Nanny state set for royal update
Royal nannies used to come in teams of nursemaid, under-nurses and chambermaids, all enforcing an iron-clad routine that remained in force whether the royal parents were in the country or, as frequently was the case, touring the Empire.
The Queen missed the first three of Charles' birthdays. There is a picture doing the rounds of little Charles greeting his mother when she returned from a six-month trip. Greeting means shaking hands. He is only three, looking up politely at the strange lady. At home there was Mabel Anderson, the nanny he later credited with supporting him through his childhood.
Now, with George in his economical £80 car-seat ($134) and all right with the world, the hot discussion in the cheap seats is if the young prince will have a nanny or, more precisely, how much nannying he will have.
In a break with family tradition, William and Kate have advertised only for a part-time housekeeper who will do a bit of baby stuff, a bit of driving, shopping, dog-walking, silver-polishing. This, we are told in breathless dispatches by the tabloids, is the new shape of nannying: someone who will slot into the family and become another pair of hands. Given this is every parent's dream, even for those without much silver that wants polishing, by royal standards this represents a headlong rush into democratic normality.
Of course, we are talking here about a very select kind of normality; George's inheritance will include the Duchy of Cornwall estate, worth £763 million. He will grow up between Kensington Palace, where Princess Margaret's 20-room former apartment is now being renovated for his parents, and a mansion supposedly earmarked for their use on the Sandringham Estate.
All that castle time-share notwithstanding, however, George will have a life much more like those of the so-called bicycle-riding Scandinavian royals across the North Sea than any of his predecessors. Also, like them, he is dug in for keeps. A recent poll found that nearly 78 per cent of Britons are firmly in favour of retaining the royal family. One day, barring apocalypse or a scandal of unimaginable proportions, there will be a King George.
That day is not imminent, obviously. Prince William is 31. Given that the average of death in Britain is 78.9 for men, little George might expect to ascend the throne at 50. However, just as the poor die young, the well-fed and exercised royals are unusually long-lived: over the past century, even taking a couple of infant deaths into the equation, they have outlasted their commoner peers by an average of 14.7 years. At 87, the Queen maintains a steady round of royal engagements, mostly involving conversations of stultifying dullness, without even nodding off. Charles, meanwhile, has reached retirement age without ever getting to do the only job for which he is eligible, filling his days with good works and writing annoying letters to cabinet ministers. Young George may be in for a frustratingly long apprenticeship.
So what will he do? A royal birth provides a hot moment for futurologists, the modern equivalent of the official star-gazers and soothsayers who gathered over royal cradles in the past. By the time George is grown up, they say, we'll be able to fly to Mars. We'll have internet access on our T-shirts. People will be older, more demented and much poorer: George's generation of low-paid contract workers is the first in modern history that can expect to be considerably worse off than the previous one. One measure shows children of over-stretched parents are becoming more badly behaved as the years go by. These junior trouble-makers will be George's subjects.
Behind the walls of Kensington Palace, however, most of the pit-stops in George's youth are already ordained: boarding school, university, armed services. William and Kate met at university in St Andrews, Scotland; George is also likely to head beyond the home counties in a gesture of inclusiveness, maybe even to a university in whatever remains of the Commonwealth. Some sort of officer training will follow; William, under the comradely moniker Flight-Lieutenant Wales, is a RAF man. After that, whatever George does all day will depend on what sort of person he becomes.
This is where the crystal ball comes into play. What if George is a peacenik - because the cyclical nature of life suggests we're about ready for a new wave of hippies - living in a yurt and flatly opposed to flying fighter planes? What if he's gay and insists on his legal right to marry a male partner? As head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith - which he will be, if Charles hasn't by then achieved his aim of floating free and renaming himself "Defender of all Faith" - he'll have to face down all those noisy evangelicals on the church's nutter wing. Because you just know - sod's law and all that - no benevolent life cycle will have carried them away.
Actually, if you look at the prince's family tree, you can find a precedent for practically any future. What if he inherits his maternal grandparents' entrepreneurial genes? The Middletons live in a £1 million house, put all three children through a top public school and bought Kate a flat worth close to £1 million in Chelsea; one estimate puts their net worth at £50 million. It takes a particular kind of drive to make that much money out of selling paper plates, party hats and whistles, the kind of drive that doesn't stay in the garage.
By contrast, he could be a good-time Charlie like his father's great-aunt Margaret, the playgirl of Mustique, or their more distant ancestor Edward VII, who got into trouble for smuggling a prostitute into his officer's digs when he was 19 and had a string of very visible mistresses all his life. He could be a paragon of duty, like the Queen, or he could be like Diana. Yes, Diana. Just let that one sink in.
He won't be able to emulate Diana in one crucial respect, however. In 20 years, there will still be paparazzi of a kind, scrabbling for pictures to feed popular online gossip pages, but the dedicated pack of recognised royal correspondents with whom a young royal could strike bargains will have disappeared along with the print media that sustained them. In their place will be a billion waving iPhones.
Mabel Anderson used to walk Charles around Hyde Park in his push chair uninterrupted. These days, she would risk running a gauntlet of flashing devices; once thus armed, we seem to feel entitled to interrupt anything at all. George will be snapped, Facebooked, tweeted and Instagrammed wherever anyone realises that yes, this is the heir, this is my moment, click. A finger up the royal nose: click. A tired tantrum: click. Anything he does as a teenager that is bound to be, like, totally shaming about a nanosecond later: click.
So watch out, George; it's a jungle out there. Not even an old-fashioned army of nannies - not even Mary Poppins - could save you from the mass observation of the digital age.