Post Tagged with: "Comment"

Australians have given up on the republican dream. I blame the Duchess of Cambridge | Bridie Jabour

January 29, 2014 2:36 am0 comments

Bridie Jabour: It still boggles the mind that so many Australians seem to not embrace a republican ideal – what arguments are there for our country to remain a constitutional monarchy?

Bridie Jabour

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Closer editor understands French hypocrisy over the president’s dalliance

January 15, 2014 7:30 am0 comments
Closer editor understands French hypocrisy over the president’s dalliance

As Jon Henley wrote of the François Hollande’s press conference yesterday, where journalists refused to question him about his dalliance with Julie Gayet, “they do things differently in France.”

But should journalists leave the president alone, tacitly accepting that his private life should not be subject to media scrutiny?

Of course, people should enjoy a private life free from unnecessary intrusion. But surely the president is in a unique position. He is, in a sense, the embodiment of the people. They have elected him to a special and privileged position and he must therefore be held to account by them.

Given that the people’s representatives, their watchdogs, are the press, journalists have an obligation to ensure that individuals elected to power do not abuse their position.

If the president is engaged in a clandestine romance, there are several questions to ask, quite aside from whether it is seemly to double-date his first lady.

Has he put himself in a situation in which his security could be compromised? Has he opened himself to the possibility of blackmail? Does his romantic duplicity suggest he might also be politically duplicitous?

Furthermore, does the attention paid to his lover, and the arrangement of furtive meetings, mean that he is failing to carry out his presidential duties with sufficient attention?

As I write that list, I realise the subjective nature of these concerns and, to an extent, their triviality. There is no evidence that any of them apply in Hollande’s case.

That’s beside the point. They could do, and the people would not know. So the exposure of the president’s second mistress, despite its intrusive nature, can be seen to be in the wider public interest.

I smiled as I watched TV news bulletin vox pops in which people in Parisian streets told interviewers, usually accompanied by a Gallic shrug, that they were uninterested in Hollande’s affair.

I noted in my London Evening Standard column today the various responses: it’s private, it’s gossip, it’s not news, it’s nobody’s business but their own.

But, as I also noted, these statements sit awkwardly with the fact that Closer, the magazine that broke the story, sold out across France. A second edition was then published, and it sold out quickly too.

I detect that the French people are as guilty of hypocrisy as the British people who routinely urge journalists to leave celebrities alone (remember Princess Diana?) while eagerly consuming every item of tittle-tattle about them.

The person who most understands this hypocrisy is the editor of the French issue of Closer, Laurence Pieau. She thumbed her nose at France’s supposedly strict privacy legislation by publishing seven pages of pictures detailing the president’s visits to Gayet.

If the courts do impose a penalty, she will take the heat. As far as she is concerned, press freedom questions aside, the commercial benefits outweigh the strictures of the legislation.

She did the same in September 2012 when she published topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge while sunbathing in a French chateau (though there was no genuine public interest justification for that).

Pieau is a journalist apart from her establishment colleagues who sat through yesterday’s press conference without a murmur. There was not even a titter when the president called his economic strategy a “respectability pact.”

The first question from the press was extraordinary. The journalist’s opening statement was so grovelling it was if he was a supportive politician rather than a member of the press.

He merely asked the president if he would kindly clarify the status of the current first lady, Valérie Trierweiler. Hollande dealt with that easily. There was one follow-up question later, by the Associated Press reporter, but you could feel the rest of the press corps were not on his side.

Yes, they do things differently in France…. for now. But will it always be so? Does Closer represent a change of direction, or is it just a blip? I suspect the former.

  • François Hollande
  • Privacy & the media
  • Privacy
  • France
  • Associated Press
  • Press freedom
  • Magazines
  • Valérie Trierweiler
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
Roy Greenslade

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Pet names are nothing to be ashamed of, Babykins | Daisy Buchanan

December 19, 2013 9:59 am0 comments
Pet names are nothing to be ashamed of, Babykins | Daisy Buchanan

It may seem a bit saccharine, but Prince William’s nickname for the Duchess of Cambridge is actually quite endearing

Marrying into the royal family bestows many privileges upon you. You get the run of Buckingham Palace, the Bentleys and, presumably, the chance to go wrist-deep into her Maj’s bowls of bombay mix without fear of recrimination. But if reports are to be believed, your royally romantic nickname might leave something to be desired.

During the ongoing phone-hacking trial, the court heard that the Duchess of Cambridge had her voicemail intercepted back in 2006, when she was still K Middy, and during one message Prince William referred to the future queen of England as “babykins”.

Babykins. It’s not exactly worthy of Henry Miller, is it? It’s not even as sparky as “Gladys”, the name that Prince Charles, came up with for Camilla, which hints at all sorts of glorious private jokes. (Charles is “Fred”.)

The kindest thing you can say about babykins is that it is unimaginatively constructed. The least kind thing is that when you picture the sort of man who might say it, you envisage a chap who calls his grandmother “nanny” and refuses to learn how to work a washing machine, despite being well into his 50s. I think we all hoped Prince William was a little bit cooler than that.

However, show me a couple with whimsical, witty, beautifully constructed pet names for each other and I’ll show you a relationship that has all the depth and believability of an Instagram feed.

A pet name should be a bit ridiculous. They’re not meant to reflect your very essence, and everything fine about you. They’re supposed to be goofy, soppy and cosy. The sort of thing that only a partner could possibly get away with calling you, because if anyone else tried it, you would never speak to them ever again. If your lover has christened you with a fancy moniker that sums up your love of fine wine or French pop, I’d suspect it’s because they struggle to remember the most important parts of your personality and they’re using the nickname as an aide-memoire.

Pet names are annoyingly organic. They evolve within relationships and, unfortunately, you don’t get to choose your own. You might be an engineer and DIY enthusiast who spends your life under cars and up ladders, but if your partner persists in calling you “princess”, I’m afraid them’s the breaks. An ex-boyfriend called me by my surname for the duration of our two-year relationship. I didn’t like it, he tried to stop doing it, but it had stuck, so all of our tender romantic moments had a bit of a boys’ boarding-school feel.

I know slender ladies who got stuck with “sausage”; dreamy gentlemen who go by “tiger”; a youthful, decidedly non-reptilian “gorgeousaurus”; and one very handsome, fully grown man who is called “egg”. Racing pundit John McCirrick famously calls his wife Jenny “the booby”, apparently after a “South African bird which flaps and squawks”. It’s specific, inventive and, in his mind, accurate – but to my mind, it’s quite horrible. Nicknames might not be yours for the choosing, but I’d always pick something unimaginative and generic over something unique but unkind.

However, pet names have no real meaning on their own – it always depends on the person saying them. A persistent stranger calling you “baby” in a club is a creep – but when it’s spoken tenderly, by a person you’re particularly fond of, it has an entirely different resonance.

Prince William’s choice of pet name is that of a person confident and secure enough to put intimacy over ego. A man who isn’t afraid to call his girlfriend “babykins” on her voicemail is a man who isn’t afraid of his feelings, and who understands that being in love should feel a bit like being in a brilliant gang. If the nickname sounds a little bit saccharine to us, that’s because it wasn’t meant for our ears.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
  • Prince William
  • Relationships
Daisy Buchanan

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My very own Christmas gift to you | Victoria Coren Mitchell

December 14, 2013 10:04 pm0 comments
My very own Christmas gift to you | Victoria Coren Mitchell

Fret ye not over presents for your loved ones. Follow my festive guide

Ho ho ho, it’s that time of year again. The time when I recommend some Christmas presents for your friends and relatives, based on topical celebrities from the year.

I can’t quite remember how it works. I’ve been doing this column annually for 10 years now (I’ve just checked, this is genuinely its 10th anniversary) and, even after re-reading nine previous versions, I still can’t quite grasp the concept. It’s a bit like a round from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.

But I think the gist is: you need Christmas gift ideas. Those magazine guides which recommend presents “for her”, “for him”, “for the kids” or “for the neighbours” simply aren’t specific enough. They seem to work on the assumption that every man alive is interested in gadgets and golf calendars, or that all women want perfume and gloves.

So, in order to help you find something for a more precise and particular acquaintance, I have treated the celebrity world as our collective family. I work on the annual assumption that everyone has, for example, an uncle a bit like Cliff Richard. Or an aunt a bit like Cliff Richard.

I then work out what this Cliff-like uncle or aunt would want (for example: “A mocked up newspaper announcing that their Christmas single has gone straight in at No 1″) and list it below, for your shopping inspiration.

Good luck out there! See you in 2014.

The wayward goddaughter

When she was born, you looked forward to being a racy godparent. Even as you stood at the font, you giggled inwardly about the idea of “renouncing Satan” as you secretly imagined being the first person to buy her a lipstick, give her a brandy and let her watch 18-films at midnight.

Well, the culture moved faster than you did. Now 14, she’s got a full Brazilian and goes to school in hotpants.

She explains that this is a feminist statement, shaking up society’s expectation for young women to be uniformed ie compliant.

You say: “Good… Brilliant… er… and do the boys appreciate this political statement, or are they just pleased to see you’ve got your bum out?”

For Miley Cyrus: Marks and Spencer “classic tweed skirt”, £39.

The reformed godson

Funny; this was the one who always used to cause the trouble. Barely a day went by without him getting up to no good, saying the wrong thing, breaking the rules. You were forever consoling his mother after yet another awkward phone call from school.

But he seems to have gone quiet, this year. He’s combing his hair and doing his homework. He’s hardly said a word out of place. You can’t help suspecting that this is all part of some terrible secret plan.

In a way, you hope it is. You don’t want him to turn out boring. So, you’d like to give him a present that reflects your hope of developing his social conscience, while encouraging him to keep the mischief alive.

For Boris Johnson: a DVD of Blackfish and a pack of smoked salmon.

The moody grandfather

Good old grandad. It’s always lovely to see him at Christmas, with his cheeky smile and shiny shoes, jigging about under the tree. He can get a little confused, but he’s generally chirpy. Everything goes swimmingly – until he opens a cracker, misreads the joke and snaps at people for not laughing.

Still, he’s a staple. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

For Bruce Forsyth: Statler & Waldorf mug, £9.95 from Amazon (dishwasher safe).

The rich sister

Ooh, she’s gone places. No longer the frumpy London schoolgirl, these days your big sis is all jet set and diamonds, hobnobbing and perfect makeup.

Hard to shop for, though, isn’t she? All year round, she’s happily buying herself bejewelled chandeliers and designer stock for that shoe wardrobe that is bigger than your entire flat.

Better check the posting dates; you won’t actually see her over the festive season. She’s abroad with that ghastly husband.

Fine: you don’t need him around the place, spoiling the mood. Last year, when your mum made a small suggestion for changing the arrangements, he had her shot.

For Mrs Assad: a homemade jam. (If the jar breaks in the post, whevs.)

The straight sister-in-law

Obviously, you’re delighted that your brother married someone so responsible, sober and polite. She’s charming to your relatives, with an old-fashioned deference to the old folk on family occasions. She’s always smiling, always tidy and never drunk.

Now she’s become a mother herself, she’s more demure and well-behaved than ever. You never catch her in a foul mood with one boob hanging out and sick on her shoulder. This is all terrific, even if you do want to grab her by the elbows and scream: “Live a little!”

For Kate Middleton: Swarovski shoe-customising crystals (prices vary). To jazz those nude courts up a bit.

The vicar

Lovely old chap. It would be nice to give him a little token, to say thanks for all his work in the community. He’s always welcoming, always twinkling.

Very twinkling. Boy, can that guy twinkle. Sometimes you wonder if he’s a little too twinkling? Twinkle twinkle twinkle. What’s up with this guy? Stop twinkling already! It’s freaking me out!

For the Rev Paul Flowers: Christians Have Fun Too, by Ron Kealey. £1.88 for e-book. (If you’re trying to get your kid into the faith school, give him the Kindle as well.)

www.victoriacoren.com

  • Christmas
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Boris Johnson
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Asma al-Assad
  • Monarchy
Victoria Coren Mitchell

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Which part of a woman’s body will we be taught to despise next? | Barbara Ellen

November 9, 2013 4:11 pm0 comments
Which part of a woman’s body will we be taught to despise next? | Barbara Ellen

Kate’s grey hair is just the latest bit to come under scrutiny

Last week, it was noted in certain quarters that the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton as was) had a few grey hairs in her parting. Cue some faux concern about how pregnancy can sometimes do this to hair, along with a ripple of cooing about how this showed Kate to be “one of us” – too busy and knackered to sort her hair out.

Don’t most people get a couple of white hairs by their 30s? I started getting them when I was a 15-year-old wannabe rock chick (I was told by a hairdresser that it was a Celtic thing). By now, I must resemble the Bride of Catweazle beneath all the dye.

Is the Duchess of Cambridge simply not allowed to change and age – does she have to beg for permission to be mortal? Or is this (a faint twinkle of silver) just another example of the relentless grubbing for new territories and battlegrounds in the ongoing micro-inspection of the female?

Of late, I’ve noticed female hair becoming a thing. Not a big thing, but still a thing. Never mind Kate’s grey, mainly it’s women being “outed” for losing their hair; women with traction damage from hair extensions (Naomi Campbell); women who are shedding because they are stressed (Kristen Stewart), or just shot from specific angles so that their parting looks a mile wide (Nigella Lawson).

When Jennifer Aniston recently had her hair cut off because of a bad reaction to a Brazilian (keratin) treatment, I empathised (I once did similar and spent several mortifying weeks resembling the Joshua Tree).

However, unlike Aniston, at least no one bullied and humiliated me by zooming a camera right on to my scalp as if my blitzed follicles were of the gravest concern to international security.

This isn’t really about hair (shedding, greying, or otherwise), this is about the relentless scramble to find not only new ways to torture women about their appearance, but also new areas to focus on – institutionalised sexism one body part at a time!

While female objectification is eons old, it is also evolving. Most of us will have noticed how increasingly the attack is not directed at a woman’s body as a whole, but, rather, just parts of the body.

It’s as if a whole female body is so disturbing and overwhelming, it has to be criticised one bit at a time. Muffin tops, fat arses, double chins, no thigh gap, bulging hips, bingo wings, sagging knees, bushy brows, non-designer vaginas and, my personal favourite, overlong toes! These days, The Female Eunuch‘s cover would not feature a suit of the female torso, rather several chopped-up female body parts, resembling a serial killer’s dumping ground.

Now there’s hair, preferably thinning in some devastating fashion. Does this matter, beyond celebrities? I’d say so.

What happens to people in the public eye has a trickle-down effect until you come inevitably to a 14-year-old schoolgirl crying alone in her bedroom, wondering which part of her body to despise next, the result of a culture that encourages her to think of herself not as a whole person, but as a series of flesh-and-blood problem zones.

Men endure nothing on the same scale. They get the nasty bald thing, and their demand for plastic surgery is said to be growing, but don’t tell me that they’re worrying about their cankles (where the calf meets the foot, don’t you know?), non-designer testicles or, indeed, overlong toes. They are not encouraged to think of themselves as a series of problematic zones, crudely stitched into a functional flesh onesie.

What a contrast with women, where the only real question is which body part is going to be singled out for sustained hostile critique next.

If you’d asked me even five years ago, I would have confidently declared that we’d definitely run out of new parts to scrutinise and criticise. Now I’m starting to wonder whether we ever will.

I’ve a bad case of Xmas ad nausea

The John Lewis Christmas advert is leaving my tears defiantly unjerked. If the mere idea of a Keane song doesn’t make you want to claw out your own eardrums and dissolve them in acid, Lily Allen’s take on Somewhere Only We Knowcorrect is sweet. However, the cartoon stuff with the hare and the bear leaves me as cold as the snow the badly drawn animals are pretending to scamper about in.

Looking at other Christmas ads, Marks & Spencer has Helena Bonham Carter and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in a frankly tedious Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz mash-up.

Morrisons, meanwhile, has paired Ant and Dec with a dancing gingerbread man; the Boots advert, featuring a hoodie with a heart of gold, deserves special mention for its intriguing misuse of Bronksi Beat’s atmospheric gay anthem, Smalltown Boy”. I’d love to have been in the meeting where someone said: “This song is about the suffering of a young gay man coming out to a hostile world – let’s use it to sell bath bombs!”

Why didn’t these companies ask me for help? For a mere couple of million, I could have told them the truth – that the British public doesn’t want cartoon hares or supermodel boreathons at Christmas.

Instead of retail, think metail. These days, and especially at Christmas, we’re all so narcissistic we only react emotionally to adverts that remind us of us. Hence, the tear-jerk reaction to the John Lewis classic that featured a little boy desperate to give his parents presents, to the strains of Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.

That wasn’t our child but we wanted it to be. Now that was a classy piece of cynical, corporate, mass-emotional manipulation – is it too much to ask for it to happen again?

Blackadder has a cunning plan to tell us about war

Defence minister – and one-time Royal Navy surgeon commander – Dr Andrew Murrison has complained that film and television comedies have left the British public with little understanding of the First World War. Murrison said that the satirical takes such as those offered by the likes of Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s Blackadder have been in the ascendant for way too long. Which echoes Jeremy Paxman’s recent observation that showing schoolchildren Blackadder Goes Forth to teach them about the First World War was “astonishing”.

Really? Obviously, there is always room for more in-depth studies of the First World War. However, shouldn’t Blackadder be commended for keeping this war fresh in people’s minds, especially the minds of younger people? Along with the humour, there was a lot of pathos in Blackadder Goes Forth – the final scene where they go over the top was unforgettable, as was Baldrick’s “German Guns” poem (“Boom. Boom. Boom.”). If I were a pupil, with little knowledge of the First World War, and these episodes were shown, they would whet my interest rather than warp it. What’s so wrong with humour being employed as a learning aid and a gateway to a more thorough understanding?

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
Barbara Ellen

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So now Kate’s a mother she’s allowed a grey hair? Well, thanks for telling us | Daisy Buchanan

November 8, 2013 9:53 am0 comments
So now Kate’s a mother she’s allowed a grey hair? Well, thanks for telling us | Daisy Buchanan

Scrutiny of the Duchess of Cambridge’s appearance is a national pastime that involves a strange, unrealistic sense of what women ‘should’ look like

The power of the long range lens has triumphed over good taste. The tabloid press have lost all interest in the Duchess of Cambridge’s breasts – why wouldn’t they, when the real action is happening around her centre parting? Kate is “not afraid” to let her grey hairs show, according to the Mirror. But from all the attention her barnet has had, you’d think she had grown a third arm, and LK Bennett had customised a coat for her with an extra sleeve, or had just discovered the music of Insane Clown Posse and was unveiling a new Hatchetman tattoo on her forehead.

United in foaming fury tempered by middle-England good sense, media outlets decided it was just about OK for Kate to unleash her silver strands on an unsuspecting public, because she is a new, breastfeeding mother. There is a very small chance that the chemicals in hair dye could contaminate breast milk, which means a smug section of people get to congratulate Kate – the types who would break a pregnant lady’s hand before they allowed her to pick up a very weak white wine spritzer – for doing the right thing. The train of thought seems to go: “Ooooh, that sexually attractive young lady is exhibiting signs of being neither young nor sexually attractive. I am baffled and angry! Oh, hold on, she’s a mum now, which means she stops being a sex object. Now I know what to file her under. Still, she’d better get her hair sorted out sharpish!”

The debacle is horribly reminiscent of the duchess’s first public appearance as a mother. Kate, dazed, glowing and euphoric, stood on the steps of the Lindo Wing with baby George clutched to her chest, and instead of celebrating the miracle of life, there was a collective lowering of the gaze, followed by a demand to know why there was still a bump where the baby had been, and what she intended to do about it.

Looking at photos of Kate is a national pastime, partly because she has joined an institution that requires her to put on a nice dress and have her picture taken several times a week. There are many images of the duchess to stare at, but after a while we stop admiring and start scrutinising. That’s when we start to get a strange, unrealistic sense of what women “should” look like, or worse, start to think that women in the public eye exist only to be looked at.

When historian Mary Beard hit the headlines after being subjected to a vitriolic attack from Twitter trolls. Her long, grey hair was the media’s favourite focus. Not her OBE, her academic career or work for the Times Literary Supplement. If you’re a mature woman who isn’t soothingly, conventionally sexy looking, you’d better make damn sure you’re invisible. Beard’s “wild” hair brought her angry attention, as if she was deliberately offending people by refusing to tame it with lashings of keratin when she went on telly. Of course viewers were shocked by Beard – they have been conditioned to believe that women stop existing on screen as soon as they’re over 35.

What is offensive though is the weird double standard of beauty that promotes the “natural” look, and then, when women actually dare to look natural, straps them to a stretcher and sends them somewhere for enforced waxing, bleaching and straightening.

If we all went natural we’d soon have to come to terms with what everyone really looks like, whether that means a streak of grey hair, a tummy roll, or a strange, stubbly individual hair that keeps appearing in the middle of one’s chin. And then the people who like to look at women and comment on them would probably be shocked and angry for about a week before accepting that women’s bodies do mature and change, and then get on with their lives.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
  • Women
  • Beauty
Daisy Buchanan

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Coverage of Prince George’s christening is a 24-hour austerity anaesthetic | Hugh Muir

October 25, 2013 2:10 am0 comments
Coverage of Prince George’s christening is a 24-hour austerity anaesthetic | Hugh Muir

The royal baby soap opera is a grotesque distraction when so many communities in the kingdom they rule face hardship

Another day of days for the firm of firms. Scan both tabloids and broadsheets in this the week of Prince George’s christening and the Prince of Wales’s big feature in Time magazine and one finds not just royal coverage but something more akin to carpet-bombing. Move over EastEnders, the nation’s soap opera, having added new cast members and promoted them so assiduously, seems ready for its longest-running season ever.

We may not see many new pictures of Prince George, for it is said that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have vowed to guard his privacy as best they can, but be sure that we shall hear everything about him. We will not be directly party to the sub-plot in which his grandpa agonises that he may not be ready/willing/fitted to take the helm in the family firm; but still those plotlines will leak. All of this would be nauseating in normal times but is the prospect not more unsettling in these days of national retrenchment, when so many communities in the kingdom they rule face continuing and accelerating hardship?

There is a question here: with all we know about the Prince of Wales and his willingness to exceed his brief and meddle in politics, and given all we learned from various memoir and Peter Morgan’s splendid dramatisation of the Queen’s weekly encounters with her prime minister’s – are they really happy now to be deployed as a form of austerity anaesthetic?

Perhaps they will say that is precisely their role. Royals have fought in our wars and we shouldn’t belittle that. The Queen joined the territorials in 1945, Prince Philip saw naval service throughout the second world war and Prince Andrew flew helicopters during the Falklands conflict. But in times of great national stress, they have indeed been cast as morale-boosters. One can view their recent capture of the news agenda in that light.

And one might commend them for being in a fit state to assume that role. Since the death of Princess Diana, when Tony Blair’s government feared the institution might topple over, to the latest royal wedding, the royal birth, the Olympic triumph and now the 24-hour news christening, this has been a corporate turnaround that even industry specialists would envy.

But if the battle to move on from monarchy – or at least to sideline it – seems a losing one, and if they really must meddle, as Charles seems determined to, aren’t there issues beyond the froth they might attend to? In the 1980s, Charles, as commander-in-chief of several army regiments, made clear his displeasure at the racist treatment meted out to minority soldiers. Might he have something to say now about the economic ravaging of the industrial north, the effect of benefit health checks on the disabled, the cutting of services to communities already deprived? Might we be assured that the Queen is having feisty exchanges with David Cameron – just as she was apparently prepared to do with Margaret Thatcher over the Commonwealth?

There is a quid pro quo here. The soap opera will always be dispiriting to those of us who don’t wish to see it beamed from every corner. But it might seem less of a grotesque distraction if underpinned by something else.

  • Prince George
  • Monarchy
  • Prince William
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
Hugh Muir

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Breastfeeding won’t seem normal until we see more pictures of it | Susan Bright

October 14, 2013 3:27 am0 comments
Breastfeeding won’t seem normal until we see more pictures of it | Susan Bright

From cliched poses to Facebook bans, society has a problem with realistic images of breastfeeding and postpartum bodies

You would have had to have been living in a cave not to have noticed the increased interest in celebrity mums in the media over the last decade. From judgmental and vicious attacks on Nadya Doud-Suleman (more commonly referred to as the “Octomom”), to hyperbolic revelry at the Duchess of Cambridge giving birth to Prince George, the insatiable media mill has placed an unprecedented level of scrutiny on mothers.

Of course it’s not a one-way street. Celebrities tweet, Instagram and Facebook their way through their pregnancies. Thinly disguised as sisterly sharing, it often comes across as sanctimonious showing off, and celebrity and audience alike are more aware that the act of becoming a mother can provide valuable exposure.

However, if you take away the captions and just look at the pictures, what is revealed is a series of old stereotypes: the Madonna motif is repeated, families snuggle together in group hugs and young babies are held up while the mother looks adoringly into their eyes. What’s most intriguing about the representation of celebrity mothering in popular culture is what’s missing: pictures of breastfeeding and the postpartum body.

The reaction to Kate Middleton’s weight as she left hospital just days after giving birth revealed that the public is not very good at dealing with realistic pictures of mothering. The fact that so many people were shocked indicates their ignorance that a bump doesn’t instantly disappear once a baby has been born. This in itself is not shameful; how can people know this if they have not gone through the experience and have seen no pictures which normalise this?

Photographers have attempted to address this misconception. Two recent projects celebrated the postpartum body – Jade Beall’s A Beautiful Body and The 4th Trimester Bodies Project by Ashlee Wells Jackson – and went viral on the internet. Shot in a purposefully arty, studio setup in tasteful black and white, they have overtones of Dove’s “empowering” commercials of real women. However, the poses still repeat the same old tropes, only naked.

Breasts are even more complicated. Photographic representation of breastfeeding can be read as a shortcut for instant shock value, especially when on pages generally more associated with fashion imagery. In 2006 Steven Klein shot the model Angela Lindvall nursing her son Sebastian for American Vogue, following in the footsteps of Annie Leibovitz, who photographed Jerry Hall breastfeeding her son Gabriel for the cover of the Australian’s weekend magazine in 1999. Both of these images have a high level of authority and visual charge that’s at odds with the more nurturing and benign Madonna, but they are essentially fashion photographs of models who are well practised at posing.

Occasionally, one glimpses paparazzi shots of a celebrity shrouding their baby and breast with what is indelicately called a “hooter hider” in the US. But there was a huge backlash against the recent Time cover of Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her three-year-old son, photographed by Martin Schoeller. In this case it was of course not only the exposure of the breast, but the fact that her son was not a newborn that caused indignation. Societal values associated with age and breastfeeding are confused: Britain suggests an arbitrary six months, the US recommends a year and the World Health Organisation advocates at least two.

Breastfeeding sits in the middle of two very contradictory forces. On one hand it is simply not represented in popular culture; it has yet to be normalised by the sheer repetition of seeing it every day online, on television or in print media. But on the other hand women are shamed if they do not do it. Governmental forces and lobby groups insist it is best, but how can women comfortably do it if it is not accepted visually? The British poet Hollie McNish has written of these overwhelming feelings of shame and being forced to breastfeed in a public toilet, her “baby’s first sips are drown-drenched in shite”.

Can photography change these attitudes? In 1991, when Leibovitz photographed a heavily pregnant Demi Moore for the cover of Vanity Fair, the western world was shocked. Now the web is awash with pregnant women “doing a Demi” and pregnancy has come out of the shadows of subjects that cannot be publicly represented.

It’s up to photographers, photo editors and art directors to be brave enough to commission and publish photos which give new mothers a visual rubric in which to feel comfortable enough to nurse publicly. Facebook needs to lift its ridiculous nipple ban and nursing pictures should be no big deal on Instagram feeds.

When images of breastfeeding and postpartum tummies enter our popular culture, they will help to provide a path away from ignorance and embarrassment.

  • Photography
  • Breastfeeding
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Parents and parenting
  • Women
  • Childbirth
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • News photography
Susan Bright

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Nothing’s changed – the royals still grow fatter each year at our expense | Tanya Gold

October 10, 2013 6:08 am0 comments
Nothing’s changed – the royals still grow fatter each year at our expense | Tanya Gold

Ignore this democratisation nonsense. When the Queen’s money man faces the public accounts committee, it will be clear that royal ‘value for money’ is a red herring

Two royal stories haunt the ether: continuing speculation as to whether Prince Harry will marry Cressida Bonas and thus facilitate the transformation of the younger generation of royals into a more profligate, and entirely human, version of the Sylvanian Families toy tableaux; and the far more interesting, and therefore unlikely to be as widely reported, appearance of Sir Alan Reid GCVO, keeper of the privy purse, in front of the public accounts committee next Monday. For one day only, the Queen’s accountant will ride out of the dark.

If the appearance of William Nye, aide to Prince Charles, in front of the committee in July is anything to judge by, it will be a whisper in the wind. The presence of these men at Westminster is the price paid for a 2011 deal that enriched the monarchy: when the civil list was replaced by the sovereign support grant, which doles out 15% of the profits of the crown estate, the royal family had, at least theoretically, to answer to the committee, who want to know if they offer “value for money”. It is the wrong question, but the right one – why do we persist in the constitutional equivalent of dancing round a stone? – is not in the committee’s remit. Even cracked nationalism has a price, and the royal family, in pursuit of funds, is happy to pay it.

British royalty, backed by an abject government and horizontal media, is in full inglorious resurgence; the more we smash the poorest, it seems, the greater the desire to exalt the richest.

Diana, the film about the late Princess of Wales, the woman who did most to expose the private dysfunction of the family, showed us nothing except bad dialogue and wigs. Tiny Prince George was named top of the London Evening Standard’s Power 1000, which apparently makes him the most influential person in London despite his being unable to speak, which is a better metaphor for attachment to monarchy than the authors probably realised. Larger Prince Harry was mobbed on his recent visit to Australia, for being a youngish man of ancient lineage in possession of great wealth. Was his costumed homage to Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman unconscious?

Much nonsense was written about the “democratisation” of the royal family when Prince William married the girl born in Reading of a mother called Carole, but this is bunk. Nothing has changed, except that the royal family grow fatter every year. The pressure group Republic estimates that royal expenditure has increased 94% in real terms in 20 years; in 2014, they will receive £37.89m, a 5% increase on the year before. As the Duchess of Cambridge regards the vastly expensive renovation of her new home, apartment 1A in Kensington Palace, formerly the lair of Princess Margaret, her voice is now posher than her husband’s.

Polls say that monarchy is popular and will endure, but how reliable is this data when so much of the truth is hidden from us? (Copyright, Diana.) The BBC, so often derided as a nest of Marxists, reverts to conservatism when broadcasting about monarchy; they may have made fools of themselves with the jubilee coverage, but they were loving fools. The daily newspapers, with only a few exceptions, are prostrate when discussing the royal family; all other media seem blinded by the clothes, which are gaudy, but do not amount to a rational political system.

The government, meanwhile, is busy enriching them; perhaps the most noxious element of the 2011 deal ensures that no matter how the crown estate fares, the royal family will never receive less than the year before. When the markets do not provide, the state will; even the Financial Times was disgusted.

Another deal exempts the senior royals from the Freedom of Information Act, so we cannot see the way in which – contrary to the lie that they adore us and never talk of anything except our welfare, and perhaps dogs – they operate as a profitable business, entirely dedicated to self-interest. In 2004, courtiers attempted to secure a community energy grant, aimed at the low paid, to heat the royal palaces; they only desisted when it was pointed out how bad it would look. (Now the FOI rules have been amended, we will not hear of these schemes.) Did the Queen know? (“If only Comrade Stalin knew of our misery!”) Browse the situations vacant in the royal household. Some positions offer little more than the minimum wage: the exposure of the royal household’s use of zero-hours contracts this summer was a scandal that fizzled and died. Conscious of how bad things do look, the royals occasionally spin, although limply, because they do not need to do it well: the Duke of Cambridge would not, it was announced, have a butler when he married. “He and Catherine will live without domestic staff, and they wouldn’t do it any other way,” we were told, with ponderous melodrama. Now they have a butler. And a valet. And a nanny. And so on.

Will this be pondered at the public accounts committee? Sir Alan Reid will likely squirm as the absurd travel expenses are aired: the royals are allergic to public transport, which could merely be a smart attempt to make a royal 747 (“Heir Force One”) appear cost-effective. But, for a republican, royal “value for money” is ever a red herring – what price the state?

Twitter: @TanyaGold1

  • Monarchy
  • The Queen
  • Prince William
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
Tanya Gold

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Prince William is devoted to Africa. Lucky, lucky Africa | Catherine Bennett

September 14, 2013 3:07 pm0 comments
Prince William is devoted to Africa. Lucky, lucky Africa | Catherine Bennett

Having left the armed forces, Prince William is following in his father’s footsteps and adopting a whole continent

Having already served in the military for two years longer than his father, Prince William’s decision to retire at the comparatively advanced age of 31, should help to dispel fears that he is, for all his salt-of-the-earth, Bucklebury connections, growing worryingly to resemble the fractious heir apparent, to the point of employing the same nanny. Moreover, unlike his directionless father, back in 1976, William appears immediately to have found a replacement for conventional work: protecting African wildlife.

On the day he quit the RAF’s search and rescue, Prince William arrived with the duchess, for their first public appearance since their baby was born, at the inaugural Tusk Conservation awards. A television programme this evening, Prince William’s Passion: New Father, New Hope, is also intended to show that Anglesey’s loss will be Africa’s gain.

“It’s simple,” the broadcaster Ben Fogle confirmed, at the Tusk event. “Prince William loves Africa. It’s where he proposed to Catherine, it’s where he spent his gap year and it’s where he found himself.” And the current production of The Book of Mormon reminds us that the prince’s passion is widely shared. “We are Africa!” sing the missionaries, at work in Uganda. “We are the sunrise on the savanna, A monkey with a banana, A tribal woman who doesn’t wear a bra.”

With hindsight, of course, William’s career move seems obvious, even overdue. The theme of William’s 21st party was Out of Africa: Windsor Castle became the bush; costumes included a cannibal, a Tarzan, a lion, a banana. This, strangely, occasioned none of the loud public distaste that would follow Harry’s appearance in Nazi uniform at another “colonial and native” themed celebration; the younger prince now holds parties in Botswana. Charles has speculated that an early trip to the Serengeti may explain why both his sons “have fallen in love with Africa”. What does it mean to love an entire continent like this? Does Harry not have a favourite country, economy or government? Does William adore Rwanda as much as he does Kenya, where it is possible to stay in the very game lodge where he proposed? Do the princes dote on brave Liberia, or Madonna’s favourite Malawi, just as they do on Nigeria, land of contrasts, where the army is at war with Boko Haram? Given a firm preference for wildlife over humans, maybe it’s not impossible. Even to these old Africa hands, one hyena must sound much like another.

In extracts from tonight’s television show, released early, William disclosed that African noises are uniquely therapeutic – you gather, anyway, that he has not had much luck with the cows, wasps and magpies of his native kingdom that would, presumably, send an African prince straight to sleep. “If I am having a stressful day I’ll put a buffalo or a cricket or a newt on and it takes you back instantly to the bush. And it does completely settle me down.”

Until their son is big enough to join them in the savanna, William and Catherine plan to nurture a love of Africa with Laurens van der Post-themed nursery decorations: “I’ll have toy elephants and rhinos around the room,” he said . “We’ll cover it in, you know, lots of bushes and things like that, make him grow up as if he’s in the bush.”

Compare William’s unwavering commitment to the world of Abercrombie & Kent to the years of drift and uncertainty that followed Prince Charles’s early retirement, whose purpose was partly, says his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby, “in order to move away from the unfulfilling confines of service life”.

In the years before he alighted on biscuits and Islam, the prince’s unemployment became a source of establishment agitation and, the prince made clear, private torment. “My great problem in life is that I do not really know what my role in life is,” he said. “At the moment I do not have one. But somehow I must find one.”

Although Charles was by then infatuated with William’s future godfather, the author Laurens van der Post (who had yet to be exposed as a fraud, a kind of Jungle Book version of Jeffrey Archer), it does not seem to have occurred to him, as it has to William, that a romantic affinity with a distant landscape could be elevated into a job. Instead, Charles took African holidays, with van der Post as his confessor and mentor, to the Aberdare Mountains, the Kalahari. It was his companion’s contention that “by merely taking the most sophisticated people into the bush and wilds of Africa, we have produced the most startling re-educative and therapeutic effects upon their divided personalities”. Charles wrote in his diary: “The sunsets were out of this world.”

We can’t know what Charles would have been like without African bush therapy, and his mother certainly seemed unchanged by Treetops, but the reassembled prince duly became friendly with Africa’s Chief Buthelezi, which would have delighted the Mandela-loathing van der Post. The prince’s longstanding problems with the modern world, particularly as it afflicts Africa, have also been attributed to the sage, a resident of Chelsea.

“Is all this development really progress?” Charles once wrote from Botswana to fellow noble savage Nicholas Soames. “Why is it they all want to become carbon copies of western industrialised societies?”

It is to Charles’s credit, perhaps, that his African insights preceded by many years another, much more popular reinvention of the white man’s burden, the Gap Yah videos, featuring Orlando, fundraiser and fellow believer in “the awesome power of nature and the insignificance of man”. In William’s circle, Orlando evidently remains a role model. Months before the prince announced his extension of the Gap Yah concept to embrace an entire lifetime, Richard Branson’s son, Sam, had married in some Branson-owned bush, with guests including Harry’s girlfriend and Eugenie and Beatrice – Hinge and Bracket to go by their African names. The Branson “African-themed treats”, Hello! magazine reported, included bongo lessons. Also fancy dress. “There’s something about being so close to nature that just makes you feel alive,” Branson said. “You’re connected to nature at its most raw.”

In this respect, as any gap year student will confirm, Britain can hardly compete, or not until cats become endangered. And perhaps it is selfish, parochial in the extreme, to begrudge needy African quadrupeds the kind of interest that William is notionally paid to extend to his own future subjects. Now that most of Africa has achieved independence, what the place probably needs, as Orlando explains, prior to his Gap Yah fundraiser is “a western presence”.

With the royal commitment to shooting creatures such as stags, pheasants, foxes and even, it has been rumoured, a hen harrier, it would be hard to argue that royals have shown indifference to our own wildlife. Hakuna Matata , as they say in Kensingon Palace. What a wonderful phrase. If our royals only feel truly at home in Africa, maybe we should love them enough to let them go.

  • Prince William
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
  • Africa
Catherine Bennett

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The royal baby pictures show privilege trying, and failing, to look normal | Jonathan Jones

August 20, 2013 6:10 am0 comments
The royal baby pictures show privilege trying, and failing, to look normal | Jonathan Jones

William and Kate’s middle-class make-believe with George is no more authentic than Marie Antoinette dressing as a shepherdess

Say cheese! The smiles of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge say it all in their first official photographs with Prince George.

Those grins say, for a start, that we are looking at an amateur photograph. No professional asks people to beam for their portraits in the toothy way the royal parents do as they pose on a lawn with their baby and a handsome dog. The photographer is the happy mum’s father, Michael Middleton. Picture editors and photographers have praised his work, as the unstoppable flood of sycophancy unleashed by the royal birth continues to sweep away sanity and proportion.

These are plainly amateur pictures: the Raphaelesque triangular composition (completed by the dog) is as innocent and old-fashioned as any moderately skilled enthusiast with a decent camera might manage under similar circumstances. This unmistakable ordinariness gives the photo its democratic charm. Here is the royal lineage of Britain, with a claim to the throne enshrined by centuries of pomp and circumstance, pictured like a middle class English family in the garden on a summer day. The happiness of the parents is so spontaneous and normal. The sentimentality we naturally share about babies is being exploited by the British monarchy to an embarrassing degree. But the trouble with the new royalism is that it is far more dishonest than the old royalism. This picture, with its amateur touches, gives that away.

I can’t stop looking at those teeth. How they shine. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may pose as totally average people, they may even think they are totally average people, but if they don’t care about image, why the Hollywood teeth? In this picture everything is manicured, including the vast empty lawn. It’s not an image of ordinariness but of the new elite of David Cameron’s Britain who dress, relax and smile with an unostentatious confidence that’s actually born of huge financial security.

And for all its attempts to look natural, it is posed: for the royal family is not middle class. The royal couple playing at “normal” parenthood is no more authentic than Marie Antoinette dressed as a shepherdess. The interesting question is why is such obvious fiction taken seriously by so many? Most of us take our own family photographs because that’s the only way they will get taken. The royals have access to any star photographer going, so it is mere vanity to choose granddad to do it instead. It goes with all the other vanities of this summer’s humble royal fantasy. Let’s pretend we don’t have an army of nannies standing by. Let’s pretend the royal baby has the same life chances as every other child born in Britain. Why? Surely because this image of a lovably “ordinary” royal family is reassuring in insecure times.

The image says they are like us, but we know their happiness rests on a bedrock of massive wealth and tradition. They have nothing to worry about. So maybe if we identify with them, we have nothing to worry about either. It is anxiety that gives birth to conservatism. This is a portrait of our frightened age.

  • Prince George
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Prince William
  • Monarchy
  • Photography
Jonathan Jones

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Pregnancy changes women’s bodies shock | Naomi McAuliffe

July 30, 2013 1:19 am0 comments
Pregnancy changes women’s bodies shock | Naomi McAuliffe

Instead of making ignorant remarks about the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-baby weight, we should celebrate women’s remarkable bodies

Incredibly there seem to be people who are blissfully unaware that women put on weight during pregnancy. Maybe it’s a sad indictment of our education system or maybe people do still believe that babies arrive by storks to cabbage patches and thus cannot fathom why women let themselves go in such a dramatic fashion when they are expecting.

Always saying what no one is thinking, Anna Botting of Sky News asked when the Duchess of Cambridge emerged with her newborn baby: “Why does she still have a bump?” To which the whole of Twitter chorused “Because she had a baby yesterday!” Equally helpful was OK! Magazine’s offering of a “post-baby weight loss regime” for Kate. This has prompted many, including Jo Swinson, the minister for women and equalities, to ask the media to rethink their attitudes towards birth and women’s bodies.

For the media not to consider women’s bodies public property would be an incredible day indeed. But for them to at least address some of the ignorance and damaging attitudes about what pregnancy does to women would be a start. Women are already ashamed enough about their post-pregnancy bodies to the point where we clearly have no idea what they even look like. They are hidden away and wrapped under loungewear until society decides they are allowed back out in public.

We should not be surprised that pregnancy changes the shape of women’s bodies. Carrying and sustaining a watermelon-sized parasite is likely to result in some weight gain. At full-term a baby is on average seven to eight pounds, add to that a weighty placenta, amniotic fluid, a rather enlarged womb, increased blood volume (you have around 50% extra blood by the end of your pregnancy), bigger boobs, larger muscles to carry around all of the above and the necessary fat reserves needed for energy to move from the sofa to the toilet repeatedly.

You need rather a lot of energy for giving birth and you are then expected to be producing a fatty, white substance to sustain this spawn for at least six months after it has made its entrance into the world. The biggest challenge after birth for most women is actually finding time to prepare food and eat themselves, rather than subject themselves to a regime of punishment for allowing their body to healthily sustain a baby.

The truth is many women will never regain the shape they had pre-pregnancy and there is nothing wrong with this. Women’s bodies can tell a remarkable story whereas there is nothing, absolutely nothing, even remotely interesting about dieting: I am already bored to tears by people endless babbling on about their 5:2 diet. But if you told me you had stretch marks in the shape of Keith Moon’s face, then I’d be interested. That’s worthy of conversation, not how you tend to get a bit peckish on a fast day.

Women are starting to emerge from the shadows and reveal their post-pregnancy bodies such as those captured by photographer Jade Beall. Some women ping back into shape, some don’t; some have bigger feet than before, most have a softer tummy. But what each of them should do is marvel at what their body has done. How it rearranged itself, how it grew that extra skin, produced that extra blood, manufactured that milk, how it does mysterious things to your bowels.

Human reproduction is ridiculous and incredible in equal measure. It reminds us that we are mammals but with the ability to consider the profound implications of that. We should celebrate women’s bodies in all their shapes and sizes not punish them for the weird and wonderful things they do.

• This article was amended on 30 July 2013. It had said in the second paragraph: “Kay Burley of Sky News asked when the Duchess of Cambridge emerged with her newborn baby. “Why does she still have a bump?” This comment was actually made by Anna Botting, also of Sky News.

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Body image
  • Health & wellbeing
  • Family
  • Parents and parenting
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
  • Women
  • Health
Naomi McAuliffe

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Where should we draw the line between privacy and public interest?

July 29, 2013 2:57 am0 comments
Where should we draw the line between privacy and public interest?

An American journalist emailed me over the weekend about the arrests in France of the editor, publisher and photographer responsible for the publication of the topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge in September 2012.

She pointed specifically to the Daily Telegraph’s report, saying that “from an American media perspective” it was “hilarious, harrumphing in every paragraph. It even described the woman photographer’s last name, Suau, as pronounced like ‘sewer.’ Wish we could get away with stuff like that!”

I must admit, on second reading, I did note that it was laced with thinly-veiled opinion. On first reading, however, I didn’t find it objectionable because we in Britain are so used to uninhibited partiality in news reports (it also appeared here in the Daily Mail).

But my correspondent had a serious question: could journalists in the UK have been arrested for taking such pictures?

The straightforward answer is “no”. We have no privacy law as such, though we are subject to article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

Privacy and the public right to know

There was a fascinating discussion about the nature of modern privacy on Radio 4 this morning, chaired by Steve Hewlett. Fascinating because it illustrated yet again how difficult it is to balance what should be properly private and rightfully public.

By coincidence, I was listening to it when I clicked on to a HoldTheFrontPage report, “Trainee reporter goes undercover to expose sex party.”

It told how “a trainee reporter just three months into the job” with the Brentwood Gazette “carried out an undercover investigation” into a private party held at a hotel. His news report, with suitably obscured pictures, can be found here and a descriptive article is here.

I have no wish to rain on the parade of a young reporter hailed by his editor for his “incredible guts” in obtaining his scoop. But I just couldn’t see the relevance of this quasi News of the World tale in terms of either the current editors’ code of practice or the law.

Code first. The privacy clause states that “everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life”. It says “editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent” and that “it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.”

It further explains that “private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

But this respect for privacy is subject to the code’s public interest test. So the protection is lifted if the report exposes crime or serious impropriety; protects public health and safety; or prevents the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

Did any of that apply to the Brentwood Gazette “investigation”? In what way did it serve the public interest to expose the activities of consenting adults who were, by their nature, enjoying “a reasonable expectation of privacy”?

One possibility is that they were breaking the law. But even the police officer quoted in the story – Inspector Paul Wells – was uncertain about whether a breach of the law had occurred. He told the paper: “There may not be legislation to deal with all parties involved but there may be relevant legislation pertaining to the use of the building for such a purpose.”

He went on to talk about “associated risks with this sort of activity, both health and potentially criminal” adding: “So we would discourage anyone from taking part.”

I can understand that, of course, but I cannot imagine anyone being prosecuted. This kind of sexual party may offend many people’s sense of morality, but where is the crime?

Sure, the men paid for the privilege of attending, but that is not illegal. The hotel may be upset that its premises are being used for such sleazy activity, but I don’t imagine its management being overly shocked by such revelations.

Let’s go back to the editors’ code, which is administered by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). It states:

“Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest and how, and with whom, that was established at the time.”

I don’t suppose the commission will be required to decide on the article’s public interest merits through a formal complaint. But, aside from appealing to readers’ prurience, it is difficult to ascertain the point of the story.

  • Privacy & the media
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Newspapers
  • Regional & local newspapers
  • France
  • Human rights
  • Human Rights Act
  • National newspapers
  • News of the World
  • Daily Telegraph
  • Daily Mail
  • Press Complaints Commission
  • Sexual health
  • News photography
Roy Greenslade

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Where should we draw the line between privacy and public interest?

2:57 am0 comments
Where should we draw the line between privacy and public interest?

An American journalist emailed me over the weekend about the arrests in France of the editor, publisher and photographer responsible for the publication of the topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge in September 2012.

She pointed specifically to the Daily Telegraph’s report, saying that “from an American media perspective” it was “hilarious, harrumphing in every paragraph. It even described the woman photographer’s last name, Suau, as pronounced like ‘sewer.’ Wish we could get away with stuff like that!”

I must admit, on second reading, I did note that it was laced with thinly-veiled opinion. On first reading, however, I didn’t find it objectionable because we in Britain are so used to uninhibited partiality in news reports (it also appeared here in the Daily Mail).

But my correspondent had a serious question: could journalists in the UK have been arrested for taking such pictures?

The straightforward answer is “no”. We have no privacy law as such, though we are subject to article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

Privacy and the public right to know

There was a fascinating discussion about the nature of modern privacy on Radio 4 this morning, chaired by Steve Hewlett. Fascinating because it illustrated yet again how difficult it is to balance what should be properly private and rightfully public.

By coincidence, I was listening to it when I clicked on to a HoldTheFrontPage report, “Trainee reporter goes undercover to expose sex party.”

It told how “a trainee reporter just three months into the job” with the Brentwood Gazette “carried out an undercover investigation” into a private party held at a hotel. His news report, with suitably obscured pictures, can be found here and a descriptive article is here.

I have no wish to rain on the parade of a young reporter hailed by his editor for his “incredible guts” in obtaining his scoop. But I just couldn’t see the relevance of this quasi News of the World tale in terms of either the current editors’ code of practice or the law.

Code first. The privacy clause states that “everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life”. It says “editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent” and that “it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.”

It further explains that “private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

But this respect for privacy is subject to the code’s public interest test. So the protection is lifted if the report exposes crime or serious impropriety; protects public health and safety; or prevents the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

Did any of that apply to the Brentwood Gazette “investigation”? In what way did it serve the public interest to expose the activities of consenting adults who were, by their nature, enjoying “a reasonable expectation of privacy”?

One possibility is that they were breaking the law. But even the police officer quoted in the story – Inspector Paul Wells – was uncertain about whether a breach of the law had occurred. He told the paper: “There may not be legislation to deal with all parties involved but there may be relevant legislation pertaining to the use of the building for such a purpose.”

He went on to talk about “associated risks with this sort of activity, both health and potentially criminal” adding: “So we would discourage anyone from taking part.”

I can understand that, of course, but I cannot imagine anyone being prosecuted. This kind of sexual party may offend many people’s sense of morality, but where is the crime?

Sure, the men paid for the privilege of attending, but that is not illegal. The hotel may be upset that its premises are being used for such sleazy activity, but I don’t imagine its management being overly shocked by such revelations.

Let’s go back to the editors’ code, which is administered by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). It states:

“Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest and how, and with whom, that was established at the time.”

I don’t suppose the commission will be required to decide on the article’s public interest merits through a formal complaint. But, aside from appealing to readers’ prurience, it is difficult to ascertain the point of the story.

  • Privacy & the media
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Newspapers
  • Regional & local newspapers
  • France
  • Human rights
  • Human Rights Act
  • National newspapers
  • News of the World
  • Daily Telegraph
  • Daily Mail
  • Press Complaints Commission
  • Sexual health
  • News photography
Roy Greenslade

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Kate and William: royals living the dream of modern middle class parents?

July 27, 2013 3:37 pm0 comments
Kate and William: royals living the dream of modern middle class parents?

Millions find the royal couple’s ordinariness appealing – even as a comfortable way of life slips away from their grasp

“What sort of country do we want?” the former Conservative MP George Walden asked in the 1990s, considering the issue of royalty: “Reproduction antique?”

Since the arrival of George Alexander Louis and his debut in front of the world’s press when his parents, William and Kate, left the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, west London, the 21st century answer is, quite possibly, retro-modern and very middle class: the House of Windsor stripped of chintz.

The royal family has had more scandalous sub-plots than any television soap. There’s been madness, abdication, fornication – and many of them have included a George – but, two decades after the Queen’s “annus horribilis”, how skilfully the team has revived, restored and reincarnated itself, blessed by the apparent ordinariness, warmth and ease of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

It’s an irony – or perhaps a lucky twist of fate for ardent royalists – that just as the middle classes are imploding, whacked by flatlining salaries, rising prices, low interest rates, restricted employment opportunities, a weak pound against the euro cancelling out that second holiday, escalating boarding-school fees and the dawning understanding that social mobility means dropping down several rungs as well as climbing up, here is a couple who can live out their lives in a fantasy middle-class bubble.

The Cambridges come already vaccinated against financial turmoil, unemployment, pestilence and plague. Not for the next-but-one king of England the frozen wastes of stately palaces, high protocol and low heating bills, flunkies and footmen. Instead, millions can gaze on William and Kate, and think, Lotto-like, it could be us – even as the accoutrements that signal a comfortable way of life slip more and more rapidly from their grasp.

Vicariousness should be given the royal seal of approval, so usefully and dangerously does it cement the House of Windsor into the nation’s consciousness. The Cambridges, involuntarily, are members of the 1%, dressed lightly in the clothes of the middle class – but what is British royalty if it’s not made of myths? A private suite for delivery of the baby? That’s £15,000 and rising. The royal couple’s “family home” will eventually be a 20-room London base refurbished at a cost to the taxpayer of over £1m; plus Anmer Hall, the Georgian Grade II-listed house on the Sandringham estate for the occasional weekend away. And the Old Boot Inn in Bucklebury, Berkshire, the village where Kate’s parents live. When the Cambridges come in for their pint and a pie, just as the locals do, a high chair is ready. “We may turn it into a little throne,” says the landlord, John Haley.

It’s monarchy with mod cons. Many of those thirtysomethings, pauvre-posh, several years older than the Cambridges, gritting their teeth as they continue to rent, house share or park themselves back at home, deferring parenthood and shedding prospects, may undoubtedly be cheered that at least one (or more precisely two) of “us” is doing better than the rest.

The semiotics couldn’t be stronger: behaviour that would once have been considered “common” by the House of the Windsors is now its passport to a more secure future, avoiding, as Scottish columnist Ian Bell says, “Scandinavian discretion and reduced circumstances”.

No nannies for now; a separate nursery wing but possible membership of Maggie & Rose, a “soft play” club for children and parents, or Purple Dragon club and kindergarten (£4,000 a year for the first child; £10,000 for three) is far from infra dig.

As many a broke former yummy mummy gazes on, catching her breath between various part-time jobs in knick-knack shops and cupcake bakeries, weeping as she withdraws her son from private school to send him to the local comprehensive, Kate will have the resources (but not the freedom) to indulge at whim in the colossal and still expanding baby uber-market.

Each purchase will be clocked, priced and sourced by the ever-hungry media, and paraded as yet further proof that she and he, at heart, are each really one of the people. Cashmere shawls, Bugaboo prams and a little bit of Gap is bound to trigger a mothering Klondike of a kind not seen since the 1950s, when women were first ushered back into the home after the liberation of war work. “Whoa, Mom! Can’t you take it?” read one ad for Johnson’s baby powder, illustrated by a giant toddler terrorising its two-inch mother.

However hard they try, and it’s to their credit that they genuinely do, Kate and William live in a parallel universe, updated but parallel. Retro because it’s a world in which the man is the main breadwinner, head honcho and amateur daddy (gosh – he changes a nappy!) while the woman sees motherhood as her full-time concern. Perhaps it says something about our healthy modern society that, for many, there’s no envy at all at Kate and William’s plight.

  • Prince George
  • Monarchy
  • Prince William
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
Yvonne Roberts

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Kate and William: royals living the dream of modern middle class parents?

3:37 pm0 comments
Kate and William: royals living the dream of modern middle class parents?

Millions find the royal couple’s ordinariness appealing – even as a comfortable way of life slips away from their grasp

“What sort of country do we want?” the former Conservative MP George Walden asked in the 1990s, considering the issue of royalty: “Reproduction antique?”

Since the arrival of George Alexander Louis and his debut in front of the world’s press when his parents, William and Kate, left the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, west London, the 21st century answer is, quite possibly, retro-modern and very middle class: the House of Windsor stripped of chintz.

The royal family has had more scandalous sub-plots than any television soap. There’s been madness, abdication, fornication – and many of them have included a George – but, two decades after the Queen’s “annus horribilis”, how skilfully the team has revived, restored and reincarnated itself, blessed by the apparent ordinariness, warmth and ease of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

It’s an irony – or perhaps a lucky twist of fate for ardent royalists – that just as the middle classes are imploding, whacked by flatlining salaries, rising prices, low interest rates, restricted employment opportunities, a weak pound against the euro cancelling out that second holiday, escalating boarding-school fees and the dawning understanding that social mobility means dropping down several rungs as well as climbing up, here is a couple who can live out their lives in a fantasy middle-class bubble.

The Cambridges come already vaccinated against financial turmoil, unemployment, pestilence and plague. Not for the next-but-one king of England the frozen wastes of stately palaces, high protocol and low heating bills, flunkies and footmen. Instead, millions can gaze on William and Kate, and think, Lotto-like, it could be us – even as the accoutrements that signal a comfortable way of life slip more and more rapidly from their grasp.

Vicariousness should be given the royal seal of approval, so usefully and dangerously does it cement the House of Windsor into the nation’s consciousness. The Cambridges, involuntarily, are members of the 1%, dressed lightly in the clothes of the middle class – but what is British royalty if it’s not made of myths? A private suite for delivery of the baby? That’s £15,000 and rising. The royal couple’s “family home” will eventually be a 20-room London base refurbished at a cost to the taxpayer of over £1m; plus Anmer Hall, the Georgian Grade II-listed house on the Sandringham estate for the occasional weekend away. And the Old Boot Inn in Bucklebury, Berkshire, the village where Kate’s parents live. When the Cambridges come in for their pint and a pie, just as the locals do, a high chair is ready. “We may turn it into a little throne,” says the landlord, John Haley.

It’s monarchy with mod cons. Many of those thirtysomethings, pauvre-posh, several years older than the Cambridges, gritting their teeth as they continue to rent, house share or park themselves back at home, deferring parenthood and shedding prospects, may undoubtedly be cheered that at least one (or more precisely two) of “us” is doing better than the rest.

The semiotics couldn’t be stronger: behaviour that would once have been considered “common” by the House of the Windsors is now its passport to a more secure future, avoiding, as Scottish columnist Ian Bell says, “Scandinavian discretion and reduced circumstances”.

No nannies for now; a separate nursery wing but possible membership of Maggie & Rose, a “soft play” club for children and parents, or Purple Dragon club and kindergarten (£4,000 a year for the first child; £10,000 for three) is far from infra dig.

As many a broke former yummy mummy gazes on, catching her breath between various part-time jobs in knick-knack shops and cupcake bakeries, weeping as she withdraws her son from private school to send him to the local comprehensive, Kate will have the resources (but not the freedom) to indulge at whim in the colossal and still expanding baby uber-market.

Each purchase will be clocked, priced and sourced by the ever-hungry media, and paraded as yet further proof that she and he, at heart, are each really one of the people. Cashmere shawls, Bugaboo prams and a little bit of Gap is bound to trigger a mothering Klondike of a kind not seen since the 1950s, when women were first ushered back into the home after the liberation of war work. “Whoa, Mom! Can’t you take it?” read one ad for Johnson’s baby powder, illustrated by a giant toddler terrorising its two-inch mother.

However hard they try, and it’s to their credit that they genuinely do, Kate and William live in a parallel universe, updated but parallel. Retro because it’s a world in which the man is the main breadwinner, head honcho and amateur daddy (gosh – he changes a nappy!) while the woman sees motherhood as her full-time concern. Perhaps it says something about our healthy modern society that, for many, there’s no envy at all at Kate and William’s plight.

  • Prince George
  • Monarchy
  • Prince William
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
Yvonne Roberts

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The monarchy is at odds with a modern Britain | Observer editorial

3:03 pm0 comments
The monarchy is at odds with a modern Britain | Observer editorial

Welcome to the royal baby, but his family represents an outdated tradition

As republicanism gathered a little wind in the 1990s, following Her Majesty’s “annus horribilis” and helped by the founding of Charter 88, a campaign for a democratic written constitution and “a culture of citizenship for Britain”, Ian McEwan announced: “It is time to say boo! to the big goose.”

Several decades on and it seems obvious from the sugary sycophancy that has spread like treacle over most of the media’s coverage of the arrival of “gorgeous George”, the future George VII of what may or may not be a United Kingdom, that there is little appetite for even the slightest challenge, let alone a reasoned critique of why the monarchy may not be good for us. But that, arguably, makes it all the more urgent that an attempt at some corrective is made, lest we, as subjects, forfeit all sense of perspective and vigilance.

It is remarkable how often, in relatively recent times, the British monarchy has been dragged up from the depths of unpopularity again and again by a woman. Following the abdication of Edward V11, and the awkwardness of George V1, his wife, the late queen mother, did the trick. Her daughter Elizabeth has similarly steered the royal family through several rocky straits. Princess Diana added the populist touch and, in death, initiated the partial defrosting of the court.

Now, the Duchess of Cambridge is succeeding in polishing what the constitutionalist Walter Bagehot called the mystery and magic of the charm of royalty. Last year, even before she became a mother, one not untypical Ipsos Mori poll took a measure of “the Kate effect”. It showed that 80% of Britons wish to remain loyal subjects of the Queen, with just 13% in favour of living in a republic, the lowest proportion for 20 years.

The arrival of a baby is always a joyous occasion, but when the much improved presentational and PR skills of the House of Windsor are added, republicanism takes an even harder knock. George’s birth was greeted with all the “ancient” pageantry of a royal household, most of whose ermine-draped rituals were invented in Victorian times. A 41-gun salute, the pealing of the bells of Westminster Abbey and the knowledge that not one but three male monarchs are lined up to ensure that, while the law of male primogeniture has been abandoned, tradition is maintained, all add wind to the stately royal galleon’s sails.

The modern twist, speeding its progress, of course, is, ironically, the Middletons, a middle-class, non-blue blood family who actually appear to like each other. They have no titles but, when required, they prove that commoners can behave with as much decorum as the theoretically more elevated.

That almost disguises the fact that Kate, their daughter, is university educated but has reverted to a 1950s model of wife and now mother, strangely out of step with the lives of the vast majority of women over whom she will one day reign.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge plus, for the first time, the co-existence of three generations (amounting to 100 years’ supply) of regal throne sitters, has to mean that the current royal resurgence, after a general cooling at the idea of Prince Charles donning the crown, will probably continue. So where’s the harm? Royalists contend that the monarchy provides continuity and stability. It reflects back, at times of high ceremony, a vision of how we, as a nation, like to see ourselves. It draws tourists. It links the Commonwealth and thus gives the UK international clout. It saves us from the perils of an elected presidency. It provides colourful distraction and reasons to be cheerful when times are grim.

So, where to begin the counter-argument? Windsor Castle is as good a place as any. According to the campaign group, Republic, in the top 20 UK tourist attractions, Windsor Castle is the only “living” royal tourist draw. However, it only just creeps in at number 17. It is trumped by Windsor Legoland at number seven. Tourists will visit whether or not we have a sovereign. There are, of course, more serious points to make.

Even as the Middle East and Africa tear themselves apart in the bloody battle to assert democratic rights, we accept a hierarchical, secretive, non-accountable regal “firm”, the membership of which is far from representative of the diverse pluralistic society of which we are all part.

We have no written constitution, no right to call ourselves citizens. In a time of alleged increasing transparency, the royal household is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, it is at the apex of a pyramid of power from which ordinary people are excluded.

Immanuel Kant argued that an enlightened culture is one that does not rely on inherited traditions, authorities and social structures. To be enlightened is to question and challenge aristocracies of wealth, church and politics and, in doing so, justice is ushered in. The monarchy is the brick wall that stops that healthy process. In the 21st century, how can breeding and lineage be allowed to count for so much more than capabilities, talent, aspiration and drive?

In 2005, Mark Bolland, former press officer to Prince Charles said: “The Windsors are very good at working three days a week, five months of the year and making it look as if they work hard.”

Undoubtedly, some members of the royal household pull their ceremonial weight, especially the Queen and Princess Anne, but the price paid for that labour (and for us also carrying the indolent and richly indulged) is the reinforcement of privilege and the expectation of deference – what Richard Hoggart called “rank attitudes”.

It is absurd that under the Act of Settlement (1701), no Catholic, no one born out of wedlock and no person who has been adopted is allowed to ascend the throne. It is an anachronism that church and state are still so wedded that the monarch says he or she “shall join in communion with the Church of England”.

We live at a time when the democratic deficit – the reluctance of people to engage in the process of casting their hard-won vote – is a growing crisis.

The first step in finding a solution, as the late Christopher Hitchens advocated, lies in “emancipating ourselves from the mental habits of royalism”.

In that spirit, after weeks of royalism overload, while we give good wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, we would also hope that the arrival of George Alexander Louis heralds a renewed and robust debate on the role and relevance of the modern monarchy.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
Observer editorial

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The monarchy is at odds with a modern Britain | Observer editorial

3:03 pm0 comments
The monarchy is at odds with a modern Britain | Observer editorial

Welcome to the royal baby, but his family represents an outdated tradition

As republicanism gathered a little wind in the 1990s, following Her Majesty’s “annus horribilis” and helped by the founding of Charter 88, a campaign for a democratic written constitution and “a culture of citizenship for Britain”, Ian McEwan announced: “It is time to say boo! to the big goose.”

Several decades on and it seems obvious from the sugary sycophancy that has spread like treacle over most of the media’s coverage of the arrival of “gorgeous George”, the future George VII of what may or may not be a United Kingdom, that there is little appetite for even the slightest challenge, let alone a reasoned critique of why the monarchy may not be good for us. But that, arguably, makes it all the more urgent that an attempt at some corrective is made, lest we, as subjects, forfeit all sense of perspective and vigilance.

It is remarkable how often, in relatively recent times, the British monarchy has been dragged up from the depths of unpopularity again and again by a woman. Following the abdication of Edward V11, and the awkwardness of George V1, his wife, the late queen mother, did the trick. Her daughter Elizabeth has similarly steered the royal family through several rocky straits. Princess Diana added the populist touch and, in death, initiated the partial defrosting of the court.

Now, the Duchess of Cambridge is succeeding in polishing what the constitutionalist Walter Bagehot called the mystery and magic of the charm of royalty. Last year, even before she became a mother, one not untypical Ipsos Mori poll took a measure of “the Kate effect”. It showed that 80% of Britons wish to remain loyal subjects of the Queen, with just 13% in favour of living in a republic, the lowest proportion for 20 years.

The arrival of a baby is always a joyous occasion, but when the much improved presentational and PR skills of the House of Windsor are added, republicanism takes an even harder knock. George’s birth was greeted with all the “ancient” pageantry of a royal household, most of whose ermine-draped rituals were invented in Victorian times. A 41-gun salute, the pealing of the bells of Westminster Abbey and the knowledge that not one but three male monarchs are lined up to ensure that, while the law of male primogeniture has been abandoned, tradition is maintained, all add wind to the stately royal galleon’s sails.

The modern twist, speeding its progress, of course, is, ironically, the Middletons, a middle-class, non-blue blood family who actually appear to like each other. They have no titles but, when required, they prove that commoners can behave with as much decorum as the theoretically more elevated.

That almost disguises the fact that Kate, their daughter, is university educated but has reverted to a 1950s model of wife and now mother, strangely out of step with the lives of the vast majority of women over whom she will one day reign.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge plus, for the first time, the co-existence of three generations (amounting to 100 years’ supply) of regal throne sitters, has to mean that the current royal resurgence, after a general cooling at the idea of Prince Charles donning the crown, will probably continue. So where’s the harm? Royalists contend that the monarchy provides continuity and stability. It reflects back, at times of high ceremony, a vision of how we, as a nation, like to see ourselves. It draws tourists. It links the Commonwealth and thus gives the UK international clout. It saves us from the perils of an elected presidency. It provides colourful distraction and reasons to be cheerful when times are grim.

So, where to begin the counter-argument? Windsor Castle is as good a place as any. According to the campaign group, Republic, in the top 20 UK tourist attractions, Windsor Castle is the only “living” royal tourist draw. However, it only just creeps in at number 17. It is trumped by Windsor Legoland at number seven. Tourists will visit whether or not we have a sovereign. There are, of course, more serious points to make.

Even as the Middle East and Africa tear themselves apart in the bloody battle to assert democratic rights, we accept a hierarchical, secretive, non-accountable regal “firm”, the membership of which is far from representative of the diverse pluralistic society of which we are all part.

We have no written constitution, no right to call ourselves citizens. In a time of alleged increasing transparency, the royal household is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Instead, it is at the apex of a pyramid of power from which ordinary people are excluded.

Immanuel Kant argued that an enlightened culture is one that does not rely on inherited traditions, authorities and social structures. To be enlightened is to question and challenge aristocracies of wealth, church and politics and, in doing so, justice is ushered in. The monarchy is the brick wall that stops that healthy process. In the 21st century, how can breeding and lineage be allowed to count for so much more than capabilities, talent, aspiration and drive?

In 2005, Mark Bolland, former press officer to Prince Charles said: “The Windsors are very good at working three days a week, five months of the year and making it look as if they work hard.”

Undoubtedly, some members of the royal household pull their ceremonial weight, especially the Queen and Princess Anne, but the price paid for that labour (and for us also carrying the indolent and richly indulged) is the reinforcement of privilege and the expectation of deference – what Richard Hoggart called “rank attitudes”.

It is absurd that under the Act of Settlement (1701), no Catholic, no one born out of wedlock and no person who has been adopted is allowed to ascend the throne. It is an anachronism that church and state are still so wedded that the monarch says he or she “shall join in communion with the Church of England”.

We live at a time when the democratic deficit – the reluctance of people to engage in the process of casting their hard-won vote – is a growing crisis.

The first step in finding a solution, as the late Christopher Hitchens advocated, lies in “emancipating ourselves from the mental habits of royalism”.

In that spirit, after weeks of royalism overload, while we give good wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, we would also hope that the arrival of George Alexander Louis heralds a renewed and robust debate on the role and relevance of the modern monarchy.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
Observer editorial

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions

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Why the royal baby’s name had to be George rather than James | John Mullan

July 25, 2013 2:01 am0 comments
Why the royal baby’s name had to be George rather than James | John Mullan

In choosing a name popular with the House of Windsor, William and Kate have side-stepped a number of traps from royal history

What’s in a name? asks Shakespeare’s Juliet. The answer is, a lot: tradition, emulation, family expectation. Our present Queen Elizabeth II (named without a thought that she would ever reign) has benefited hugely from having the same name as the most glorious and personally resourceful of all our monarchs. When her son succeeds her, he will have to dodge comparisons with the previous two kings named Charles: one, pig-headed and divisive; the other, amoral and self-gratifying.

So it had to be George. The bookies who made this name the favourite actually seem to have thought little about unfortunate royal role models in calculating the odds on other names. Their second favourite was James, in blind disregard of dynastic history. The present incumbents in Buckingham Palace owe their status to the displacement of the last James (James II, brother of Charles II) from the throne in 1688 because of his absolutist inclinations and open Roman Catholicism. For another half a century supporters of his and then his descendants’ claim to the throne were called Jacobites, in echo of his name. His son proclaimed himself “James III” and led an armed rebellion. The name seems even less likely as the new baby’s father, Prince William, shares a name with the very man (William of Orange) who expelled James II. And there is always the memory of that pesky James Hewitt.

History discounted other possibilities. Oliver is a top name for the bourgeoisie, but we all know about the most famous English Oliver in history. Even John might evoke unwanted associations: bad King John may have died almost eight centuries ago, but he keeps coming to life on film and TV. In fact, the field feels narrow. Alexander and Louis are fine as second and third names, but either would have had a foreign feel as the name of a king. Francis attracted plenty of bets but the royals surely would have flinched from an epicene name (it sounds as though it could be male or female). Names never associated with royalty before would have signalled the couple’s oft-touted modernity, but the risk of bathos would have been too great. Could there ever be a King Jamie? Or a King Neil? And the flowery names that Kate’s friends from public school or university might flourish (Orlando? Tristram?) would have turned the House of Windsor into pantomime.

Boys have to have blunter names than girls. The younger female generation of the House of Windsor can be called Zara, Eugenie, or Beatrice. The males are another matter. Neither can the heir to the throne get one of those forenames that is a shortening of another name (Jack, Fred, Tom). Prince Harry got his name because he would not be king. On the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, in Shakespeare’s Henry V, the English troops are inspired by “a little touch of Harry in the night”. The words are powerful because only the prospect of battle allows for this informal naming of King Henry.

Another great English author, Jane Austen, lays out the most solid English forenames. Her brothers were called Henry, George, James, Edward, Francis and Charles: a roll call of what we now think of as the most traditional and downright square of names. Her heroes have names like Henry, Edward and Frederick. In Emma, Mr Knightley becomes engaged to the heroine and then asks her to call him by his first name, as solidly English as the great trees on his ancient estate: George.

This was the name brought over by those German interlopers who were handed the throne when Queen Anne failed to produce any heirs. Georg Ludwig, elector of Hanover, had the good luck to share a name with England’s patron saint. He and his son, George II, carried on sounding German, but the ascent to the throne of the thoroughly British and bourgeois George III made the name sound ultra-patriotic. If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge did decide the name themselves, they had the nous to make the choice that “the firm” would have made for them.

  • Prince George
  • Prince William
  • Monarchy
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
John Mullan

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Don’t smoke spliffs during childbirth or have sex with a prince | Suzanne Moore

July 24, 2013 11:03 pm0 comments
Don’t smoke spliffs during childbirth or have sex with a prince | Suzanne Moore

If the Duchess of Cambridge wanted to live like common people, she should have given birth like common people do. Here’s my guide

Conception: Do not have sex with a member of the royal family. Whatever they promise, your prince has not come.

Pregnancy: You will be bombarded with advice when you start feeling dreadful and only want to eat Haribos. Ignore it. You will decide not to tell anyone, except your 10 new best friends, that you’re pregnant until after the 12-week scan. Ordering mineral water will confirm everyone’s worst fears: that you could be responsible for another human being. In the sociological experiment that is my so-called life, I had a baby each decade, for three decades, starting in the 80s, so I can confirm that pregnancy advice is as changeable as hemlines. Amazingly, I preferred the advice of a French midwife who took our ante-natal class one week. When asked about alcohol she said: “Oh no. Only the wine with dinner and the cognac after.” She was certainly more appealing than the usual midwife, who had knitted a uterus. She apologised for the fact that it was navy blue as she had run out of pink wool. The plain knit was the uterus and the ribbed sock bit was the cervix. She then proceeded to push a tennis ball through it. That, she said, was ”birth”.

Natural childbirth: For some unknown reason (fashion?), I had one of these, even though I took recreational drugs. It was the wrong way round, but I was young. A neighbour had told me: “Three spliffs and it will slip out of you like a wet pig.” Not true. At all.

Doctors: Doctors often know way less than midwives and some treat you as an aberration. One junior doctor calculated my due date without looking at me. “But that will mean I have been pregnant for nearly two years,” I said, bewildered. This startled him, as did the consultant who came in bellowing: “Is she one of those awful natural childbirth women? Take her pulse!” No pulse could be found. “She has a pulse, man! She is not dead, is she?” They suggested I be induced as I was overdue (very common), but I refused, preferring instead the traditional method of a vindaloo, a bit of the other and a tin of Andrews Liver Salts. Nothing. A week later, I met a more sympathetic doctor who asked if he could stimulate my cervix. I imagined this would involve some sort of machine. It didn’t.

Drugs: You already know what sort of person you are and whether or not you like feeling out of it or not. Giving birth is as animalistic and as out of control as it gets, so understand that gas and air give you something to do; pethidine, like all opiates, will gloopily distract you from the pain, but only an epidural will stop it.

Birth plans: Have one. Water. Whalesong. Whatever. Know it’s going to get ripped to shreds and Raw Power by the Stooges is more appropriate.

Siblings: The psychologist Adam Phillips has it just right. Imagine explaining to your spouse: “I love you so much, darling, that I am going to get another girlfriend/boyfriend just like you, whom you must love too.” That’s what we ask our children to do. My eldest seemed incredibly well-adjusted when her little sister was born, until, at one parents’ evening, I found her entire school project was called “Babies are Annoying”.

Men: Having been with a couple of friends giving birth, I feel sorry for men. If you don’t want to go down “the business end”, then don’t. Your role is to act as an advocate for your partner. Take your cues from the midwives and know that, at some point, your loved one may wish you dead. Do not say, as my child’s father did when asked if he could see the baby’s head crowning: “I am not sure it is a head. It’s more like a dog’s knee.” Do not suddenly plonk a wet flannel on your beloved’s brow in the middle of a contraction and do not, if you ever want it again, mention sex.

Stuff: 99% of the stuff you can buy for babies is overpriced and useless. The more stuff you have, the more stuck you are. Travel light and you and your baby will be far more sociable. Such advice is commonly ignored.

Caesareans: To the person who told me it was like going to the hairdressers – are you mad? But thanks to the friend who said don’t look up at the ceiling lights as you can see the reflection of what they are doing to you. Having had two “normal” births and one C-section, I don’t know why anyone thinks they are the easier option. You take a lot longer to recover. But whatever a woman decides, it should be her own guilt-free choice. Etc.

Feelings: You may be overwhelmed by unconditional love, or it may build slowly. It is OK not to be happy. The moment I gave birth, I knew it was no longer all about my generation, but having a baby didn’t make me any more interested in other people’s babies than before I had my own, ie not very much.

Being child-free: Children are wonderful, of course, but many people have fabulous and fulfilling lives without them. Accepting each other’s choices would give us all more freedom, surely?

Paparazzi: The one advantage of being a commoner is that you don’t have to deal with them and, anyway, you are so busy papping your offspring on an hourly basis that you forget to feed them.

Top tip: If you need stitches, insist on the most experienced person there. You don’t want medical students practising their needle work on that part of your anatomy, do you? That’s what the drunks in A&E are for.

Comments will be turned on for this article on Thursday morning.

  • Childbirth
  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
  • Parents and parenting
  • Family
  • Health & wellbeing
Suzanne Moore

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Steve Bell on the royal baby – cartoon

2:44 pm0 comments

The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a boy on Monday, Prince George of Cambridge, who is third in line to the throneSteve Bell

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Do you like ‘George’? | Poll

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George Washington, George III, George Eliot, George Orwell, George Best, George Bush, George Clooney … the new royal baby’s name has had a mixed history. Are you a Georgian?

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Royal baby overkill? No, the media are giving people what they want

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Royal baby overkill? No, the media are giving people what they want

A Daily Mail headline Was the BBC over the top? stopped several people in their tracks this morning, including our ever-alert Monkey (here).

How dare a newspaper that has gone just as far over the top in its coverage of Baby Cambridge – with supplements, scores of pictures and speculative nonsense about all manner of tangential matters royal – criticise the BBC for doing much the same.

But in fairness to the Mail – yes, I did write that – the headline was not an editorial statement. It was over a factual news story without any discernible anti-corporation spin.

It reported that the BBC had, at the time of writing, received 348 complaints about overkill and sycophancy.

And who can disagree with the sentence that stated: “On the 24-hour News Channel, correspondents often struggled to find anything new to say.” True enough, and not just of the BBC. It was the same on Sky News.

As I argue in my London Evening Standard column today, this media overkill is understandable and even unremarkable (despite it being, to a republican such as myself, intensely irritating).

People are given to asking chicken-or-egg-first questions about royal set-piece events. Is it all got up by the media or are the media responding to genuine public fervour?

A couple of commenters to my earlier blogpost today, Newspaper asks: did you celebrate the royal baby? 91% say no, seem to be in no doubt. It’s the media wot dunnit.

I certainly think TV newspaper coverage stimulates interest. Similarly, editors are emboldened to go further than might be necessary when they detect rampant enthusiasm among their audiences. Each side encourages the other.

There can’t be any doubt about vast numbers of people wanting to see and hear and read. The facts speak for themselves. Newspaper print sales have been boosted. News websites have recorded steep rises in traffic. TV audiences for news bulletins were up.

As I note in the Standard, there is a commercial calculation involved in editorial decision-making because ratings and sales count. Note, incidentally, that ITV won its ratings battle with the BBC on Tuesday precisely because it extended its news bulletin – so people tuned in rather than turned off.

But winning such battles is not the only consideration. Broadcasters and publishers are aware that the British royal family remains a uniquely nationalistic institution.

When media folk bathe in its patriotic glow they feel as though they are on the side of the angels. They are publishing happy news for once.

They know that monarchy remains a potent force in our society. In spite of misdemeanours by family members down the years, it still appears far cleaner than politics. It has glamour, not least because of the Cambridges themselves.

It is all a charade, of course. On Sky News the other night, the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire rightly referred to it as a modern form of Rome’s bread and circuses. No matter. It works… damn it.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
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Roy Greenslade

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Kate gets the Lindo Steps Look spot on

July 23, 2013 3:30 pm0 comments
Kate gets  the Lindo Steps Look spot on

The demure Jenny Packham dress donned by Duchess of Cambridge as she left hospital was surprisingly Diana-esque

Her absolute normality, her girl-next-door-ness, is a key element of the Duchess of Cambridge’s popularity. And on these, her own terms, she got the Lindo Steps Look absolutely right. Her cornflower-blue polka dot dress was a safe choice, being demure and pretty and by a British designer, Jenny Packham. The colour was clunkily literal. (One assumes there is a rose pink version hanging in a cupboard somewhere.) Kate loves a fancy frock when the occasion demands it, but 24 hours after having a baby is absolutely not the moment to be experimenting with directional looks. That would be weird, and weird is one thing that Kate is most certainly not.

The one surprising element was how Diana-esque the look was. The image of Diana in polka dots on the same steps in 1982 has been much revisited in recent days, and there was a clear echo of that dress here. Whether the echo was a conscious one, or made unconsciously via the sleep-and hormone-muddled haze of new motherhood, we can only speculate. Like Diana, Kate has the glamour-hair of her generation.

Where Diana had her frosted and flicked fringe, Kate has her thick Disney waves. Good hair imparts glamour whatever you wear. As for the baby Prince, the neutral shawl gave little away. The scoop on the first royal babygro is still out there for the taking.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
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Jess Cartner-Morley

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Britain’s royal family: cut this anti-democratic dynasty out of politics | Seumas Milne

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Britain’s royal family: cut this anti-democratic dynasty out of politics | Seumas Milne

The monarchy embodies inequality and fosters conservatism. An elected head of state is embarrassingly overdue

As a rule, progressive Britain prefers to ignore the monarchy. First, it’s embarrassing: 364 years after we first abolished it and long after most of the rest of the world dispensed with such feudal relics, we’re still lumbered with one. Second, there are always more important things to confront – from rampant corporate power and escalating inequality to incessant war and the climate crisis. And last, the media and political class form such a sycophantic ideological phalanx around the institution that dissent is treated as, at best, weird and miserabilist.

The last few days have been par for the course. As in the case of every other royal event, the birth of a son to the heir but one to the throne has been reported in tones that wouldn’t be out of place in a one party state. Newsreaders adopt regulation rictus grins. The BBC’s flagship Today programme held a debate to mark the event between two royalists who fell over each other to laud the “stability”, continuity” and “mystery” of the House of Windsor. The press is full of talk of “fairytales” and a “joyful nation”.

But ignoring it leaves a festering anti-democratic dynasticism at the heart of our political system. As things now stand, Britain (along with 15 other former island colonies and white settler states) has now chosen its next three heads of state – or rather, they have been selected by accident of aristocratic birth. The descendants of warlords, robber barons, invaders and German princelings – so long as they aren’t Catholics – have automatic pride of place at the pinnacle of Britain’s constitution.

Far from uniting the country, the monarchy’s role is seen as illegitimate and offensive by millions of its citizens, and entrenches hereditary privilege at the heart of public life. While British governments preach democracy around the world, they preside over an undemocratic system at home with an unelected head of state and an appointed second chamber at the core of it.

Meanwhile celebrity culture and a relentless public relations machine have given a new lease of life to a dysfunctional family institution, as the X Factor meets the pre-modern. But instead of rising above class as a symbol of the nation, as its champions protest, the monarchy embodies social inequality at birth and fosters a phonily apolitical conservatism.

If the royal family were simply the decorative constitutional adornment its supporters claim, punctuating the lives of grateful subjects with pageantry and street parties, its deferential culture and invented traditions might be less corrosive. But contrary to what is routinely insisted, the monarchy retains significant unaccountable powers and influence. In extreme circumstances, they could still be decisive.

Several key crown prerogative powers, exercised by ministers without reference to parliament on behalf of the monarchy, have now been put on a statutory footing. But the monarch retains the right to appoint the prime minister and dissolve parliament. By convention, these powers are only exercised on the advice of government or party leaders. But it’s not impossible to imagine, as constitutional experts concede, such conventions being overridden in a social and political crisis – for instance where parties were fracturing and alternative parliamentary majorities could be formed.

The British establishment are past masters at such constitutional sleights of hand – and the judges, police and armed forces pledge allegiance to the Crown, not parliament. The left-leaning Australian Labor leader Gough Whitlam was infamously sacked by the Queen’s representative, the governor-general, in 1975. Less dramatically the Queen in effect chose Harold Macmillan as prime minister over Rab Butler in the late 1950s – and then Alec Douglas-Home over Butler in 1963.

More significant in current circumstances is the monarchy’s continual covert influence on government, from the Queen’s weekly audiences with the prime minister and Prince Charles’s avowed “meddling” to lesser known arm’s-length interventions.

This month the high court rejected an attempt by the Guardian to force the publication of Charles’s “particularly frank” letters to ministers which they feared would “forfeit his position of political neutrality”. The evidence from the controversy around London’s Chelsea barracks site development to the tax treatment of the Crown and Duchy of Lancaster estates suggests such interventions are often effective.

A striking feature of global politics in recent decades has been the resurgence of the hereditary principle across political systems: from the father and son Bush presidencies in the US and the string of family successions in south Asian parliamentary democracies to the Kim dynasty in North Korea, along with multiple other autocracies.

Some of that is driven by the kind of factors that produced hereditary systems in the first place, such as pressure to reduce conflict over political successions. But it’s also a reflection of the decline of ideological and class politics.

Part of Britain’s dynastic problem is that the English overthrew their monarchy in the 1640s, before the social foundations were in place for a viable republic – and the later constitutional settlement took the sting out of the issue.

But it didn’t solve it, and the legacy is today’s half-baked democracy. You’d never know it from the way the monarchy is treated in British public life, but polling in recent years shows between 20% and 40% think the country would be better off without it, and most still believe it won’t last. That proportion is likely to rise when hapless Charles replaces the present Queen.

There are of course other much more powerful obstacles to social advance in Britain than the monarchy, but it remains a reactionary and anti-democratic drag. Republics have usually emerged from wars or revolutions. But there’s no need for tumbrils, just elections.

It’s not a very radical demand, but an elected head of state is a necessary step to democratise Britain and weaken the grip of deferential conservatism and anti-politics. People could vote for Prince William or Kate Middleton if they wanted and the royals could carry on holding garden parties and travelling around in crowns and gold coaches. The essential change is to end the constitutional role of an unelected dynasty. It might even be the saving of this week’s royal baby.

Twitter: @SeumasMilne

  • Monarchy
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Seumas Milne

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Enjoy today, young prince. It’s all downhill from here | Simon Jenkins

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Enjoy today, young prince. It’s all downhill from here | Simon Jenkins

The third in line to the throne cannot expect to enjoy the slightest privacy. The media drones are already overhead

In the Charles Addams cartoon, the ghoulish father outside the maternity ward looks up as the door opens. “Congratulations,” says the nurse, “it’s a baby.” The world’s media went beyond parody this week as they waited at the Lindo wing of St Mary’s hospital in London. The globalised suspense seemed synthetic. What did they expect the woman to produce, a gorilla?

“The news is that there is no news,” panted an American anchor to millions of viewers across the Atlantic. Germans were told: “With every contraction, Kate becomes a worker.” A Beijing news agency hung on every word from the editor of Debrett’s. Waterstones ran out of royal history books. Reporters were reduced to interviewing reporters, like rats eating each other on a doomed ship.

The media’s job is to mediate reality. It is to say why the dead body in the road matters. Journalism has long struggled with the paradox that good news is unsurprising and therefore not news. Fifty planes landing safely at Heathrow is as boring as 50 celebrities sleeping soundly in their own beds.

The public craves bad news, especially gossip. If it is to absorb good news, it must be served hysterical. Thus every sporting victor is a “hero” and every minor actor a “megastar”. The trivial must be accorded significance. The Olympics must be “worth billions” to Britain; a Murray triumph must mean freedom for Scotland.

Celebrity is more appealing when elevated from the ordinary. Cinderella did wonders for shoe design long before Stalin snatched Stakhanov from his coal mine and made him a Soviet hero. TV’s Big Brother and Pop Idol profited from putting banality on a pedestal of fame. Everyone’s dream is hung upon a star. Interwar cinemas were built on the escapist cult of Rudolph Valentino, as suburban housewives ached to flee across the desert in the arms of a prince.

The crowd outside the Lindo wing speaks partly to this eternal quest for happiness, but mostly it had to do with princes. The appeal appears universal. When Charles married Diana in 1981, I was in South Africa’s Transvaal, in possibly the most republican spot on Earth. The wedding was of no significance to that ostracised country, and even the service was censored. Yet as the ceremony began there was not a car on the street. Even the police failed to show up for duty.

I asked an Afrikaner what was going on and he said simply: “It’s everyone’s dream of happiness.” Republican countries have seemed, if anything, even keener on royal nativity than Britons. I found it hard to keep American friends off the subject, with much confusion over the meaning of words such as sovereign, subject and “long to reign over us”.

When stripped of executive power, monarchy does not represent the state; it is the state anthropomorphised, the state in human form. The bloodline is thus the guarantor of national eternity. Blessed by the luck of inheritance, offspring must literally play to the cult of the individual, like Krishnamurti or the Dalai Lama.

That is why the birth of infants has always heralded a new dawn, symbolising both continuity and renewal. Henry VIII was delirious with joy on the birth of a son, the hapless Edward VI. Virgil’s Eclogues eulogised a consul’s son, “by whom the iron age will end, and a golden race arise in the world … your cradle will bear delightful flowers; the serpent will die”.

Modern constitutional monarchy is state-sponsored continuity, of which inherited office is an integral part. For it to include state-sponsored happiness is a bonus. Gold-plated genes seem able to lift public joy out of the mundane. They give it ritual. The sheer intrusiveness of this week’s exposure – the talk of labour pains, contractions, epidurals – entices millions of onlookers (at least female ones) into a frenzy of self-identification. TS Eliot was wrong. Humankind can stand an infinite amount of reality, provided it is posh.

Personalised headship of state could mean no more than a cardboard cutout, to be propped up at state occasions. Most monarchies, as in Scandinavia, contrive to hold their monarchs back from too much public attention. Britain has rarely been like that. In the 1960s the house of Windsor deliberately took a more risky path. It chose to turn itself into a family business, a “firm”, bringing its younger members into play and gambling that putting them in the public eye would help modernise, enhance and secure monarchy’s position in the nation’s affection.

Subsequent history suggests the gamble paid off. But it did so at a high price in personal anguish, heartache and indignity. No amount of gilding can strip inherited celebrity of danger. The good fairies who gather round the new prince’s cradle this week have evil ones hovering on their shoulders. Even as the press hypocritically debates how the baby’s privacy might be respected, its fingers shift the lens focus and itch over the Twitter feed; #labour is readying itself for a Niagara of gossip. Nothing can stop it.

Short of going into exile, the third in line to the throne cannot expect to enjoy the slightest privacy. He will spend his life with a media drone hovering overhead, listening, prying, revealing, proclaiming a global “public interest” in intrusion. Who knows but today’s celebrity may yet prove the prince’s happiest – or at least most private – moment. But at least he has done his public duty by sharing that happiness with millions.

  • Monarchy
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Simon Jenkins

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Cometh the storm – are the gods smiting us for worshipping royalty? | Stuart Jeffries

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Cometh the storm – are the gods smiting us for worshipping royalty? | Stuart Jeffries

The storms could be a sign that we must atone for our hubris – or just a poetic intimation of what it is to give birth

“I love the rain,” said Woody Allen in Play it Again, Sam. “It washes memories off the sidewalk of life.” I love this stormy weather more. It wipes the smile off the sun’s face, drives half-naked men to take their beer guts indoors and compels us to meditate on our human smallness. What’s not to like?

This morning I stood in the garden trying to wrangle my deckchair into a plastic cover while the torrents reduced the world beyond my glasses to a wall of steam (why, among all the shots of lightning forking beautifully over Britain, did no one capture this iconic image?) and I felt as exultant as Lear on the Heath. “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” I told the Islington sky. “Rage! Blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout.” Then, slightly scared by the weather and at remembering so much Shakespeare, I went in to change my shirt.

Summer, it seems, is over. Oh well, at least we had a bit of one this year. I know what you’re thinking. We have made the gods angry by worshipping false idols and they have responded by speaking to us in the only language we can understand: thunder, lightning, torrential rain, train cancellations. If I get any more emailed shots of Instagrammed lightning over the West Midlands conurbation or links to Flickr storm streams, I will do such things – what they are, yet I know not: but they shall be the terrors of the earth.

Truly, the gods (I’m thinking Norse gods tooled up with cosmic hammers) have smitten us mightily for our hubris. Either that or they’ve got exquisite comic timing.

But who are the false idols, you ask? Isn’t it obvious? What kind of society would send its leading newsgatherers to sit outside the Lindo Wing, crocheting booties while they await the emerging third in line to the throne? What kind of dysfunctional polity would include people outside the hospital who iced a cake with a message for the new parents, watch that icing melt in the insania of July heat, and then spend last night making a new one during a thunderstorm? Ours.

The gods have given us a sign that we must atone and to do so we must put Prince Wayne (as he must be known) on a mountain top tonight – or failing that Primrose Hill – and see if he can survive another night of storms. If he does the gods will be propitiated; if not, there are other pretenders to the throne. And Wayne might find the weather as thrilling as the rest of us.

Or maybe I’m going too far. Even if these storms have no theological import or moral for royal worship, they were spiritually cleansing, deranging and, in the Kantian sense, sublime. Following the mundane sun and heat, we got weather worthy of poetry. If the storms were music, they would be a mash-up of Prince’s Thunder and the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem – sexy and shattering all in one.

I cannot have babies and yet, just perhaps, the noise of thunder barrelling into my bedroom last night, sounding as though it might tear the world in two and hurl us to our well-deserved oblivion, surely gives me an intimation of what it was like to be Kate bawling her head off as she brought another royal into the world in her private hospital. But then, I admit, I am deranged by the weather, driven mad by deference and now and again quite anti-royalist.

  • Weather
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Stuart Jeffries

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Birth of future monarch has animated the unique lunacy of royal watching | Zoe Williams

July 22, 2013 4:10 pm0 comments
Birth of future monarch has animated the unique lunacy of royal watching | Zoe Williams

Waiting for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s son to arrive has never had anything to do with its constitutional import

It’s … it’s a baby! A boy baby, so no chance to test the new rules on female succession, unfortunately. But rejoice nonetheless! It would be churlish not to, and besides, the birth of his majesty brings to an end some of the most – possibly the most embarrassing commentary since rolling news was invented. All day yesterday, they kept us posted: “We don’t know anything”; “The couple has arrived at the hospital”; “They arrived by car”; “The room is air-conditioned.” (This fact thanks to the newshound Kay Burley). “Beyond that, nothing,” they said, hour after hour; you could see them shaking their heads even when on the radio.

But what exactly did they want to know? Because, as anyone who has ever come within a sniff of a labour ward will be aware, you either know nothing: “nothing yet”; “more when it happens” – or you know everything: “she’s 6cm”; “she’s asked for an epidural … she’s been at 6cm for hours … they’ve broken her waters and now she’s in howling agony … no, it was more like a giant crochet needle with a hook on the end … she’s 7cm! At this rate of dilation, she could have a baby in as little as four days.”

Princess Diana famously told Andrew Motion that she had to be induced because she “couldn’t handle the press pressure any longer, it was becoming unbearable” (there is a competing narrative, also from her, that she had to get William out to fit in with Prince Charles’s polo commitments). This sounds clinically improbable (induction is roughly as effective as a vindaloo – if you want a baby out on a deadline, you get it out through the sunroof, as the saying goes).

But the frenzy around Diana would have been a modest village fete compared to this carnival; the arrival of this future monarch somehow animated for me, in a way that nothing has before, the unique lunacy of royal-watching. Waiting for this baby to come out has never had anything to do with its constitutional import, except to use its place in history as a cover for the unabashed prying. There was a woman in labour, whom none of us had ever met, and Nicholas Witchell was disappointed not to be able to give us hourly updates on her vaginal dilation.

You could argue, of course, that squeamishness around discussing the female pudenda is rooted in a deeper hatred of women, and if we could just reclaim the word “vaginally” as a useful adverb, one that we could happily use of a woman whether we knew her or not, that would be one more baby step in the march against the patriarchy. But I think Middleton – and, as I say, I don’t know her, so this is a wild guess – would most probably say, “let’s not start with my vagina, ok? I have enough on my plate. Let’s reclaim the word ‘vagina’ on the subject of someone else’s vagina.”

As a nation, we walked a tightrope, and we walked it like cartoon elephants in skirts: the media vied furiously to see who could have least regard for a person’s privacy, while the royal family tried in vain to maintain a sense of pomp, by using words like “foolscap” and insisting upon absurd, pre-digital practises, involving putting the information on a piece of foolscap, then sitting that on an easel in front of the palace, and then some pre-authorised persons taking a photo of it and disseminating the picture, and everyone hoping that they didn’t blow the whole business, all the ceremony and history and portent, and indeed the future of non-standard paper sizing, by accidentally sticking it on Twitter.

Around seminal life moments – your first day at school, your graduation, your first minibreak with the person you love – ideals accrue. “It’d be nice if, on your way to school, you did not get run over. It’d be good if you could graduate without a cold sore … You know the sort of thing. To this library, one could add, “it would be nice if you could go through labour without having to worry about your in-laws being made ridiculous by putting their announcement on an easel when a nurse has already put it on Facebook.”

And actually, besides the threats to privacy and the hassle of pomp, there have been the inevitable “dramatic comparisons”: how was this baby born, compared to its birth-twin in Liberia? What will Kate’s post-operative care be like, compared to a mother in the Central African Republic? Even though you can see how irresistible that is to campaigners for maternal health worldwide, how piquant, how potent, is that comparison, I don’t think it’s fair to Kate Middleton.

When you make her the emblem of all the inequality in the world, you make her its agent. She isn’t; she’s a person who’s had a baby, as precious and awe-inspiring to her as any baby is to anyone who’s just had it. Some other time to rain on their (ridiculous) parade.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
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Zoe Williams

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Royal birth: welcome, Baby Cambridge | Editorial

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Royal birth: welcome, Baby Cambridge | Editorial

The world into which he has been born is truly a different place even to the world into which his father was delivered

Congratulations and all good wishes. A new baby is a very splendid thing. The duke and duchess of Cambridge along with maybe a thousand other mothers and fathers are about to embark on the ordeal of first parenthood – the exhilaration, the exhaustion, the wonder, and the worry. The grandparents, all new to the role, will no doubt dote from the wings, trying to help but not to overwhelm. The great grandparents, a role to which the Queen and Prince Philip are now accustomed, are presumably excused. A large, loving, extended family, parental stability and financial security: this baby is blessed indeed. But, of course, there is a not so good fairy by the cradle too. This is a child whose path is already mapped out, destined for a life never far from the centre of the public stage. Every parent gazes at their newborn infant wondering what kind of a world they will grow up in, and what they will grow up to inherit. This baby will be a mirror of that world, reflecting it, maybe shaping it.

Any heir to the throne is a waymark, a point of reference in the history of the state and the monarchy. Already he is the first royal child to be born entitled to inherit regardless of gender. He may yet, Commonwealth leaders permitting, become the first heir able to marry someone of any faith or none. The world into which he has been born is truly a different place even to the world into which his father, Prince William, was delivered 31 years ago amid the early, angry years of Thatcherism. Today’s society is more socially liberal, less racist, mostly better-off but also much less equal, much less radical and much less interested in politics.

All of these changes contribute to buoying up a monarchy that is itself transformed. At the time of the Queen’s coronation in 1953, it is said a third of her subjects believed she was there by divine right. Now she has become the ultimate celebrity, crowd-puller, and national product endorser. Her great-grandchild can never escape the public gaze, however much he, and his parents, wish it, for he’s part of the compact that preserves the monarchy.

A royal birth is also a handy point on a thousand graphs, from medical fashion to republican sentiment. The monarchy as an institution is as popular as it has been at any time since the war, an almost incredible recovery from its dim decades at the end of the last century, when this level of support was almost unimaginable. That was the time of the Queen’s annus horribilis, the year the serial infidelities of her children were exposed in titillating detail, Windsor castle caught fire and a mutinous public refused to pay for restoration. A crop of books predicted the end of monarchy and a republican reviewer optimistically observed that theoretical discussion of monarchism was bound to lead many to discover that they were republicans at heart.

The turning point came at the low point of Princess Diana’s death: it owed something to the introduction of brand management to Buckingham Palace, and much to the way that the family was, as a result, made over by masters of the art. When the Queen Mother died in 2002, a million monarchists lined her funeral route.By the end of last year’s jubilee celebrations, the Queen had a 90% approval rating and most thought the monarchy would last for at least another 50 years (although 60% also thought Britain would not be a monarchy by 2112). Now Prince Charles has married his long-term mistress, a move that once looked likely to trigger a revolution but now seems no bar to his succession. His son Prince William is the only member of the family who is even more popular than the Queen. The royals can rarely have seemed more secure.

And yet. Baby Cambridge is unlikely to inherit for at least 50 years. However exemplary the reigns of his father and grandfather, however impeccable his own future behaviour, will Britain in 2065 still be a state that has at its apex one individual whose place is decided by birth? Since the one thing that we have learned in the last 50 years is that monarchy has a logic-defying resilience, it looks as if the answer could be yes.

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Monarchy
Editorial

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Enough royal baby already? 12 great reads instead | Natalie Hanman

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Enough royal baby already? 12 great reads instead | Natalie Hanman

Congrats to the Cambridges on their young prince. But if your mind is numbed by endless name speculation, here’s some relief

1) New Yorker’s The Itch, by Atul Gawande (2008)

2) Colombia Journalism Review’s Woman’s Work: The Twisted Reality of an Italian Freelancer in Syria, by Francesca Borri (2013)

3) AdBuster’s Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilisation, by Douglas Haddow (2008)

4) The Financial Times’s Amazon Unpacked: The online giant is creating thousands of UK jobs, so why are some employees less than happy? By Sarah O’Connor (2013)

5) Manituana, a novel by Wu Ming (2007)

6) Harold Pinter’s Art, Truth & Politics, Nobel lecture (2005)

7) Chris Coco’s Push the Sky Away: an abstract impressionistic audio documentary recorded at Glastonbury festival (2013)

8) Gloria Steinem’s If Men Could Menstruate (1986)

9) Paris Review Interview with Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction No. 71 (1978)

10) The Guardian’s Firestorm: The Story of the Bushfire at Dunalley (2013)

11) Tope Folarin’s short story Miracle (2013)

12) Lingua Franca’s Is Bad Writing Necessary?, by James Miller (2000)

Thank you to my Comment is free colleagues for help with these eclectic suggestions. Please do post links to your alternative reads in the thread below.

Twitter: @nataliehanman

  • The Duchess of Cambridge
  • Republicanism
  • Prince William
  • Monarchy
Natalie Hanman

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