The golden rules for godparents
These days, it's a serious business. As Prince William and Kate Middleton select six friends and family for the role, Matthew Bell reveals what it takes
As senior members of the royal family convened for the baptism of Prince Louis earlier this week, you could forgive them for suffering from christening fatigue. It seems like only yesterday that they were congregating at the church of St Mary Magdalene at Sandringham for Princess Charlotte's, and at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace for Prince George before that.
It was at the latter venue that they assembled on Monday afternoon in a ceremony that may have prompted a little déjà vu. The Archbishop of Canterbury was once again presiding, the same blue Millson pram was wheeled out, and even the christening gown was the same lace number worn by George and Charlotte.
One thing that set this christening apart was the roll call of godparents. Prince William and Kate Middleton have selected three godfathers and three godmothers for the baby, including schoolmates, old family friends and the high society nightclub founder Guy Pelly.
Choosing the right godparents will no doubt have given the Cambridges plenty of sleepless nights because these days it's not enough to rope in a couple of old friends. Godparenting is a big deal, a complex social paso doble, that comes laden with expectations and aspirations on one side, and responsibility and status on the other.
In other words, it's vital to get it right. Because for all that the prime duty of a godparent is to provide spiritual guidance, let's not pretend there aren't other factors at stake: namely, how a godparent could help your child in future.
Indeed the power godparent is a much-desired entity - a person who will provide the kinds of highly sought-after connections that will secure their place on years-long school waiting lists, land them work experience placements and lucrative job offers.
The good news is that there is no limit to the number of godparents you can appoint, so you can cover all bases. This explains why Prince George has seven, and Princess Charlotte five. It may seem a lot, but is not unusual.
Liz Hurley's son Damian has six godfathers alone, including Elton John, David Furnish and Hugh Grant, Hurley's ex-boyfriend. At the time, Grant seemed like an excellent tactical choice - rich and apparently unwilling to settle down, he could also one day give young Damian a leg-up in the film world. Bad luck then that he has subsequently fathered four children of his own, and even got married.
One theory goes that older people make for better godparents because they are wiser and richer. Historically, the most sought after godparents are the most well-connected, for their ability to find a child work experience later in life. For example, Nicholas Coleridge, the bumptious chairman of Condé Nast publishers and the V&A Museum in London, has dozens, including the models Cara Delevingne and Edie Campbell. These super-godparents can be hard to snare, such is their popularity - the Queen, for example, has 30.
But sending presents for all those birthdays can get time-consuming, and expensive. The British writer and literary editor Mark Amory has so many that he realised he couldn't possibly remember all their birthdays, so he sends them all a gift on his own birthday instead.
Prince Charles, meanwhile, evidently found a gift theme and stuck to it, repeatedly sending his godddaughter, India Hicks, tokens so beloved by all children - gravy boats, pottery and saucers. "For years and years, every birthday and every Christmas these cardboard boxes arrived," Hicks wrote upon discovering a stash of them while moving house in 2016. "Every year I was rather hoping for something other than a saucer."
The problem for parents of multiple children, like Will and Kate, is spacing out the good godparents across their offspring. You don't want to bestow all the best ones on the first born - it's important to hold some back for the younger siblings.
Like with the last two children, the godparents chosen for Prince Louis are a mixture of friends and relations. But who can blame them if a little voice at the back of the heads of those chosen wonders if they form the god-parenting third division? Why did they get Louis, not George?
These are questions better left unanswered and there is no reason why they shouldn't make for first-rate godparents, so long as they observe the following golden rules.
Remember every birthday and mark it accordingly. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you need to spend hours getting to know the child, or even remembering their individual tastes and hobbies. All they want is cash. A crisp €20 note works best for the under-10s, rising to €50 after that. But it's not all about money. Trouble can arise with competitive godparenting, for example.
It's not unusual for a godparent who has forgotten one birthday to over-compensate at the next, showering the child with gifts, to the other godparents' annoyance. The solution to this, especially if you are time-rich but cash-poor, is to provide services to the parents, such as picking up the child from school, or taking them to the dentist. At least in the early days, a good godparent helps the parent as much as the child.
No need to worry about this until around the child's 16th birthday, which is when they are now expected to start calling in favours to get work experience. This is a good opportunity if you happen to run a business and need some free labour.
But beware, competitive godparenting can creep in here: if your fellow godparents are hedge-funders and rock stars, you may want to leave the work placements to them. Instead you can offer to help with rewriting essays and personal statements. Less glamorous, but if you land your godchild a H1 or university place, they will remember that for much longer.
Should the worst happen...
Perhaps the most fundamental part of being a godparent - and one that is often overlooked - is that you must be ready to stand in, should the worst happen to the child's parents. This is no light undertaking. On the other hand, what could be a greater sign of friendship than to be entrusted with their child after they've gone?
You do need to at least make an appearance of having some divine inclinations. For example, presenting the baby with a Moroccan-bound bible will always go down well. The Catholic Church requires that godparents be baptised, though it is down to the parish priest to enforce this rule.
If you happen to have doubts, or find yourself leaning towards a different religion altogether, do not make a fuss of it. Simply embrace a pluralistic libertarian standpoint and, like the BBC, inform your godchild that there are other brands of religion out there too.