It was easy to believe, for much of the past decade, that our national obsession with the royal family had ebbed from its hysterical peak.
Sure, there was the occasional picture of a junior member of the firm staggering out of Mahiki, or rictus-grinning on an Alpine mountainside, but that was about it. We thought we had turned a corner. As it turns out, though, anyone who dared think so was tempting fate with exactly the same foolish bravado that seized Gordon Brown when he declared an end to boom and bust. We were so naive. We thought we had grown up. But, in fact, we were just having a breather. And now we’re getting right back into it.
The prompt for this anguish is not so much the royal baby, ominous prospect though it is. The prompt is the next royal baby, due to be born to Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall, which was announced on Monday, and prompted the blood-thinning headline: “Royal baby boom”.
A royal baby boom. Just think about what this means, and how it crushes your idle fantasy that the arrival of the little prince or princess that’s due in the near future would spark a brief news frenzy followed by a long, blissful lull. Here’s a hypothetical alternative. 2013: the next-monarch-but-two pops out to general rejoicing. 2014: Zara Phillips gives birth. Prince Harry gets engaged. 2015: Prince Harry gets married. Maybe William and Kate produce the spare to sit alongside the heir. 2016: Harry’s wife follows suit. And on it will go, via Beatrice and Eugenie and a six-year-old called Viscount Severn. It will not end until the revolution or the death of the media, whichever comes first.
In other words: there will be hordes of them. They will be born. They will learn to walk. They will go to school. They will do stupid things as teenagers. They will shag the wrong people at university. They will get jobs, some of them, sort of. They will find true love. They will have babies of their own. They will suck people’s toes and wish to be tampons and broker dodgy deals with dubious foreign billionaires and wear silly party hats and dress up as Nazis and shoot foreigners and get divorced. And then their babies will start doing the same. It will never, ever end.
Is this obvious? I suppose the biological fact of the royals’ continued existence is, but there was a time when I really thought our weird obsession might be on the wane. No such luck. This is good news for OK! magazine, of course. But it’s certainly not good news for the rest of us. The extraordinary fact is this: the birth that’s about to be forced upon us may soon seem like farewell music from a more innocent time. At least, after all, this coming baby is one of the big ones. The coming celebrations sound tiresome now, yes. But just wait and see how idyllic they seem in 2030, when Harry has fathered a polo team, and William’s eldest boy is just starting to go bald, and the rest of us are wondering how on earth we ever let it get so bad.