The Prince of Cambridge arrived Monday third in line to the British throne and seemingly set for life – barring an unlikely uprising against the last vestiges of an ancient system that somehow survives in a modern major democracy.
But the tot, whose grandmother died in a car crash 16 years ago next month, makes his debut with a heavy debt as he begins a lifetime of paying the price of potentially unprecedented fame as the first future king of England born in the Internet Age.
With his birth inside a press-thronged St. Mary’s Hospital, the little prince instantly became the world's most famous child, ending the brief reign of North West. Unlike the rap and reality TV scion, the so-far-unnamed royal is heir to one of the world's oldest monarchies. The boy who would be king already is subject to an electronic media frenzy unimagined in the Arthurian era – or even in the time of his great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, whose birth in 1926 proved a big radio story.
Like the arrival of his father, Prince William, the details of the new prince’s birth were announced officially in quaint way, posted on a gilded easel at the gates of Buckingham Palace. That might be the last time the Royal Family gets to control the flow of information about the prince. The child will be trailed not only by traditional TV cameras, but by ordinary subjects wielding smart phones – threatening to make him a living version of “The Truman Show.”
Of course, that’s not the only reality he’ll know. His prospects for grounding in a more human realm will rest largely with first-time parents Kate Middleton and William, who are two-plus years past a wedding that drew a reported 2 billion uninvited guests, via TV. That’s far more, as we’ve noted, than the 750 million viewers who witnessed the fairytale wedding of William’s parents, Charles and Diana, 32 years ago this month.
The marriage didn't end happily ever after, officially crumbling in a very public divorce in 1996. William was only 15 just over a year later when his mother became perhaps the best-known victim of fame while fleeing paparazzi in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997. William appears to have turned out OK, along with his outgoing brother Harry, whose partying has provided press fodder.
Queen Elizabeth, whose televised 1953 coronation marked a British first, knows all too well the benefits and pitfalls of life as a media spectacle. So does the new prince’s grandpa, Charles. Hopefully, they’ll be around to help guide the boy, who faces many challenges: to stake out his identity as an individual, not just as a symbol. To be defined by service to others, rather than solely by lineage. To somehow live as normal a life as possible without withering under a near-constant media glare.
The joy of William, Kate, much of the British public – and the media – at the arrival of the Prince of Cambridge offers a fine (if overblown) beginning to a new public life. But it’s also the start of potential royal growing pains for a boy who is a born prince – and a born celebrity.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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