LONDON – The British monarchy’s formidable media machine has handled the birth of the royal baby smoothly, but huge challenges lie ahead to protect young Prince George’s privacy, commentators said Wednesday.
The frenzy that erupted when Prince William and his wife Kate gave international journalists their first glimpse of the boy on Tuesday is just a taste of the lifetime of media attention that awaits the future king.
Buckingham Palace now faces a dilemma as it balances the need for privacy with its use of a photogenic new generation of royals to secure the future of an ancient institution in the modern world.
Patrick Jephson, former chief of staff to William’s late mother Diana, said the palace had handled the royal birth well so far.
“My impression is that this was a relatively straightforward royal operation which the palace machine handled with its usual smooth efficiency,” Jephson said.
The dark decades of scandals and press intrusion that culminated with Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi seem far behind today’s gilded monarchy.
The royals are on a roll after three successive summers in the spotlight, with William and Kate’s wedding in 2011, the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 and now the birth of a new prince, third in line to the throne.
The palace has in particular used the image of William and Kate as a modern young couple to move the monarchy into the 21st century — and now, with the birth of their son George Alexander Louis, possibly into the 22nd.
Much of that is down to the palace machine run by the queen’s private secretary Christopher Geidt, a former diplomat and military man.
He supervises not only the press offices for the queen but also Clarence House, the residence of heir to the throne Prince Charles, and Kensington Palace, where William and the new baby reside.
The palace’s tight control of information was visible when the 200 photographers and correspondents who had been waiting outside St Mary’s Hospital for three weeks remained in complete ignorance for four hours after the baby’s birth.
His arrival was then announced by email and on Twitter.
Whether by coincidence or design the breaking news about the baby has even fitted perfectly with British newspaper deadlines, with the hospital appearance and the announcement both coming at around the same time in the early evening.
The only glimpse of the shadowy media machine was when the queen’s press secretary, Ailsa Anderson, posted the formal bulletin announcing the birth on a golden easel outside Buckingham Palace.
William even alluded to the game that the royals and the media play when he and Kate showed off their baby to the world on Tuesday.
“I know how long you’ve all been sat out here, so hopefully the hospital and you guys can all go back to normal now and we can look after him,” William said to the media.
The royals found an unusual ally in Graham Smith, the head of Republic, a group that campaigns for the abolition of the British monarchy.
“The coverage is disproportionate, it’s excessive, it’s inappropriate, it’s intrusive,” Smith said.
“Essentially a pregnancy is a very personal thing. We’ve had reporters standing outside the hospital speculating about when it was conceived and how long she has been in labor — completely inappropriate.”
The royals and the media struck an explicit deal after Diana’s death to leave William and his younger brother Harry in peace until they were older. In the meantime the palace has reached out to the public in recent years on social media.
Maintaining privacy should be easier in the coming months when the new baby is holed up in Kensington Palace, and the public are only likely to see him for the odd official photo shoot.
The royals have also shown they are quite ready to take legal action to protect their younger members.
Britain’s media are still playing by the rules after their methods came under scrutiny following the 2011 tabloid phone-hacking scandal, while the palace took legal action over topless pictures of Kate that were published in foreign media in September.
The royal baby’s life will be carefully media managed from here on in.
“There will be a continuing concern not to overexpose this baby and the family life that he was born into, but at the same time needing not just to satisfy public curiosity but to satisfy the need for public confidence in the future of the dynasty,” Jephson said.