Monday 24 October 2016

Diana's legacy means future king will have chance to lead a decent life

Published 25/07/2013 | 05:00

Kate and William with their newborn son
Kate and William with their newborn son

Being Mr and Mrs Average is impossible, although it's what William and Kate aspire to – especially now they are a family unit. But they can be, and are, less anachronistic than previous royal couples.

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Their desire to live in a way which their subjects would recognise as relatively normal is Diana's legacy to this future king and queen.

It was she who struggled to raise her sons without the chilly formality of royalty and the stifling hand of protocol. It was she who insisted on bucket and spade holidays and funfair visits.

Her hands-on parenting sparked a revolution in the House of Windsor, and prepared her boys for a modern age. Diana's impact will be felt by generations of royal children she did not live to see.

No wonder her shadow touched the three of them as William and Kate stood outside a London hospital with their new baby during that frenzied photo call earlier this week. Diana remains a living presence. Her gift to her first grandchild is William's determination to give his son as normal an upbringing as possible.

Diana fought lone battle after lone battle in her campaign for normality. William and Kate, however, present a united front. Their decision that Kate will not hire a nanny but will care for her baby, at least initially, is a signal that behaving as ordinary people do is the couple's goal.

Another signpost is their decision to take the new Prince of Cambridge straight to his Middleton grandparents' house in Berkshire for the early weeks, when Kate needs a mother's guidance, rather than have her face the isolation of a royal apartment, as happened with Diana. The Cambridges intend doing things their way.

Not entirely their way, however, because they accept that the new baby's phalanx of names must be decided in consultation with senior royals. Nevertheless, Diana's positive influence is already felt by her grandson – 16 years dead and buried though she is.

There was another reason why I remembered her during the baby's first public appearance. Kate wears Diana's engagement ring constantly. There it was on camera, a weighty 12-carat Ceylon sapphire, as she cradled her son.

I glimpsed it once on Diana's finger, when I was covering a royal engagement in the summer of 1997.

Just seven months previously, the Prince and Princess of Wales had announced their separation. She appeared subdued that night, and left earlier than expected.

Catching sight of the ring again – this time during a news bulletin showing the Cambridges behave like any normal, euphoric couple with their newborn – I recalled Diana's spontaneity, informality and love of children.

The British public is assured regularly that members of its first family have adapted to the times and are no longer stuffy elitists.

Perhaps William's marriage to a commoner met by chance at university, rather than introduced as a suitable bride, provides some evidence.

But there are limits to how similar to other people's babies this one can be, when his destiny marks him out as a future king of Great Britain, head of the armed forces, Supreme Governor of the Church of England and head of the Commonwealth.

This is where the Middletons come in. Although wealthy businesspeople, with a manor house on 18 acres, they are self-made and understand how ordinary people live better than any royal.

Certainly, it seemed more normal to see Carole and Michael Middleton arrive at the hospital in a cab than for Prince Charles to turn up in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

Normal, also, to watch Carole beam on the hospital steps and talk about how it all came rushing back to her when she was holding the baby. That's the kind of remark Diana might have made. Diana was classless, although born an aristocrat and married into royalty.

Kate is her mother's daughter, and understands the importance of aligning herself with the general public. She said of motherhood: "It's very emotional. It's such a special time. I think any parent will know what this feeling feels like." We're all in the same boat, was the subtext. Hardly the case, but gratifying.

In fact, ordinariness is not royalty's role. Ordinariness would expose its anachronisms to ridicule. A smattering of ordinariness is healthy, too much would prove fatal.

However hard the couple try, they are unlikely to achieve a truly normal life for their son. Instead, he will be cocooned in privilege, living in a luxury compound. As the firstborn, he will never be free to do whatever he likes.

However, the Diana factor is in his favour. Buckingham Palace has become more adept at engaging with the media.

Previously, I used to deal with the Palace press division occasionally, staffed by jolly 'gels' and good eggs from a military background – they were like rabbits caught in headlights during the Diana years.

That has changed, and professional PR people are now employed.

This tiny apprentice monarch, with two ahead of him in the queue, will be protected more thoroughly than Diana ever was.

A happy marriage makes a great deal of difference, as does the use of experts.

That's another legacy handed down by Diana to her infant grandson – an appreciation of the value of ordinariness from someone far from ordinary herself.

Irish Independent

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