Royal Pain

The five worst things about being the royal heir.


Being the royal baby isn’t much fun.

Photo Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker; photos by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters (Journalists), Thinkstock (baby)

You’re a boy!! Photographers are no doubt right now bribing your parents for the privilege of being the first to cram their zoom lens between the bars of your crib. You’re not even hours old yet and you are a bigger celebrity than your rivals Suri, Blue Ivy, and North West. Life seems sweeter than breast milk, softer than that toy kangaroo the former Australian prime minister knitted for you. And it will stay that way until you turn, say 8 or 9, depending on how precocious you are, and you realize what a royal bummer it is to grow up as the royal heir. I herewith appoint myself the cranky commoner who will preview the five worst things about being you.

1. Heirdom is a burden. Being told at a very young age that you will be king or queen of a major European country seems unequivocally awesome to everyone but the person hearing the news. When she was 2 years old, Elizabeth was described by Winston Churchill as a “character. She has an air of reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” Elizabeth was, in other words, born to be queen. Who knows how she actually reflected when she learned of her future? In 1969 a 20-year-old Prince Charles was asked when he first realized that he was heir to the throne. “I didn’t suddenly wake up in my pram and say, ‘Yippee!’ ” he said. “It’s something that dawns on you with the most ghastly inexorable sense …” His son Harry’s confusion on this lot in life was meticulously recorded by the press: He once told a boy at his kindergarten, “Mummy doesn’t go to Sainsbury’s—we have our own farm.” And when children asked why there was a man following him around, he said: “That’s my policeman.”

2. Your parents are very busy. Gone are the days when royal babies were raised entirely by staff, and saw their parents mostly for official viewings. The Duke of Windsor recalled in his memoir that his nanny used to bring him into the drawing room to spend an hour with his parents King George V and Queen Mary, and pinch him first because she didn’t like him and wanted his parents to think of him as a cry baby. (In the movie The King’s Speech, this incident was transposed to his brother.) Since Prince Charles—the first male royal present at a birthing—and Diana, the expectation is that royals will raise their children just like the rest of us. Diana took William on a monthlong tour of Australia and New Zealand when he was a year old because she did not want to be away from him, and she always insisted on taking William and Harry to amusement parks and fast-food restaurants because that’s what regular kids do. William and Kate have yet to hire a nanny, and publicly at least, they are approaching the endeavor like any new parents would; she is talking about breast-feeding, he about “long, sleepless nights.” But who are we kidding? It took Diana only a little while to realize that she wasn’t just another modern working mother but also one of the most sought after working mothers in the world. Now that the baby is born, Kate too will realize that being mother of the heir to the throne is a big step up from being the future king’s wife; you’re just way too busy to play hide the kangaroo every night. Sorry, kid.

3. Your name might not be your name. When naming the future king or queen one apparently has to choose several names, all from a pretty narrow list, because the name should be from a former royal and also have no strong negative connotations. It’s all very fraught and weighted with meaning, and then as soon as he talks the child will probably totally disregard the name anyway and choose another random boring one from the list. Prince Harry’s real name is Henry Charles Albert David. Also, there is the business of the last name. It’s optional, which complicates, say, kindergarten roll call.

4. You’re a celebrity! As they waited for you to be born, the paparazzi were polite, issuing hourly updates from a Spice Girl’s Twitter feed and exhibiting uncharacteristic patience. But this won’t last. What they are really salivating for is a lifetime of pot-smoking and Nazi-costume parties—for that moment you say something as memorable to your paramour as, “I want to be reincarnated as a tampon and live inside your trousers forever.” When William went to boarding school at 13, the royal family made a deal with the press that they would not hound him and accept publicity photos, arguing that “Prince William is not an institution; nor a soap star; nor a football hero. He is a boy.” But that kind of lofty indignation does not work in the age of social media. Your roommate is just as likely to put up an embarrassing photo of you as the Daily Mail is. The best you can hope for is that your parents will be as good as Beyoncé and Jay Z are at pre-empting the press, putting up their own faux-revealing pics of you and teaching you how to do the same.

5. You are going to boarding school. The royal family has moved beyond the days when all the girls stayed home with tutors and the boys went to Gordonstoun in Scotland, which in Charles’ telling was a lot like Abu Ghraib, with boys punching you in your sleep, stealing your letters, forcing you to take walks in the rain—a place where “One felt in a way rather like a medieval peasant during the Hundred Years War,” said novelist William Boyd, a classmate of Charles. William and Harry got to go to Eton, where they were much happier but definitely developed the worst of their reputations, particularly Harry. According to a biographer, it was there he founded Club H, a drink and drugs den that earned him the nickname Hash Harry. Boarding school is fun for some kids and the ruination of others, so good luck with that!