Any PR will tell you that to build buzz around your product, you announce its release date and as little else as possible. You get a couple of big names on board. You make clear that your invention is going to change the world, but are vague about how. You give false starts, drop breadcrumbs and play dumb. You might hold a pre-launch party. You keep people waiting for what seems like forever. If you’ve driven commentators to distraction, it’s working. Then just before D-Day you go radio silent and boom: iPod Mini.
More than the Markle-managed Instagram, more than the banana signing, more even than the veiled appointment of a mixed-race American as steward of the rainbow-nationed Commonwealth, Baby Sussex has proven Harry and Meghan PR gurus. The masterstroke was of course their insistence on a low-key birth, feigning humility while fuelling hype. The less they told us, the more we wanted to know. By last month, almost £9 million had been bet on the unborn baby, easily outstripping the £3 million collectively spent on its Cambridge cousins George, Charlotte and Louis. The Sussexes played hard to get, and Britain gave chase.
If the pregnancy captured the public’s imagination, the birth sent it into overdrive. The Mail dedicated a heroic twenty-three pages to the event, the Express and Mirror a frankly ungenerous eleven. In the absence of any photographic evidence of the sprog, we got an investigation into Meghan’s dramatic change of birth plan, a spread of near-identical stills of Harry’s face, and a tasteful gallery of the Prince modelling a range of other people’s offspring. Within twenty-four hours of its birth, a nameless, faceless child — one whose existence we were still essentially taking Harry’s word for — was the subject of a biography’s worth of speculative journalism.
Nor was it only the tabloids that succumbed to baby mania. Though determined to demote it beneath more important stories, the broadsheets still felt compelled to nod to the neonate. On the Guardian front page, “overjoyed royals” provided a welcome antidote to the impending apocalypse. Meanwhile, the Times offset NHS understaffing with bouncing Baby Sussex. It was the FT that made the greatest show of its insouciance. Galled to even acknowledge such soppily soft news, the paper devoted but a single sentence to it.
The spectrum of mainstream opinion about the birth of the seventh in line to the throne has run from “Help I can’t breathe” to “That’s nice” to the timeless refrain, “Woman Has Baby”. The worst most people seem capable of feeling about Baby Sussex, in other words, is mildly disgruntled that he should be news at all. Variations on “Why are we talking about a baby when the planet is literally melting?” abound on Twitter, as do people threatening to mute anything baby-related. But is putting our fingers in our ears really all we’ve got?
In normal life, greeting the birth of a baby with anything less than respectful indifference is uncouth; which, of course, is how known republican Jeremy Corbyn came to congratulate a duke and duchess on the birth of their heir. But this is no normal baby. He might look as cute as the rest of them — at the time of writing, unconfirmed — but he’s not. Both literally and metaphorically, he is the reproduction of monarchy. We don’t have to be nice about him.
Not everyone has been, though. So far, most that see past the punim have focused on race. Gal-dem reminded us that brown babies aren’t fashion accessories; CNN, that “Prince Kwame of Sussex” isn’t our “Great Mixed-Race Hope”. They make an important point, one first made when Meghan joined the clan: that race won’t revolutionise royalty. Yet what’s symbolically at stake with Baby Sussex isn’t just his blackness, but his highness.
Births and deaths are the Achilles heel of hereditary monarchy. They’re when the bloodline breaks and power is rebalanced; when chaos threatens before order is swiftly restored. Royalists know this better than anyone. The past nine months have seen a frantic examination of where the new arrival will fit in the House of Windsor. What title will he get? Could he run for US president? Will he heal the rift between Sussex and Cambridge?
The left should exploit this uncertainty. We should interrogate why taxpayers are bankrolling a baby’s private hospital delivery while the NHS struggles to recruit nurses; why thanks to us that same baby will never want for anything when almost a third of British children do on a daily basis; why our constitution enshrines his social and economic advantage. Yet instead of taking this transition period to question the sovereignty of our ruling family, we’re politely allowing it to proliferate. Our politeness is the best insurance against a republic. Some 21 per cent of us don’t want a monarchy — now’s the time to say it.
Rivkah Brown is a freelance journalist who writes for publications including the London Review of Books and the Guardian.