Baby fervor boosts royals in the eyes of Britons
LONDON — A crowd cheered, hundreds of cameras clicked and an image of familial perfection was beamed around the world.
Prince William, his wife Kate and their infant son, the Prince of Cambridge, emerged on Tuesday from London's St. Mary's Hospital to start a new chapter in their lives — capping a remarkable turnaround for a monarchy that had ended the 20th century at a low point of popularity.
The outpouring of public and official enthusiasm — including artillery salutes, marching bands and landmarks illuminated blue for the royal baby boy — showed that Britain's royal family is back in its subjects' affections, especially now that it has an adorable infant heir, third in line to the throne, who could be king into the 22nd century.
“It's had its ups and downs in public opinion,” said veteran royal commentator Dickie Arbiter. “But in the last 20 years it has had more ups than downs.”
Pictures of William, Kate and their baby, whose given names have yet to be announced, echoed a similar image taken 31 years ago, when Prince Charles and Princess Diana left the same hospital with baby William in their arms.
William and Kate looked much more relaxed than the awkward Charles and Diana, and within a few years the older couple's image of regal domestic bliss had been comprehensively trashed.
By the late 1980s and early '90s, the royal family was making headlines for the wrong reasons. More often than not, the stories were about marital troubles among the children of Queen Elizabeth II, especially for Charles and his unhappy wife, Diana.
The divorce or separation of three of the monarch's four children in 1992, along with a damaging fire at Windsor Castle, led the queen — in a rare admission of private feeling — to dub it a horrible year, her “annus horribilis.”
Then, in 1997, came Diana's death in a car crash — a personal tragedy that became a crisis for the monarchy. Warm, glamorous and unhappy in her royal marriage, Diana had — in the eyes of many — been badly treated by the royal “Firm.” The queen and other senior royals, caught by surprise by an outpouring of public grief at her death, appeared cold and remote.
But that image has since been transformed, partly because of the dignified endurance of Queen Elizabeth II, now in her 62nd year on the throne. At 87, she is the only monarch most Britons have ever known, a reassuring presence at the heart of national life who has in recent years given public hints of her private sense of humor — even agreeing to appear alongside Daniel Craig's James Bond in a short film for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
If the queen gives the family gravitas, the emergence of an attractive young generation that includes William; his soldier-socialite brother, Prince Harry; and the glamorous, middle-class Kate gives it celebrity.
The baby adds a new layer of stability to help the institution thrive for another generation. For the first time since the 19th-century reign of Queen Victoria, Britain has three generations of living heirs to the throne — Prince Charles, William and his baby son.