to boarding schools.
The current Queen effected a small change to palace customs when she came to the throne, discontinuing the protocol that would have seen her children having to bow to her. Her daughter-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, introduced changes of her own, giving birth to Princes William and Harry not in the antiquated confines of a royal palace but the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, central London, the same facility Kate is expected to use. Diana and Charles were also hands-on parents—by royal standards—but that’s a key phrase. Their sons were tended by nannies and dispatched to boarding schools.
The choices the Cambridges make will be closely scrutinized. That scrutiny may influence their choices—boarding schools offer an environment sheltered from prying eyes. As adults, cast members of the royal reality show become adept at maintaining private lives while the cameras continue to roll. They say little and reveal less of their real feelings. And they have been known to misdirect the press.
Diana, in particular, developed tactics to befuddle the hordes that always followed her. That’s why when William was born on June 21, 1982, ten days earlier than the date the palace had advised, journalists assumed that Diana had deliberately set out to fool them. She gave a darker explanation in a taped conversation with her biographer Andrew Morton. “William had to be induced because I couldn’t handle the press pressure any longer; it was becoming unbearable,” she said. “It was as if everybody was monitoring every day for me.”
Kate, as closely monitored as Diana and inevitably drawing comparisons with her, recently gave the watchers a reason to imagine she may be closer to nesting than palace officials suggest. She missed a lavish society wedding in northern England on June 22, attended by her husband, brother-in-law Prince Harry, sister Pippa and other relatives, in-laws and friends. That was enough to trigger the speculation that the mid-July delivery date projected by the palace may in fact be a Diana-like ruse.
As to the exact due date, officials, like Kate herself, are keeping mum. So along with the Duchess, all we can do is wait. What is certain is that Baby Cambridge’s arrival, whenever it comes, will not pass unnoticed. England expects not just an infant but a phenomenon. And the world is expectant too.