The new baby couldn’t have come at a better time for Britain’s royal family.
They’ve had a brutal summer haunted by the ghost of Princess Diana.
Since the first documentaries and newspaper articles marking the 20-year anniversary of Diana’s death (on Aug. 31, 1997) began to appear back in June, the royal narrative has been completely dictated by the Diana story.
Prince Charles, predictably, has fared the worst. He was particularly damaged after videotape emerged of his wife telling her voice coach that he refused to be “the only Prince of Wales never to have a mistress.”
One poll found that only a third of Britons believe Charles has been “beneficial” for the royal family—half the number who believed the same thing four years ago. And the rehabilitation of his second wife, Camilla, has gone into a major reverse as more and more stories have emerged of how completely Charles and Camilla disregarded Diana’s feelings as they continued their affair during Charles’ marriage. Just 14 percent of those surveyed said they want to see Camilla as queen when be becomes king.
And while William may at first sight appear to have emerged from the annual bout of Diana-fueled establishment-bashing unscathed, with a record 78 percent approval rating, this is an illusory benefit.
Royal PR is not a zero sum game: Just because Charles loses, that doesn’t mean William wins (although the impetuous Harry did not help matters by indirectly blaming his father by implying Charles made him walk behind Diana’s coffin without fully understanding what he was doing).
The calls for the crown to skip a generation are as unwelcome to William as they are to his father.
The last thing Prince William wants or needs is for his father to abdicate his claim to the throne.
This is not just because William would like to spend the next 20 or 30 years with a lower profile and less official duties (although he no doubt would). It’s also because William knows that if his father gives in to rule by opinion poll, if those same opinion polls turn against William—be that in 30, 40, or 50 years time—the gig will be up, and the monarchy may well be gone.
No, the only thing the royals can do is keep calm and, with as little arrogance as possible, blithely carry on (and hope Charles can learn to pipe down when the crown finally comes to rest on his head).
For Kate Middleton right now, locked away in Kensington Palace, struggling to keep food and water down as she suffers from extreme morning sickness, the last thing she is probably thinking about is the service she is rendering to the institution of the monarchy.
But there’s no denying it—the timing could not be better. After a summer the royals would rather forget, senior courtiers responsible for shepherding the monarchy through what promises to be a rather difficult next decade know that Kate’s pregnancy has single-handedly changed the royal narrative for the next year at least.
Wisely, the palace let the Diana eulogies come to a natural end before releasing the news of Kate’s pregnancy, even though she has been ill for some time, and the temptation to say something earlier must have been strong.
As Christopher Andersen, author of the No. 1 e-book The Day Diana Died, told The Daily Beast: “It’s no accident that the palace announced Kate’s pregnancy when it did. Had they made the announcement even a matter of days earlier, it would have made the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death an even bigger news event than it already is.
“The palace’s explanation that it made the announcement now because Kate’s severe morning sickness has forced her to cancel all royal engagements doesn’t tell the whole story. Once again, she’s been suffering from hyperemsesis gravidarum for weeks and the announcement could have been made at any time. It was a conscious decision to wait until Aug. 31st had passed.”
With Prince George due to start school later this week and the likelihood of a Pippa Middleton pregnancy further adding to the atmosphere, its hard to think of a neater way than a new royal baby for the palace to draw a line under the PR disaster of Diana’s 20th anniversary.