Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, was introduced to the world, cradled in Princess Diana’s arms, at a photo call on the steps of the Lindo Wing, the private maternity ward at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital, just days after his birth in September 1984.
As Harry prepares to become a father himself, however, he and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, don’t plan to expose their newborn son or daughter to the glare of the world’s press in the same way.
Harry and Meghan have broken with modern convention by choosing to keep all details of the new arrival private. We don’t even know where the birth will be, whether at hospital or at home.
The couple said in a statement on April 11 that they “look forward to sharing the exciting news with everyone once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family.”
We will be informed when the Duchess has gone in to labor and again, once the baby is born. Then, when the couple is ready, a small group of journalists, photographers and camera crews will be invited to capture the first images of the new family.
As in many other areas, Harry and Meghan are doing this in their own way, but their decision to avoid a high profile public “unveiling” for baby as soon as possible has become a talking point in itself.
‘Every inch the princess’
Meghan’s sister-in-law Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has chosen to introduce all three of her babies to the world’s media on the steps of the Lindo Wing shortly after their arrival.
“She looked every inch the princess,” Emily Nash, royal editor of UK celebrity magazine Hello!, told CNN. “She looked like a royal on a royal engagement would and, as a mum myself, I found it slightly incredible that she was looking so fresh,” added Nash, who was among the many reporters waiting for the duchess outside the hospital.
Kate’s glamorous look attracted criticism as well as flattery, however. Actress Keira Knightley lambasted the duchess in a 2018 essay for the book “Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies.” Knightley argued that Kate was setting unrealistic expectations for other women with her immaculate postpartum appearance.
Referring to the birth of Princess Charlotte in 2015, Knightley wrote: “She was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see… Don’t show. Don’t tell. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers.”
Others have argued that Kate was simply fulfilling her duty as the mother of future heirs to the British throne.
“We have to remember Catherine is going to be the Queen Consort in the fullness of time,” Bonnie Greer, American playwright and commentator, told CNN. “The baby she brought out the first time, George, will be king. So, in a sense, she had a duty to come out and show us, here he is, this is the next King at the end of the century.”
Of course, Kate wasn’t the first royal mother to appear on the steps of St. Mary’s with babe-in-arms. The Queen’s second grandchild, Zara Tindall, was the first newborn to be pictured there, with her mother Princess Anne in 1981.
Princess Diana then appeared with Prince William outside the hospital in 1982.
Dickie Arbiter, the princess’s press spokesman at the time, told CNN there was no question whether Diana would present her baby to the media after his birth.
“She was aware of what the royal family is all about and what the certain traditions are attached to it and what is expected,” Arbiter said. “What is expected at the end of the day is all about duty.
“And if you’re giving birth to the second in line to the throne then yes, it is your duty to come out and show him off, which she did. And then she did the same with Harry two years later.”
Asked how physically challenging this must have been for Diana, Arbiter said: “Yes, it would have been painful but she put on a brave face and she smiled. She did what she thought was expected in front of the cameras and then got in the car and went back to Kensington Palace. Difficult to do straight after birth but it was something that she felt had to be done, and it was done.”
Leading the way?
Meghan, though, is having none of this. In their April 11 statement, she and Harry said that while they are “very grateful for the goodwill they have received,” they have decided “to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private.”
Greer believes that in doing so, Meghan is setting a positive example for other expectant mothers. “Hopefully women won’t feel the pressure to look like they’re ready for the cover of Vogue after they’ve given birth,” Greer said. “And I think Meghan is leading the way with that, which I think is great.”
Perhaps Meghan is following royal custom in her own way by deciding to keep the birth out of public view.
Home births, which by their nature are more private, were once the norm in the royal family. As Arbiter explained, “the Queen’s four children were born at home – Charles at Clarence House (and) Anne, Andrew and Edward at Buckingham Palace. Princess Margaret’s two children were born at home.”
As seventh in line to the throne, Meghan and Harry’s baby is much further removed from needing to comply with any royal duties obliged of more direct heirs to the throne, such as their cousins, William and Kate’s children.
Greer believes that by keeping the birth private, Meghan may be sending a message to the world that “her baby, even though it’s born into a very public family – one of the most public in the world – is not a public baby. ‘This is our baby and we’ll let you see this baby when we’re ready to show you.’”
Whenever Harry and Meghan decide to introduce the new royal arrival, the world will be ready and waiting.