So, after eight months in which they had jealously guarded their new son’s privacy and succeeded almost entirely in keeping him away from the cameras, Prince William and Kate Middleton revealed their son to the world on Wednesday.
And what a gorgeous little boy, chubby of cheek and fair of hair, he turned out to be.
It is inevitable that comparisons have been made to Prince William’s first appearance in Australasia, which also took place in New Zealand and also featured a future heir to the throne crawling around in front of the cameras.
There was, however, one incontrovertible and highly significant difference between the two baby photo calls.
Whereas Prince William was crawling around on his own, on a rug, in the back garden of Government House, with the press standing a respectful distance away, and an understanding that pictures would not be run in the next day’s papers without a quick glance of approval from the authorities, Prince George made his first appearance in a playgroup, an ordinary playgroup for ordinary New Zealanders.
The signposting between the old and new ways of doing things could have not been clearer.
Within minutes of the event starting, and long before the pin-sharp work of the professionals was zinging down the wires, blurry pictures, Vines, and links to live video feeds were being tweeted out across the world.
One of the best early pictures was taken—and broadcast on Twitter—by the governor-general of New Zealand, the queen’s on-the-ground representative in her most far-flung realm.
Kate chatted to other mums about her son’s teething, his tremendous appetite, and how William does the late-night feed and change to let her catch up on sleep. They might not have got on to inverted nipples, but there was an undeniable sense of sisterhood.
Yes, Diana was progressive, and surely she would’ve hoped that someday her kids would be able to interact with normal people, but even she never could have expected, I don’t think, that the official first appearance of her grandson would take place alongside mixed-race kids and the child of two gay dads.
William and Kate’s aides have been swift to emphasize that the kids chosen for the playgroup were selected by Plunket, the New Zealand childcare organization that organized the event, rather than being selected by the palace themselves. But the young royals’ willingness to allow their son to be photographed and filmed with such a wide variety of individuals speaks volumes about their desire to reinvent the monarchy as something relevant to people other than the aristocracy, the idle rich, or even the hardworking Bransons of this world.
Royal baby fever, of course, is nothing new. I remember as a kid—I must have been 8 or 9 years old—how our nanny, Winnie, knitted a pair of pink and a pair of blue booties to send to the palace in advance of the birth of Diana’s first child, as we didn’t know whether it would be a boy or girl. The signed letter that Winnie got in return, thanking her for the present, was passed around the family with astonished reverence.
The whole country has always traditionally been swept up in royal babies, and for good reason; the king or queen of the United Kingdom is a far from symbolic post. The monarch still has an enormous input into the life and character of the British nation.
But the modern monarch can’t simply dictate. He or she also must reflect that character, and George is being helped to do so from an early age by his immensely media-savvy parents.
William and Kate do appear to have finally reached a working accommodation with the media, after many years of what can best be described as petulance by William in particular. Kate is encouraging her husband to take a more practical, realpolitikal attitude, insiders say.
It was notable Wednesday that the cameraman and photographers were allowed to mingle somewhat freely with the playgroup. That was a gamble, but it paid off as they snapped an extraordinary selection of truly informal images: George being held up on his feet by his loving mother; George pulling a toy out of one of the other kids’ hands like any other naughty child in a playgroup; and then finally the beautiful, archetypal images of the exhausted son crashed out on his mother’s shoulder.
There have never before been royal baby pictures like these. William and Kate have accepted that they have to share their son—he will be making another public appearance at an Australian zoo on Easter Day—and as tough as it must be to give away their child’s privacy, they should be happy.
For with George’s masterfully handled debut, Kate, William, and their team might just have extended the life of the British monarchy by another century.