Birth animates the unique lunacy of royal watching
Waiting for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s son to arrive has never had anything to do with its constitutional import
The British Telecom tower displays ‘it’s a boy’ to mark the birth of a baby boy for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and her husband Prince William, in London yesterday evening. Photograph: Reuters
It’s … it’s a baby! A boy baby, so no chance to test the new rules on female succession, unfortunately. But rejoice nonetheless! It would be churlish not to, and besides, the birth of his majesty brings to an end some of the most - possibly the most embarrassing commentary since rolling news was invented. All day yesterday, they kept us posted: “We don’t know anything”; “The couple has arrived at the hospital”; “They arrived by car”; “The room is air-conditioned.” (This fact thanks to the newshound Kay Burley). “Beyond that, nothing,” they said, hour after hour; you could see them shaking their heads even when on the radio.
But what exactly did they want to know? Because, as anyone who has ever come within a sniff of a labour ward will be aware, you either know nothing: “nothing yet”; “more when it happens” - or you know everything: “she’s 6cm”; “she’s asked for an epidural … she’s been at 6cm for hours … they’ve broken her waters and now she’s in howling agony … no, it was more like a giant crochet needle with a hook on the end … she’s 7cm! At this rate of dilation, she could have a baby in as little as four days.”
Princess Diana famously told Andrew Motion that she had to be induced because she “couldn’t handle the press pressure any longer, it was becoming unbearable” (there is a competing narrative, also from her, that she had to get William out to fit in with Prince Charles’s polo commitments). This sounds clinically improbable (induction is roughly as effective as a vindaloo - if you want a baby out on a deadline, you get it out through the sunroof, as the saying goes).
But the frenzy around Diana would have been a modest village fete compared to this carnival; the arrival of this future monarch somehow animated for me, in a way that nothing has before, the unique lunacy of royal-watching. Waiting for this baby to come out has never had anything to do with its constitutional import, except to use its place in history as a cover for the unabashed prying. There was a woman in labour, whom none of us had ever met, and Nicholas Witchell was disappointed not to be able to give us hourly updates on her vaginal dilation.
You could argue, of course, that squeamishness around discussing the female pudenda is rooted in a deeper hatred of women, and if we could just reclaim the word “vaginally” as a useful adverb, one that we could happily use of a woman whether we knew her or not, that would be one more baby step in the march against the patriarchy. But I think Middleton - and, as I say, I don’t know her, so this is a wild guess - would most probably say, “let’s not start with my vagina, ok? I have enough on my plate. Let’s reclaim the word ‘vagina’ on the subject of someone else’s vagina.”