Prince George’s first birthday party this afternoon will be much like that of any other upper-class child of his peer group—tea and cake at his parents’ London home, a visit from granny, conspicuously tasteful wooden presents (probably neglected by the child in question in favor of the paper and string used to wrap them) and a carefully edited selection of photos sent out on social media.
Of course, in George’s case, home is a 10-bedroom town house in Kensington Palace, granny is the Queen, and the birthday snaps being distributed via Twitter and Facebook are already being seen by tens of millions of people around the world after being picked up by international news outlets.
Prince George may be just another baby, but, unfortunately for Republicans, babies have always been the most successful PR tool the British royal Family has ever had.
Wars have been fought over royal babies.
Wives of Henry VIII lost their heads for their failure to produce them.
William was adorable. In my family, we knitted socks and sent them to Harry.
Even Prince Charles was cute.
But Prince George, being the first baby of the multimedia, digital, social age, represents a particularly unique triumph of public relations.
And if Prince George’s first year has proved anything, it is that there is still nothing quite so appealing as a Royal baby.
Plus ca change.
To be fair, the palace have played a very shrewd game with George.
The media got their first taste of how things were going to be run, when his very birth was not announced until four hours after it happened, with the palace briefing reporters that the delay had been put in place because William and Kate wanted to have some time privately with their son without having to share him with the world, which they felt they would have to do once the world knew of his existence.
One could sort of have sympathy, especially if you hate the press and consider them all reptiles, but the paranoid and often obstructive attitude towards the press has made Prince George a frustrating and at times difficult story for the press pack that follows the Royals to cover.
The inevitable byproduct of the Royal habit of smuggling George in and out of secure locations without anybody ever being able to get a photograph of him was that the premium payable for a good snap of the young Princeling went through the roof. The snapper who managed to photograph George, bobbing on his mother's hip, as she changed planes on her way to Mustique, made a six-figure payday out of pictures which were sold around the world.
However, in the end, the palace’s strategy was borne out by events. The truth is that the Royal tour of Australia would not have been nearly searching newsworthy event had it not been for the presence of Prince George, and his two official appearances, at a child-care facility in New Zealand and in an Australian zoo, or more stiffly handled. It was almost possible to believe the Prince George was just another little boy.
Of course the multiple other photo opportunities of the family arriving at the parting of the various international airports on the journey (although the royals freaked out about pictures taken from a road of Kate playing with George in the grounds of Government House in Canberra).
The Australians however, took Prince George to their hearts. Support for the royals rose to 35-year highs, leading some wags to dub Prince George “the Republican slayer”.
But while good PR in the realms is helpful, the very future of the British monarchy rests on the support they can generate at home. And there is very good evidence that Prince George—ably assisted by his mum, we must add—has enabled the British Royal family to stave off what, just a decade ago, looked like certain death.
Amidst the welter of PR stunts by companies looking to capitalize on Prince George’s first birthday is the private jet company, Hangar8, which painted one of its jets nose to tail with a message wishing a happy birthday to Prince George.
They also interviewed 1,025 people for a survey, which makes it a respectable sample, on what they think of the Prince. 24% of Britons now have a more positive view of the royal family [8%, indeed, said it was now much more positive], while only 2% said they now had a more negative view because of him. 17% of people think he has greatly enhanced the image of the royal family and 33% concede that he has had a slight positive impact.
2.1 million people, the survey authors estimate, who previously had a negative image of the Royals, now claim to have a positive one - thanks to Prince George.
The debate about the future, the very existence of the royal family, has always been finely balanced. The pros and the antis always hover around the 50-50 mark, therefore “bread and circuses” events like the Diamond Jubilee, the Royal wedding, and a cute toddling baby are absolutely essential to maintain and bolster ratings of this bizarre but still highly profitable family firm.
Prince George’s birthday may be celebrated much like any other young child’s of his age and peer group, but the truth is the Prince George is not just another baby. On him rests an extraordinary burden: to live up to the promise of his early years and to convince the British people, against all the evidence to the contrary, that what they really, really need in this day and age is a royal family.
It’s a task the chubby-cheeked fellow appears to be up to.