The hunt for the only republican in Bucklebury village - where the Duchess of Cambridge grew up
The village has been the go-to place for reporters needing royalist soundbites. So was anyone brave enough to dissent?
Paul Bignell is an Assistant News Editor at The Independent. He has previously been the acting News Editor of the i Paper, a home news reporter for The Independent for one year and a reporter for the Independent on Sunday for six years.
Tuesday 23 July 2013
In the tiny village of Bucklebury, some unwelcome visitors have arrived. And, as I stand on a large gravel driveway at the front door of an expansive property cautiously eyeing the ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign, I realise I’m one of them.
Bucklebury, in the rural county of Berkshire, is where the Duchess of Cambridge – mother of the newly born third-in-line to the throne – grew up and spent carefree days walking the family dogs in the fields with her sister Pippa and brother James.
As most of the world’s media camped outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in Central London awaiting a glimpse or a name of the future King, the rest of the world’s press appeared to have descended on this tiny area of Berkshire.
Amid all the dubious fuss greeting the Duke and Duchess’s departure from the maternity ward last night, after the bells of Westminster Abbey being played to mark the birth and news agencies had fallen over themselves merely to report that the Duchess of Cornwall had enjoyed a celebratory plate of fish and chips, one might expect to find some who are sick of the attention and feel the same kind of cynicism for the news as the Queen’s own cousin, Margaret Rhodes.
She had remarked in an interview that “everyone has babies”. Surely, among the bunting which is out in force across Bucklebury and surrounding villages there is a fellow naysayer? But finding someone who possesses an ounce of cynicism towards the baby – yet to be named – is no easy task.
“I’ve just stepped out the shower,” barks an elderly lady from a first-floor window, wrapping a curtain around her. And asked whether she thinks this is all, well, a bit of a circus really, she snaps: “I don’t know anything about it.” Standing there awkwardly for a moment, I decide its probably best to move on.
Just minutes prior, I had been told the lady in question may be that most elusive of people in this chocolate-box hamlet of untouched, rural England where only the 4X4-set offers a glimpse of modernity: a republican. Alas, it was not to be.
I approach a lone figure sitting under a bench underneath a great oak tree – surely a man who is just sick of all this royalist propaganda.
“Are you from around here?” I offer. “No!” he growls, gritting his teeth and clearly wishing I would go away quickly.
But of course, this is the town where children at Bucklebury Church of England Primary School prayed for the new born in assembly yesterday and spent time – when they’d normally be playing football or learning maths – making congratulatory cards.
It’s also the hamlet where the bell ringers at St Mary’s Church have composed a 45-minute peal to be rung this evening to celebrate the occasion. And it’s also where the Duchess’s former piano teacher Daniel Nicholls wrote a piece called “First Breath” in celebration of the birth.
“It’s a piece about a baby being born from the baby’s point of view,” he said. “My wife Sandra wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music,” he explained. “We wrote a piece for the wedding so it seemed natural to do the same for the birth.”
The media attention has helped some residents and annoyed others. A couple of gents at a pub in nearby Stanford Dingley, sitting outside The Bull Inn, said they won’t go to the pub around the corner for the foreseeable future. There, a TV crew has reportedly just paid £5,000 to take it over for the next few days.
People in another pub remain pretty loyal to their royal neighbours, with reporters clearly sticking out like sore thumbs. Here, the talk is of nothing else: a young family walks in, the mother clutching a Union Flag, chatting with the staff about baby names.
“I think George – no, perhaps Alexander,” says the lady behind the bar. “I think Rupert,” says another. One woman says her daughter has now become “obsessed” with anything relating to the royal family.
Back in Chapel Row, the road closest to the Middletons’ new home, Ryan Naylor, 41, believes “things are now getting ugly” in the village – with various pubs and shops making as much as they could from the famous family by charging TV crews for quotes.
Mr Naylor had been the Middleton’s postman, until the Royal Mail recently made him redundant. He says Carol Middleton was the first to text him, and Mike Middleton offered to put a good word in with the Royal Mail.
One of his career highs was delivering his own invite to the Royal Wedding, he says. “I saw the Royal Crest on the envelope and I’d been delivering lots already, so I knew what it was. But I never expected to receive one myself. I thought ‘wow!’ I was sat very near the front at the wedding in Westminster Abbey.’
But did he know of any naysayers, those bored with the royal birth already? “Not round here mate, most people are pretty supportive.”
Oh boy! the world reacts
Israeli President Simon Peres led the way amongst international responses to the news of the royal birth yesterday. Sending the Cambridges a baby blue infant’s outfit embroidered with the message “From Israel with love”, Mr Peres said he hoped the child would live to 120 years old.
“Never in my life did I see the people of the world so united in happiness.”
US President Barack Obama and wife Michelle were more modest, saying: “The child enters the world at a time of promise and opportunity for our two nations.”
Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister, said: “A future sovereign of Canada [is a] highly anticipated moment for Canadians.”
Even Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, had something to say. “I congratulate the revered Queen and the prince of Britain,” he said. “Iran-UK relations have so many complicated aspects that this type of news can’t help improve them.”
Francois Hollande, French President, said: “Most sincere congratulations and our warmest wishes of joy and happiness.”
Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, American politician, offered a rather self-serving congratulatory note by playing on the name of her book, It Takes A Village. “Wishing you the best of luck and a bit of advice: It Takes a (Royal) Village!” she wrote.
Only Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party in Russia, took a different tone. “I don’t care about the heir,” he said. “The British monarchy... destroyed our state.”
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