Correction: An earlier version of this item gave an incorrect title for Prince William’s wife. This version has been corrected.
The Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton, and her husband Prince William are expecting their first child. It remains unknown whether the child will be a boy or a girl, but Alexandra Petri assembled her list of the 10 best names for the baby in December. To pick your own, use this name generator.
Outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London, a crowd of reporters is waiting:
Starved for material in a world where Mother Nature and Buckingham Palace are the last two holdouts from the 24-hour news cycle, loitering reporters trying to set a tone of breathless anticipation have resorted to interviewing each other.
Perhaps nothing could be more appropriate. As Prince William and his wife, Catherine , the Duchess of Cambridge — formerly known as Kate Middleton — prepare to carve out a new life for their budding family in the glare of the spotlight, the press is poised to be a major part of the story.
The scene here amounts to a déjà vu of June 22, 1982. Then, another young couple — Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales — stepped out of the same wing of the same hospital with an infant William and into what would become a stormy, love-hate relationship with the press (and each other) that would come to define palace politics for decades. Some — including, reportedly, William — still blame the media for Diana’s 1997 death in a Paris car crash during a chase with rabid paparazzi.
To be sure, the British tabloid press is a different beast today, as is the palace PR machine, with one more tame and self-restraining and the other far more professional and controlling. Nevertheless, the media and inquiring minds on both sides of the Atlantic might be in for a rude awakening as they clamor for a piece of the glamorous couple after baby makes three.
After a brief choreography for the cameras as the couple leave the lavish hospital wing with their newborn, royal watchers say they might disappear for while, or least try. The move to escape the public eye as they set about becoming parents could mark the beginning of what observers are describing as an attempt by the couple to build a far more private life than the one constructed by William’s parents.
“This will be very different from watching William grow up, and it has a lot to do with the characters this time around,” said Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Daily Mirror and now a journalism professor at City University in London. “William hates the press and will show even less accommodation once the baby is born, and Kate, unlike Diana, is clearly very shy of doing anything that would breach palace secrecy.”
For the press, any retrenchment by the young couple couldn’t come at a worst time. Cover stories and inside montages of Shopping Kate, Official Kate, even Dog-Walking Kate have driven print sales and online hits in a manner not seen since Diana’s heyday. The feeding has been no less frenzied in the United States. Since 2011’s blockbuster royal wedding, the Duchess has graced the cover of People magazine more times than any other celebrity.
When innocuous and orchestrated — say, a Will-and-Kate wand duel at the Harry Potter Studio Tour outside London — that publicity is just what the doctor ordered for a House of Windsor looking to endear a 21st-century monarchy to the public. But royal coverage has, at least in the palace’s eyes, veered dangerously off course on occasion, suggesting the thin ice separating now from the days of behind-the-bushes press.
Petri also commented on the attention the world is giving the expecting couple:
I often wake up in a cold sweat from dreams where the entire commonwealth and many Americans have been clawing through all pictures of me from the past several months to see if I look pregnant yet. “YOU ARE GETTING NO YOUNGER!” they shout. “At the rate you’re going, Will’s child will never remember him with hair!” But at least I get to wake up.
The Royals have always been the one tabloid story that you felt no guilt for paying attention to. You were supposed to pay attention. That was why they existed: a set of fishtank people whose milestones you could watch and shout at and celebrate and taunt your own offspring with when they came home for holidays. (“Why haven’t you found a nice man? Kate Middleton found a nice man.”) They turn the whole country into nervous grandparents. “When are you going to have children?” becomes “We need MORE ROYALS!” It combines the time-honored practice of pressuring young people to have babies with a vague feeling of patriotism. It is the perfect cocktail.
Under similar conditions of pressure, pandas have forgotten how to reproduce entirely, requiring laborious demonstrations from zookeepers. And even then it does not work.
Prince William and his wife’s child will be the third direct heir to Queen Elizabeth II, prompting speculation that the queen might abdicate the throne:
There is no sign that she is heading for the gilded doors, and those close to her dismiss any suggestion of the queen as a quitter, arguing that she will never go the way of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Yet, as the queen and her 92-year-old husband, Prince Philip, confront health issues and with a third direct heir on the way, chatter about a royal retirement has rarely been louder.
“Will the Queen abdicate?” Britain’s Guardian newspaper asked with casual bluntness after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands called it a day following 33 years on the throne. The paper went on to wonder whether, after “years of smiling and waving and keeping shtoom while gaffes abound around her,” is it time for Queen Elizabeth to finally “relax with the corgis?”
With the British monarch’s great-grandchild due any day now, London-based YouGov published a poll last month showing that those who wanted the queen to serve for life stood at 60 percent. Although up from a poll in May, it was down four percentage points compared with one taken in March about the time the queen was briefly hospitalized with a stomach infection and had to cancel a number of official engagements.
Even Lord John Prescott, a former member of the Privy Council, which advises the monarch, penned an opinion piece in the Sunday Mirror, ostensibly about a “friend” who felt that the queen was “overburdening herself” and deserved “to break convention and consider enjoying a long and fulfilling retirement.”
By at least one measure — international travel — the queen is unquestionably slowing down. Eyebrows arched across Britain in May when Buckingham Palace announced that she would, for the first time in 40 years, skip her biennial trip abroad to address leaders of her far-flung realms, including Australia and Canada. It would please Her Majesty to instead send her son, Prince Charles — the longest-waiting monarch-to-be in British history.
Visit this page for the latest news on the royal baby.