Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Royal male delivers bundle of joy for all

The joyous welcome for the Royal baby is not confined to the Shankill Road. The miracle of new life touches something elemental in all of us, writes Mary Kenny

Celebrations on the Shankill Road in Belfast were mirrored all across the world after the Royal birth was announced
New parents: Prince William and Kate
New parents: Prince William and Kate
A prince is born: The royal announcement
A prince is born: The royal announcement

There was a time when we would have regarded the birth of a Royal baby as an event to be celebrated, in this country, almost exclusively in loyalist areas of Belfast and across the province – and, as a Dubliner, I say that with complete respect for the cultural traditions on all sides.

But it was traditionally the case that the images of the Royal family would be most especially emblazoned in the streets around the Shankill Road and east Belfast – and, no doubt, loyalist neighbourhoods still feel a special pride and celebration in the birth of William and Kate's baby son on Monday.

And yet, in recent years, the Royal brand has become a globalised phenomenon and it's been astonishing to watch the jubilation with which the news of the Royal baby has been greeted in so many parts of the world.

The Americans have been over the moon – even the stuffy and liberal-Left New York Times greeted Baby Cambridge's arrival as though it were one of their own.

Italian television has been awash with emotion and rejoicing and the German media has been registering great excitement over the new baby and 'Herzogin' (Duchess) Kate.

The Canadians and Australians were hugely enthused and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, of Oz, was one of the first to communicate congratulations.

A cynic might say that media frenzy over a Royal birth is partly about commercialism and commodification. Magazines sell more issues – as do newspapers – and TV news attracts higher ratings with a big Royal event.

The measure of this market-value is reflected in the efforts that the paparazzi are willing to make to secure a picture of the new baby – camping outside St Mary's Hospital in Paddington for days, even weeks.

An exclusive snapshot of Baby Cambridge would be worth thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of dollars, which is why there will be an official photograph as soon as possible – to reduce the market-value of unofficial snaps and minimise the nuisance of the paps shadowing the Royal couple everywhere.

But the cynic would be wrong: yes, Royal babies (and weddings) are good for business and let's be glad that Ulster Weavers will be kept busy producing some of the linen-based merchandise marking the birth.

Yet the globalised media interest simply reflects a human truth: that a popular monarchy can be a successful constitutional arrangement, because it is essentially about people; it brings a national narrative to life and it is not – in spite of those icons familiar to the Shankill and elsewhere – fundamentally political.

(One of the most fascinating aspects of the Queen's character is that no one has ever divined what her personal politics are. The nearest historians have come is a suggestion that her favourite prime minister seems to have been Harold Wilson. But that might have been because of Wilson's Yorkshire wit, rather than his pale form of socialism, which he famously said owed more to Methodism than to Marx.)

The non-political nature of modern constitutional monarchy leaves it free to fulfill other purposes: of symbol: of ritual: of uniting disparate parts of a society: even of glamour and celebrity.

It is striking, in London, how multi-ethnic the crowds are when the Royals appear. Asian and Afro-Caribbean faces are always evident whenever there is a Royal ceremonial event.

Walter Bagehot, the great Victorian constitutionalist, got it so right when he explained that the appeal of a Royal family is precisely because it is a family and everybody can identify with family relationships, whether these be warm and happy, or dysfunctional and disruptive.

Throughout the last 25 years, we've all followed the difficulties that the Queen's family has undergone – the marriage breakdowns, the divorces, the tragic death of Diana, the public criticisms about tax – and then the redemptive cycle of a new generation of young Royals making good once again.

This is what happens in family life: there are problems and troubles and then comes a new generation which brings renewal. Things can change for the better, with new life and new hope.

And what is more symbolic of new hope than a baby?

To be sure, not everyone is obsessed by, or even especially interested in, the Royal baby: some will feel there is too much hype.

But for most people – from Northern Ireland and across the world – it's a genuinely radiant event, which cheers us in the midst of so much that is sad and doleful.

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