The first flash came on the early morning radio news, displacing the latest crisis reports from Argentina and Lebanon. The Princess of Wales had been admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, between 5 and 6 a.m. on June 21 in the first stages of labor. The new heir-in-waiting to Europe’s oldest monarchy was on the way ahead of time and, as if drawn by an irresistible force, the crowds began to gather. They came to Buckingham Palace, pressing hopefully against the tall railings, prepared to wait for hours to see the traditional notice of birth posted there. They also came, hundreds of them, to a seedy back street in West London, the unlikeliest setting imaginable for the fruition of a royal wedding whose glamor and romance had riveted half the world just 327 days before.
South Wharf Road, bordered on one side by industrial warehouses and a grimy canal, within earshot of the train announcements from Paddington railway terminus, does not fit the stereotype of a birthplace for a future sovereign. But it houses the private wing —with renowned maternity facilities— of venerable St. Mary’s, the hospital where, in 1928, young Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin mould growing in a saucer on his windowsill. And since Princess Anne gave birth to her son, Peter, there in 1977, the maternity ward in St. Mary’s Lindo Wing (named for a 1930s industrialist who financed it) has been the choice of aristocratic expectant mothers.
It was, according to the calendar, the longest day of the year, and for Diana and Charles that was certainly the case. The princess, who had expected the baby to arrive on her 21st birthday, July 1, was to endure 16 hours of labor in her pink-walled, 4-metre-square room before the arrival of a fair-haired son. His weight: seven pounds, 1 lb oz.
Prince Charles watched the birth, the first royal father in recent history to do so. (Prince Philip was playing squash with an equerry to calm his nerves when Charles was born.) Later, Charles confessed that he found the experience “rather a grown-up thing . . . rather a shock to my system.”
The baby cried lustily as he came into the world at 9:03 p.m., coincidentally about the same time as his father on a bleak November night nearly 34 years ago. Excitement built throughout the day among the waiting crowds, many wearing Union Jack hats left over from the royal wedding. They cheered every arriving bouquet, sang patriotic songs and feasted on strawberries and cream sold by street vendors. A leaden day of rain failed to dampen their spirits, and their happy mood boiled over as a strip of cardboard, boldly lettered IT’S A BOY, was wedged through the hospital railings.
A few kilometres away, a court official and a police sergeant solemnly fastened a more stately notice to the Buckingham Palace railings. Neatly typed, with the time written in by hand, it read: “The Princess of Wales was safely delivered of a son at 9:03 p.m. today. Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well.” It was signed by Dr. John Batten, head of the Queen’s medical household; anesthetist Dr. Clive Roberts; pediatrician Dr. David Harvey; and the urbane George Pinker, surgeon-gynecologist to the Queen, who saw the baby into the world.
The infant prince, who will be styled “Prince (Christian name) of Wales,” will in all likelihood become Britain’s 42nd monarch since the Norman Conquest and 63rd in a line going back to Egbert, first King of Wessex and all England, who ruled from AD 827 to 839. He is the first child born to a Prince and Princess of Wales since 1905. That baby, son of the late George V, was named Prince John but did not survive his teens.
Britons, who will bet on anything, immediately began staking money on the baby’s name. He will, like all royal children, have a string of them. Bookmaker William Hill gave evens on George, followed by James at 7 to 2, Charles at 9 to 2, Edward at 5 to 1, Philip at 10 to 1 and Louis (in honour of the late Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles’s much-loved great-uncle) at 12 to 1. Those odds shortened to 8 to 1 during the week.
Born at the summer solstice, with both moon and sun in the zodiac sign of Cancer, the new prince predictably had plenty going for him in the astrological stakes. The Daily Mail’s resident astrologer predicted that he would be “more of a Mountbatten than a Windsor.” The navy would appeal strongly to him, and events around his sixth birthday would “profoundly affect his future.”
Meanwhile, in the narrow street outside the hospital’s dour 1930s facade, they began yelling for Prince Charles. Someone started a football-style chant that soon drowned out Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia. It went: “Nice one, Charlie, give us another one.” When Prince Charles emerged, tired but beaming, just after 11 p.m., his response to a question about future family plans was in keeping with the foot-ball-fan mood: “Bloody hell, give us a chance,” he pleaded laughingly. It was a royal moment like no other in the long history of the British throne. For a while barriers between monarchy and subjects were swept aside as the prince revelled in the congratulations like any new father, shyly fingering his tie and confessing his relief that it was all over. To someone who asked if the baby looked like him, he joked: “It has the good fortune not to.” What about names, everyone wanted to know immediately. Charles would not be drawn. Then, turning serious, he appealed for quiet after he had gone: “Some sleep is badly needed.” When he drove off, the crowd obediently trickled away.
Earlier, Charles had phoned the Queen at Buckingham Palace. She was “absolutely delighted” and ordered champagne for the palace staff. Other members of the Royal Family, widely dispersed, heard in different ways. Princess Margaret was given a standing ovation at the musical Song and Dance, at London’s Palace Theatre, when ballet star Wayne Sleep broke the news after the show.
Prince Andrew heard of his displacement by a new nephew to third in line of succession via a radio link to HMS Invincible in the Falklands. The Queen Mother, on a tour of industrial Tees-side, was
asked how she felt about her latest great-grandchild. “It’s always nice to have a new one,” she beamed.
But Princess Anne, in New Mexico, reacted in characteristically crisp fashion. Asked “Any word about Diana?” she retorted: “I don’t know, you tell me.” A U.S. reporter told her. “Oh, good,” said Anne, walking briskly on. When the exchange was shown on British TV, scores of irate viewers phoned to complain about her rudeness, prompting the palace to explain that she was simply being “cautious”—an earlier rumour of the birth having proved premature. But later reports had Anne telling U.S. newsmen, “That’s my business,” and “Keep your questions to yourself,” as they sought her views on her nephew’s arrival.
Speaker George Thomas broke the news to the House of Commons, adding amid cheers, “We rejoice with the royal couple.” With enterprising timing, British Airways screened a special commercial minutes after the broadcast announcement, showing an airliner tracing the word “congratulations” in the sky. In Scotland, by an accident of network scheduling, it went out just before the birth was announced.
Princess Diana’s father, Earl Spencer, corralled by reporters as he left his London apartment in fashionable Grosvenor Square, said the baby was “very very lucky to have a mother like Diana.”
Then he dived for his car with the shy admission that he was off “to have a beer.” Britons throughout the land celebrated in like fashion. Tetbury, the village nearest the royal couple’s Cotswold home, Highgrove House, broke out flags and bells and popped champagne corks. At the 14th-century church in Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk retreat, bell ringers stood by all day to herald the news. At sea and in port—and in the Falklands—the Royal Navy celebrated with its traditional tot of rum. The toast was “to the Prince Unnamed of Wales, God bless him.”
London is a busier and more preoccupied city than in the year of Charles’s birth. But some pageantry was managed despite a strike that paralyzed most of the city’s vast subway system and tied up the capital’s roads. Ignoring the traffic jams, the Kings Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, clopped its solemn way from its North London barracks to Hyde Park to fire off the 41-gun salute traditional to royal births.
By the morning after the birth, as bells pealed from Westminster Abbey, 2,000 gifts and 700 messages had already poured into Buckingham Palace. The only “thorn in the royal bouquet,” as The Guardian put it, was a barbed remark by veteran antimonarchist MP I
Willie Hamilton, who said sourly in the Commons that the boy’s future would be “one long story of nausea, deference, and Land of Hope and Glory rubbish for many years.” There was a precedent: in 1894, amid rhapsodies on the birth of the future Edward VIII, the socialist pioneer Keir Hardie growled that he owed no allegiance to any hereditary ruler.
The Queen had wanted Diana to have her child—as she had done—in Buckingham Palace. But she was diplomatically overruled by Pinker. There was another break with royal tradition, when a surprised nation learned that Diana had left the hospital just 21 hours after the birth. “It’s the fashionable thing to do,” explained Press Secretary Michael Shea. But perhaps the princess also wished to avoid the embarrassment of crossing union picket lines the following day as health-service workers, including nurses, staged a one-day strike against government pay policy.
On the day of departure, Prince Charles was once again in good form. The baby was “looking more human now,” he told the crowds after an early visit. The Queen joined him at the bedside for 20 minutes and came out beaming broadly. But by week’s end Prince Philip, travelling around the country on official duties (and greeted by car workers with shouts of “Grandad, we love you!”) was still wisecracking that it would be nice to see his grandson sometime.
Then came the moment that the crowd, predominantly female, had been waiting for: Prince Charles and Princess Diana came out together with their white-shawl-wrapped bundle, Diana glowing with maternal satisfaction and looking none the worse for her ordeal.
The baby prince will almost certainly be christened in the Royal Family’s heirloom robe of silk and Honiton lace, first used by Queen Victoria. It is virtually certain Diana will breast-feed him for at least the first few weeks. For the first month she will have the help of a trained children’s nurse, Anne Wallace, who looked after Princess Anne’s two children. Then Diana’s choice as nanny takes over, a breezily informal 39-year-old named Barbara Barnes. Unlike the normal run of starchy upper-class nannies, she has had no formal training, never wears uniforms and likes to be called by her first name.
There will be other breaks with tradition. With her well-known love of small children, Diana will not leave her son as long in nanny’s care as did royal mothers of a previous generation: the Queen sometimes saw her children for only half an hour a day. Charles, too, has indicated that he will be as involved in the baby’s upbringing as any modern young father. Royal nurseries are invariably decorated in unisex yellow, and a pretty nursery suite, with handpainted murals and furniture, awaits the baby at Highgrove. He may also sleep in the large Victorian cast-iron cradle used by Charles as a baby.
Meanwhile, no one could doubt that the baby’s timing had been superb. It was close enough to the Falklands victory to keep the nation’s euphoria in high gear and late enough not to clash with TV news reports of ships blowing up and men dying in the South Atlantic. Author Christopher Booker reflected in the Daily Mail that the buoyant mood of the country is now strikingly different from the gloomy self-doubt of a year ago. Then, on the very eve of the royal wedding, fire bombs were hurled in Liverpool and London’s suburbs.
Still, the new national pride and confidence may not hold. The industrial sector will return aggressively to normal this week as the first all-out national rail strike since 1955 begins. But for a few heady days, at least, everything seemed to have found its season. And continuity of the Crown, in the tiny person of a blond-haired baby, was reassuringly confirmed for another generation. &t;£?
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