It is tempting to believe that the crowds which gathered outside Buckingham Palace were the manifestation of a modern phenomenon, the desire - bordering on obsession - to be part of something, to share a common experience, and to be present at the “big-ticket” event.
On one level, the birth of a child was a private joy for William Windsor and his wife, but that was only part of the story. Even in a small way, we had to try to make it about us, too. Yes, I went down to the Palace to see the easel, and I have the picture to prove it. I went, I queued, I snapped. Me, me, me. How very contemporary.
It is hardly surprising that we are driven by a psychological compulsion to claim for ourselves a bit part in that day's momentous event. In the hyperbolic language of modern media, we are constantly invited to regard any significant occurrence as something more profound, as history in the making. Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. It's an historic achievement. A Briton comes first in the Tour de France. History is made (even though a British rider won it the previous year). A baby is born. The Prime Minister tells us it is a major day in the history of the nation. It is natural that we should seek to become a tiny little pixel in this unfolding tableau.
However, I was surprised to see, in the midst of all the TV coverage on Monday evening, pictures of the scenes when Prince Charles was born 65 years ago which showed vastly bigger crowds outside Buckingham Palace. Some of this can be explained by the decline in popularity and relevance of the House of Windsor between then and now, but it was clear that - even in the pre-Internet, pre-multimedia age when society wasn't quite so fractured - the British people still expressed an overriding need to assume a place in something wider, deeper, and bigger.
Republican or not, you have to admit that even today, like then, the Royal Family - elite, privileged and remote though they may be - fulfils an important role in terms of making large sections of the British population feel they are part of a social system that extends beyond their own front door.
All that said, we can be forgiven for finding it all too much. I was on a long car journey on Monday evening when the news broke, and I listened to the first hour or so of the coverage on Radio Five, the home of non-stop verbiage. It was, in its way, rather gripping radio, because you didn't know what banality was going to be trotted out next. The simple fact - a baby weighing 8lb 6oz was born at 4.24pm - was reheated, dissected, discussed and loaded with historical and political context until I found myself screaming silently.
“Is there anything more you can tell us?” was the desperate refrain from the anchor to the reporter in the field. And my favourite was the earnest royal correspondent, who, live from the easel, announced : “Buckingham Palace is often used at moments of royal celebration.” Well I never! Time to get on with our lives, I feel.Reuse content