Today the Duchess of Cambridge carried out her last solo royal engagement before undergoing the ultimate solo engagement of giving birth.
She was in Southampton, naming a new cruise ship called the Royal Princess and –
Hang on a minute. Was that a sign? Did she agree to do it as a hint that she’s expecting a princess? Would she not have bothered if it was called the Flying Dolphin? Or perhaps she was trying to throw us off the scent because she knows it’ll be a Royal Prince. Aha!
And that thing she wearing, the leopardskin print mackintosh? Ladbrokes instantly interpreted it as a sign that the Duchess secretly models herself on Bet Lynch, the leopardskin-upholstered barmaid in Coronation Street; they’re offering odds of 500/1 that the baby will be called Bet.
Others, however, think the coat she was wearing was more a Dalmatian-dog print. Was Kate hinting at 101 Dalmatians? And who was the key female figure in the book? What odds is Ladbrokes offering on Princess Cruella?
So it goes on, the endless tsunami of frothy speculation surrounding the royal birth. Actual facts about the event are sketchy: there’s definitely a baby inside the duchess; the due date will be 13 July (probably, unless it isn’t) and she’ll give birth at St Mary’s Paddington, where her husband the Duke was born (unless the couple change their mind, for fear of hoax calls), and we know the names of the royal gynaecologists, Messrs Farthing and Setchell.
Beyond that, we haven’t a clue. And we probably won’t see the duchess again until the baby is born, nor can we expect daily updates from the Palace, bringing news that she’s “Still pregnant. Taking it easy. Reading Grazia. Eating soft fruit and raw carrots” – riveting though that would undoubtedly be.
But nature abhors a vacuum – and so does the British press. So the papers will go on producing stories where no story exists, and spinning more speculation out of the ether. Discussions of a possible name will reach fever pitch (Alexandra, Elizabeth and Diana jointly lead the field at 5/1) while articles about birthing methods will become increasingly intrusive: discussions about the efficacy of a Caesarean section and confident predictions that she will use hypnotherapy (“it helps women use their mind to seize control of the birthing process”) will give way to personal recollections of episiotomy scars, and recipes for roast placenta.
The duchess has already bought a buggy (a Bugaboo in pale blue, so “It must be a boy!” yelled the tabloids, although of course pale blue is simply the Cambridge university colour, duh), and pages will soon be filled with the ill-advisability of exposing small children to London’s air before the age of 10. And then the articles about breastfeeding will start.
Like village gossips and scolds, the newspapers will gather around the Cambridges and their innocent sprog, poking and prodding and straining to see, offering unwanted advice and censure until both baby and parents start to wail from claustrophobia. And so it will go on until poor hapless Princess Alexandra/Cruella/George is about one year old. Or until it becomes evident that she/he is going to have a baby sister/brother…