I didn’t think I would ever weigh in on something as banal as the media coverage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who are having their first baby. They announced that their plans for the birth are private; they will tell the world when they are ready. Many media outlets have criticised them over this, and not just the tabloids, saying people have a right to know about the birth arrangements and see the baby. And then Ken Wharfe, a former bodyguard to Princess Diana who wrote a book about it, was quoted saying it’s part of being royal that babies are paraded at the doors of a London hospital just hours after their birth. And so, here I am, commenting after all. I feel a bit like my character Maddie Bright.
It actually isn’t part of being royal to show babies off hours after birth, and it’s not something they’ve always done. Diana was among the first royal family members who decided to have their babies in a hospital and not at home. They were born in the eighties when hospital birth had become the norm. The Queen’s children, born in the forties and fifties, were all born at home. As for parading a new baby for the world being part of being royal, Diana was also the first royal to emerge with her children in arms just hours after the births. She was on her way home from hospital. When he grew up, Diana’s son William and his wife, Kate, who also had their babies in a hospital, decided to do the same.
Times have changed. I don’t think Diana was criticised, in the way Kate was, for looking glamorous so soon after the birth of the children, and I don’t think anyone mentioned, as they did about Kate, the fact she still had a baby bump, with a closeup to show the world. Social media and our click-driven news media certainly bring out the best and worst in us. I don't know if they encourage us to shout at one another, or if we’re all just more angry than we used to be. What constitutes news online is what gets the most clicks and often that seems to be things that make us mad.
My novel The True Story of Maddie Bright explores notions of fame and the royal family and journalism in the way a novel can more than any other art form, following characters through time and space to see what they’ll do and how they’ll feel. A novel is like the opposite of internet comments. Ent-like in its pace, it can provide deep if unhasty gifts.
The novel is set in three time periods that all precede the internet—1920 when Edward VIII toured Australia as Prince of Wales, 1981 when Diana and Charles announced their engagement, and 1997 when Diana died. What I learned was that the seeds were already sown for what’s happening now by 1997. When Rupert Murdoch came on the scene in England, he decided the royal family had no right to private lives and the other tabloids followed suit. That sensibility may have had a jolt when Diana died because she was being chased by freelance photographers on motorbikes, and laws may have changed as a result, but now in the age of the internet we are returning with full force on Diana’s children. It will be worse, much worse than what happened to Diana. I don’t know how they can survive.
William and Harry, Diana’s famous children, have come of age in the worst time in history to be famous. Experiencing the birth of a child can shift lifelong habits, change lives. It almost always makes us better, more loving people. I can’t imagine how much more fraught it is to be approaching such a moment in your own life if you are famous.
New life in a family belongs wherever the family says it does. I wish all the mothers having babies today happiness and wellness.
Mary-Rose MacColl’s novel The True Story of Maddie Bright, about fame, journalism, the royal family, lost babies and the marvellous Maddie Bright, was published in Australia in April 2019, and in the US and Canada (forthcoming, Spring 2020 as Lost Autumn). The Birth Wars, her book about maternity care, was published in 2009 and is difficult to source these days. You can subscribe to MRM’s emails, or follow her on Facebook.