IF THE Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had been harbouring hopes of giving their children a “normal” upbringing, they must have taken a severe battering last week.
Even before Kate’s pregnancy has reached the 12-week mark, her unborn baby has found itself at the centre of a media storm which has claimed a woman’s life and cast a pall over the happiness the couple ought to be experiencing as they await the birth of their much-wanted son or daughter.
On Friday, a nurse at the King Edward VII Hospital in London where Kate had been treated for severe nausea and vomiting was found dead, having apparently committed suicide days after she fell victim to an inane radio show prank.
When Mel Greig and Michael Christian, presenters with the Sydney station 2Day FM, phoned the hospital pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, Jacintha Saldanha put them through to another nurse who divulged confidential information about Kate’s condition, with the conversation broadcast on air. The pair found the fact their risibly poor impersonations had fooled Saldanha hilarious, continuing to tweet about it long after they had apologised for their actions. Given that they phoned at 5.30am, it is reasonable to assume Saldanha was tired or caught off guard. Certainly, after her body was found at the nearby nurses’ residence where she had been living, the hospital, which is not believed to have taken action against her, described her as an excellent nurse who had diligently cared for hundreds of patients in her four years there.
The tragedy will have many terrible repercussions: Saldanha’s partner Ben Barboza and her son, Junal, 16, and daughter Lisha, thought to be 14, who live in Bristol, have been left without a wife and mother; the presenters have been vilified and will have to live with the consequences of their attention-seeking jape for the rest of their lives. The radio station has lost much of its advertising. And, if it transpires Saldanha was being doorstepped by newspaper journalists, there will be renewed scrutiny of press behaviour and another reassessment of Leveson’s recommendations.
But for the royal couple too, the brief exchange, which revealed nothing more dramatic than Kate’s “uneventful night”, will have had a devastating impact. Though they did not complain about the breach of confidentiality, and praised the hospital for the care Kate received, they have to deal with the knowledge that their very presence at the hospital made it the target of unwanted attention. For William it is likely to bring back memories of the worst years of his life when his parents were using TV interviews as weapons in their acrimonious separation, and, of course, of his own mother’s death in Paris as she sped through the streets pursued by paparazzi.
Most significantly, it will serve as a bleak reminder of how difficult it is likely to be to give their children the sheltered, carefree family life they aspire to. The couple had dreamed of following in Diana’s footsteps, becoming hands-on parents who take their children to theme parks and attend their school plays, while additionally offering them a degree of protection from the press that William and Harry were denied. But can they realistically be shielded from the limelight when they are destined to grow up surrounded by bodyguards and with such a huge weight of public expectation on their shoulders?
In truth, of course, there were portents of doom the moment the Duchess of Cambridge was first rushed to the hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum. Aware that, until the end of the first trimester, there’s still a 20 per cent chance of miscarriage, the couple had hardly told anyone she was pregnant, but as Kate’s condition worsened the secret was already slipping from their control.
Conscious that word was bound to leak out, they chose to make an announcement, despite the fact that in doing so they were effectively surrendering themselves to eight months of prying lenses and intense speculation on everything from the sex of the baby to whether or not Princess Kate will be too posh to push. When Prince William turned up to visit his wife, he had to run the gauntlet of a bank of cameras lined up to catch a shot of the worried father-to-be.
It’s hardly the way he must have imagined breaking the news last month when he coyly accepted a Daddy’s Little Co-Pilot romper suit offered by a well-wisher during a walkabout in Cambridge. William has always craved normality. When he was seven, he told his mother he wanted to be a police officer, until his brother Harry helpfully pointed out: “No, you have to be King.” At St Andrews University he was desperate to fit in and he has made no secret of how much he enjoys spending time at the Middletons’ middle-class home.
Although her forebears were coal miners, Kate herself enjoyed a blissful upbringing in a four-bedroom semi in Berkshire, with her brother James and sister Pippa, taking part in the activities enjoyed by most girls her age: tennis, hockey and the Brownies. Since they married, she and William have tried to live the life of any young married couple, moving into a £750-a-month rented cottage in Anglesey where William is an RAF search and rescue pilot and Kate is often seen shopping in the local supermarket (albeit with a protection officer in tow). But by the time this baby is born it is believed they will have moved into apartments at Kensington Palace, where William and Harry were raised. There, Princess Diana fought hard to give them a more loving childhood than their father had experienced, doling out cuddles, allowing them to play with her valet Paul Burrell’s children and attend a public nursery – and ensuring they went to Ludgrove Prep School and then Eton, as opposed to Gordonstoun, which Charles had despised.
She battled with the Queen to be allowed to take nine-month-old William on tour to Australia and went out of her way to ensure they had everyday experiences: there are photos of them riding on log flumes and eating burgers. Even so, their young lives were punctuated by dramas – the dismissal of nannies they got too close to, for example – and their behaviour was constantly scrutinised; photos appeared of William sticking his tongue out at Prince Andrew’s wedding and he was portrayed as pampered and petulant.
Last year, Kate spent some time with Princess Mary of Denmark. Like Kate, Mary is a commoner, who met Prince Frederik in a pub in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics. After they married, they had four children (the youngest being 11-month-old twins) in quick succession, with Mary managing to breastfeed without relinquishing too many of her other royal duties. Could the Scandinavian model of a more relaxed monarchy point the way forward for William and Kate?
According to Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, their ambition to live a normal life will be tempered by convention, a sense of duty and the logistics of the royal diary. “As far as parenting is concerned, William and Kate will both be very hands-on. William will listen to advice from all sorts of places, but he won’t always take it. He’s his own man and he will do what he thinks is correct for his wife and his children,” he says. “They don’t particularly relish the thought of having live-in staff, but I can’t see how they can get by without a nanny and possibly someone to help the nanny as well because of their royal commitments.”
With royal tours so much shorter now, it is unlikely Kate will feel the need to take her babies with her when she travels abroad, nor will there be the battle of wills which existed between Diana and the nannies. Kate has already proved herself more than able to stand her ground, and William has a reputation as something of a control freak, so there is unlikely to be any question over who’s in charge of important issues such as discipline.
It is also unlikely, Little believes, that the Cambridges’ children will be allowed to forego boarding school, however much it pained Diana to be separated from her boys and vice versa. In all probability, a boy will attend Ludgrove and Eton, while, unless Eton is co-educational by then, a girl will follow in her mother’s footsteps to Marlborough College. “I think that although they try to be normal in some ways, bearing in mind that, all going well, the first-born is going to be a future king or queen, they will need to have a certain standard of education,” he says. “Concessions have to be made to the style of their life and what lies ahead for these children – they need a good grounding in all sorts of things the rest of us wouldn’t need to know.”
Princess Diana was desperately keen for her boys to experience the real world, going so far as to organise a trip to a “working-class” area of London and allowing her children to play there. But no amount of poverty tourism could alter the fact that William and Harry’s childhoods were ones of immense privilege; for William’s second birthday, for instance, he received a motorised toy Jaguar XJS and once, on being told he couldn’t blow out the candles on another child’s birthday cake, he shouted: “When I grow up, I’m going to chop off your head” – or so the tabloids claimed.
The paradox for the royal couple is the more normal the upbringing and the more the children are allowed to interact with ordinary people in the real world, the more scope there is for the press to scrutinise them. If they try to keep the children from prying lenses, they will live a life closeted behind palace walls.
It’s already clear the relationship the couple forge with the press is going to be key to their future happiness. It is well known that William loathes journalists, but over the years he has accepted that he has to find some accommodation with them. During his years at Eton, reporters would be given access to a number of specified events, in exchange for privacy the rest of the year; and while he was at St Andrews, they agreed to back off to allow him to live a normal student life.
The Cambridges’ children are likely to have a slightly easier ride at the hands of the media because – unlike Diana – Kate doesn’t really court attention. “Diana had a bit of a strange relationship with the press in the sense that she certainly used them when it suited her. When she wanted to get her message across, she would tip off photographers and very much play up to the cameras,” says royal author Phil Dampier. “I don’t think Kate is like that – she’s not such a show-off, not quite so narcissistic, she sees her role as supporting William and doesn’t want to do anything to embarrass him.”
The children should also benefit from William’s demonstration that he will not shy away from suing newspapers if he feels they have overstepped the mark (although his experience with the topless photos of Kate has shown him there’s a limit to what can be done if the images are shot and sold abroad). “Once this baby is born – assuming everything goes according to plan – I think we’ll see this child every now and again, but I don’t think we’ll see it quite as much as we saw William and Harry at the same age,” Little says. “Diana took them all over the place, but I think Kate and William will give them a bit more privacy.”
That’s all very well in theory, but what last week’s distressing events prove is that, threats of litigation or no threats of litigation, royal babies will always be a source of both fascination and hostility, attracting unwelcome attention from the mainstream media and wacky comedy shows alike, and that attention will not always be easy to control.
As Saldanha’s family mourn her passing, as Greig and Christian – who have been taken off air and offered counselling but not sacked – absorb, too late, the schoolboy lesson about actions and consequences, and as the hospital wonders what more it could have done to help its struggling employee, William and Kate must be experiencing a growing sense of apprehension. If a cluster of cells weighing less than a gram can generate the kind of febrile atmosphere in which the Australian hoax call was born, what madness will the future hold?