By Sarah Pridgeon
When our newest royal baby was born last week, it seemed like the world came to a standstill. Television broadcasts stopped in their tracks, excited whispers spread through offices and crotchety people on Twitter began their inevitable questioning of the point of the monarchy in the first place.
It pleasantly surprises me when an event that seems irrelevant to the rest of the world makes an impact and I’ve enjoyed sharing the glad tidings with everyone here, just as I did when William and Kate got married. It has been, in fact, just like being back home – we are similarly circumspect about such matters.
If the UK’s press were to be believed, the entire population of the British Isles was poised on the edge of its seat for a week and then dissolved in crazed excitement when poor Kate finally went into labor. Actually, our response is much more akin how everyone here reacted: it’s lovely, and we wish them the very best, but we’ve got grocery shopping to do and the cat needs feeding.
For the average Brit, sensation is something that should be kept firmly in check and celebration should be contained to appropriately limited quantities. We’ll applaud the royals and smile a little brighter, we might even pick up a sneaky copy of the latest baby-crazed magazine, but then we’ll get back to whatever it was we were doing. We like a bit of good news, but we’ll take it in moderation, please.
One member of the Royal Family beautifully summed this up, although you’ve probably never heard of her because she’s not too fond of the spotlight. CNN asked the Queen’s first cousin, Margaret Rhodes, whether she was excited about the birth.
“Not really,” she responded with a cackle. “Everybody has babies.”
Rhodes is one of those women who hide a fabulously brassy attitude behind a suitably proper demeanor – she’d have done well here in the time of the pioneers. Once a spy for MI6, her defining moment came during World War II, when she interrupted a duck hunt to empty her magazine at a passing German bomber on the off-chance she might hit the gas tank. She was 14 years old.
CNN did their best to prompt her into an effusive response, poking her increasingly desperately with facts such as that the new baby would be the Defender of the Faith, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, head of the Commonwealth and heir to the entire kingdom.
“Yes, all right,” she grumbled. “I’m prepared to be excited.”
Pomp, circumstance and the necessity of tradition is something most Brits hold tight against our souls, but it also has its place and its limits. We want the heir to our throne to be healthy and sound, but we don’t particularly care what it weighs or how long it is. We want the Queen to be properly attended to when she jubilees, but we’d rather it didn’t cause too much extra traffic.
It’s all about balance. There is a cultural memory of respect for the monarchy that we treasure ferociously, but quietly. We’ll happily pin up some bunting to honor the moment, we’ll buy a tea towel and a commemorative coin, we’ll chat about it at the water cooler and coo over Prince George’s little fingers and that’s more than enough excitement for one day.
Though perfectly understandable, particularly when Prince Harry makes the questionable decision to strip down to his undercrackers in a Vegas hotel room, it boggles my mind to see the Royal Family alongside Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton in the gossip columns because, to me, they are not celebrities. These are the men and women who tie my race together and give us our identity.
The Royal Family is my extended family and I’m as happy for them that Baby Cambridge has all his fingers and toes as I would be for anyone else. For us, this is everyday life – it’s the birth of a third cousin in a distant branch of the family that you don’t personally know, but are still very much connected to.
My more pressing issue with the royal birth is that the baby decided to be the wrong gender, thus ruining a potentially historic moment. It could have been a day of reckoning for every woman in the world… but it was not.
Baby George would have taken its place in line for the throne no matter his gender, which I’m sure doesn’t seem all that important – a woman is sitting on the throne right now, after all. But it is actually the first time in the history of the United Kingdom that a girl would have had an automatic right to rule.
I have been asked to explain this several times over the last couple of weeks, and have done so with varying degrees of success. Essentially, throughout history, the crown has always passed to the eldest son of the ruling monarch, even if he has a swathe of older sisters.
When Queen Elizabeth’s father died, the throne passed to her only because she was the eldest of two females. If a brother had been added to the mix, even one a decade her junior, he would have superseded her right.
When the Commonwealth of Nations voted to change the rules it meant that, if Baby Cambridge had been a girl, she would have been the first ever born to know without question that the throne would one day be hers. This would have been a special moment, one that proved the monarchy really can move with the times.
But then he had to go and be born a boy and completely ruin the moment; now it will be four whole generations before another girl has chance to clamber onto the throne. And because his choice of gender is quite frankly a travesty, Prince George might be destined to lead a two-billion strong Commonwealth, but he still won’t be on my guest list for the next family reunion.