Kate and William have been exceptionally careful to keep their son Prince George out of the limelight for most of his young life.
They smuggle him in and out of their homes and palaces. They have threatened troublesome photographers with legal action.
They put pressure on newspaper editors not to publish pictures they consider intrusive.
And who can blame them, given the terrible fate that befell Williams mother, as the motorbike-riding press pack chased her into Paris’ Pont de l’Alma Tunnel?
The few candid photos that have been taken of the third-in-line to the throne have, for the most part, been sneaked by foreign photographers at airports and other locations when William and Kate have been on foreign tours.
Even then, many of these have not been published in the UK following intensive lobbying from the powers at Kensington Palace, and a press pack cowed by the Leveson inquiry. All this makes it all the more bizarre that since the birth of his sister, Princess Charlotte, there has been a veritable glut of Prince George imagery flooding the market.
First, George was given what was effectively a solo photocall outside the Lindo Wing where Kate had just given birth.
It was an odd moment in and of itself—we were gathered there to see the new baby after all—made even odder when George did not re-emerge with his mum, dad and baby sister for the first big family picture, but was instead spirited home through a back door by his nanny, Maria Borrello.
The came the baby photos, released on Twitter and Instagram, which featured George and Charlotte, in pictures we were informed were taken by Kate.
The Kensington Palace Twitter account indulged in some shameless whoring, spending the hours before promising followers a ‘special’ photo later in the day. It wasn’t quite “RT for a follow!” but it came pretty close.
Then came this weekend. First, Prince William was pictured holding Prince George on the balcony during the celebrations for Trooping the Color, the Queen’s official birthday celebrations. This was perhaps not so surprising in itself. Indeed, the fact that George might be making his first balcony appearance had even been ‘predicted’ by the Daily Mail’s Sebastian Shakespeare.
One way of looking at it was that this was a bold and constitutionally pleasing piece of choreographed iconography, placing the infant George very literally at the heart of the family, and its future.
The other more cynical explanation is that it was a good way for the advisers at the palace to get Prince William onto the front pages of all the Sunday newspapers.
While his parents of course wouldn’t think of him that way, media planners at the Palace cannot but be aware that George is a PR goldmine.
The reality is that the day-to-day survival of the Monarchy rests largely on the British people continuing to like and have confidence in William and Kate—and their kids—which may be enough for them to grit their teeth and bear the rule of King Charles.
In the battle for hearts (if not minds), there is no more powerful weapon than a cute little blonde baby in long socks.
Which was what George was wearing on Sunday, when he was once again wheeled out for the cameras, this time for a specific group of favored photographers, who were tipped off that George would be making an appearance at the Festival of Polo, in which his dad and uncle Harry were playing, and that photographs of him would not be objected to.
The pictures of Kate and George playing on a grassy bank are absolutely gorgeous. They are also about as far from being the candid, accidental pap shots which they appear at first sight to be.
Whilst ‘staged’ would be too strong a word, ‘planned’ would not.
The pictures were perfectly timed to allow maximum global exposure. Indeed they are the front cover of the new issue of the world’s biggest tabloid, People magazine, with an accompanying story taking readers inside George and Kate’s “Sweet Bond.”
The polo pictures also provided another positive talking point for the next day’s media—how Kate Middleton has lost her baby weight and regained her shape. Yes, the obsession with Kate’s body and her slimness remains undimmed.
No objections have been raised to the pictures of George with her which were published in all the UK papers, in marked contrast to the palace’s reaction when George and his Nanny were photographed playing at a public park in London.
A senior source at the palace argued however that the two sets of pictures were “entirely different”” saying that media “were invited to the Polo,” whereas the photographs in the park “were taken by someone who had pursued Prince George and his nanny to take unsolicited photos of Prince George while he was privately playing in the park.”
The source told the Daily Beast that William and Kate do, however, “understand the particular public role that Prince George will one day inhabit” and “fully expect him to be photographed when they take him to public events.”
The source added, “But while he is young, Prince George must also be permitted to lead as ordinary a life as possible. I don’t think any parent would tolerate the suspicion of someone pursuing and harassing their child and carer whilst their child is playing in a public park or going about their daily activities.”
Fundamentally, there will always be an insoluble tension between what the Cambridges want (privacy, with pictures released only on their terms) and what the photographers want (big money from exclusive photographs).
The positive PR value of baby George is also huge, which presents the spinners at the Palace with a persistent quandary: the public loves to see George—he’s automatically ‘good news’ for the Firm wherever he appears, yet his parents desire as much privacy as possible.
For the most part, the Cambridges are winning the game. They and their advisers know that by quietly tipping the wink to a chosen few photographers at times and places that suit them, ensuring those snappers a juicy pay day, they can ensure that the vast majority of photographers will toe the line.
So George was camera-ready on Sunday at the polo, the papers got their pictures for Monday’s papers, and everyone went home happy.
However, some more cynical members of the press pack believe there may be one reason in particular why young George, was made available for the cameras at the weekend.
At the end of this month, as is customary at this time of year, the British public will once again be told how much the Royal Family is actually costing them when the royal accounts are published.
And before one pays the bill, what customer doesn’t like to see the wares?
“It’s all very carefully planned and very strategic,” says one observer, “At the Trooping the Color he was with Dad, the next day he was with Mum. Basically, all these pictures and everything they do, they are doing it to stay in power, live their lives of luxury—and keep rinsing us of our money.”