Diana would never have done it. That was my first reaction to the news that the christening of the baby son of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be conducted in private in a chapel at Windsor Castle, with no media allowed.
The late Princess understood perfectly that the bonds of affection and loyalty between the Royal family and the British people stay strong because the Windsors share key moments with the public. A Royal christening is the first time we are introduced to a member of our extended national family. People look forward to it; it’s part of the sweetness in life. To disappoint them is churlish and rude.
Nor, you can be quite sure, would Diana’s protection officers have been told to tick off members of the crowd at Wimbledon who took pictures of her on their phones because she was there “in a private capacity”. Astonishingly, this is what happened when the Duchess visited the tennis championships last week to cheer on her friend Serena Williams.
Sally Jones, a 64-year-old media consultant who was sitting in the same row, hadn’t noticed Meghan when she was tapped on the shoulder and told not to take photographs. “There were around 200 photographers snapping away at her, but security were sent to warn an old biddy like me – it was beyond stupid and in marked contrast to the attitude of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” she fumed.
Let us be fair to Meghan. As an American and a newcomer to this country, she may not be familiar with the well-known British phrase: “Get over yourself, love.”
The truth is, if you have the great good fortune to marry one of the most famous and best-loved men in the UK, people will tend to gawp and try to take your picture. In return for this inconvenience, you will be offered a lot of things you haven’t really earned – like Christian Dior frocks and a column in Vogue to publicise your humanitarian vision.
Yes, you can have a private life. In private. When you are sitting in the packed members’ area of Court One during a high-profile match, you can’t throw on your Hermès Invisibility Cloak and insist, in best Marie Antoinette style, that you can’t be seen.
Sally Jones said that the royal protection officer who told her not to take pictures of the Duchess seemed quite embarrassed. I bet he was. Poor bloke. It’s hard to find fault with Ms Jones’s withering verdict that “Harry and Meghan see themselves more as A-list celebrities than royals carrying our their duties”. It was, she said, “another example of silly control-freakery” from the Sussexes.
Sadly, the same impulse blighted the christening of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. What should have been a joyful occasion turned into a PR disaster. Just a few minutes of Harry and Meghan showing off their little bobby-dazzler in front of the cameras (as William and Kate did with their three), that was all that was required. Not much to ask, you might think.
Far too much, it turned out, for a couple who are determined that the seventh in line to the throne is a “private citizen”. As the Queen’s grandson, you might hope Harry would be aware that Archie is actually a “subject”, not a “citizen”. The Prince and his wife seem willing to take the good bits of their privileged role while finding the dutiful requirements rather burdensome.
Meghan and Harry may position themselves as modern, caring young Royals but, increasingly, they appear more remote than the Hapsburgs. Bizarrely, they even treated the names of Archie’s godparents as a state secret. How so? According to the 1978 Parochial Registers and Records Measure, all Church of England baptisms are on the public record and details are available to anyone prepared to pay a fee.
Are the Sussexes really going to have the names redacted on a CofE document, as if the christening was some CIA extraordinary rendition, just as they tried to suppress information about the hospital where their son was born?
It’s all so unnecessary. Even worse, it has precisely the opposite effect to that which they want to achieve. I’m quite sure we were told the names of the godparents of the Cambridge children, George, Charlotte and Louis, but not even the keenest pub-quizzer could dredge them up now. Interest in Archie’s godparents would only be fleeting, but the attempt to keep them hidden looks both petty and paranoid.
It’s the double-standard that jars, isn’t it? You can’t claim to be inclusive, as Meghan and Harry do, while behaving in the most exclusive way imaginable. A church warden friend, who is an ardent monarchist, points out crossly that if Archie were just an ordinary child, as his parents claim, he would not be baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, “who is paid for by public money”. Oh, and blanking the public doesn’t seem especially Christian, either.
Resentment at the Sussexes’ behaviour is growing. After it was announced that there would be no access for cameras at Archie’s christening, not even as the family arrived at the chapel, Sky News presenter Kay Burley tweeted tartly: “No problem, but can we have our Frogmore Cottage renovation money back, please?”
Think back to May 2018 and to all that glorious, frothing goodwill generated by the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. How people loved them. Just over a year later and they have squandered it.
Don’t get me wrong. Prince Harry has a special place in the nation’s heart. As a 12-year-old boy, he was obliged to walk alongside the coffin containing his mother (“Mummy”), fighting back the tears. His reluctance to see his own child turned into a performing seal is understandable – admirable, even. So is his mistrust of a media which he believes hounded his mother into an early grave. He must, very urgently, want to protect his wife from a similar fate.
I get that, I really do. But I’m afraid that the Sussexes are in danger of throwing the baby out with the baptismal water.
Affection and enthusiasm are not the same as intrusion. The compact between the Royal family and the British people is a careful balance of obligation and respect. You can be titled, but you must never be entitled. You are world-famous, but not a celebrity. The Queen makes it look easy. It isn’t.
If Harry and Meghan are serious about giving any children they may have a normal life, free from public attention, then that means renouncing their titles and the vast privilege (and income) that goes with them.
Sorry, but there is a quid pro quo for being royal. No status quo, no quids.