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Whether pink or blue, we're all agog at royal baby countdown

By Melanie McDonagh

Published 28/04/2015

Expecting: Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William
Expecting: Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William

There is, of course, only one possible outcome to the waiting outside the Lindo wing at St Mary's Paddington: a boy or a girl. That's it. I mean, it's not as if the royal baby might turn out to be a dromedary or something.

Yet there's something primal about the sense of expectation surrounding the Duchess of Cambridge's happy event. For every birth, there's only really the boy-girl question, yet we manifest delight and surprise when we hear the news.

"A little girl - how lovely! "A little boy - how lovely!" And the delight is (usually) perfectly genuine.

It's the pleasure at the perpetuation of the human family into the next generation; in the case of a royal baby, an entire nation is at liberty to ask the interested questions that normally only friends and family go in for: "How much does it weigh?" (Pounds, not kilos, please.) And who does it take after? (Winston Churchill, you idiot.)

But that's the beauty of monarchy. It enacts on a national stage the family and domestic events that matter for everyone: weddings, births and christenings, deaths and funerals.

The arrival of a royal baby is a celebration that everyone is at liberty to participate in. And that, in its turn, suggests why so many people - some 70% - support the institution of monarchy.

Partly, it's because the Queen is so brilliant and partly for constitutional reasons you find in Bagehot's The English Constitution.

But also because it's an essentially personal and familial affair: births, marriages and deaths are what it's about. It's an opportunity for people to see common family joys and vicissitudes played out, only in a far grander way. It is generally considered bad form in contemporary Britain to express a preference for a girl or boy baby. The only acceptable response to the question on the part of a parent is to say that you really don't mind, so long as it's healthy - or even if it's not.

But it would be fibbing to suggest that we're entirely indifferent to the question. Most Brits who express a preference - not that it'll make any difference - say they'd like a girl.

For one thing, it would be a change; for another, girls are more fun to dress - though I may say that this does not necessarily hold true later on; my own daughter has to be paid to wear frocks. (If the Duchess wants to be really revolutionary, she could take a stand against pink.)

For lots of pundits, a boy would be a tiny bit of a disappointment. (The question doesn't have any immediate implications for the succession: the baby will be next in line to the throne after George.) To say as much shows what a fortunate country this is.

There are many, many countries and communities where a girl is, per se, a disappointment, a reason to try again until you get it right with a boy. Well, it's not true for most of us right here and now.

There was also a time when the sheer precariousness of life was such that it was critical to have a spare as well as an heir, preferably as many spares as possible.

Think Wolf Hall, in which the fate of kings and their wives hung on producing sons and heirs and babies died young.

The new addition to the Cambridge family will be welcomed unconditionally - and that really is lovely.

Belfast Telegraph

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