Bringing up baby, the British royal way

Bringing up baby, the British royal way

London - The imminent birth of Britain's royal baby will be announced on a golden easel and hailed by cannon fire - but royal-watchers say that behind the pomp Prince William and Catherine will be trying to balance tradition with modern parenting.

The couple, both 31, have been widely portrayed as a 21st century royal couple who will deal with the dirty diapers and sleepless nights like any ordinary mother and father around the world.

But observers warn that even if they avoid dispatching the baby to the nursery like earlier generations of "The Firm", the responsibilities and pressures of monarchy will still get in the way.

"We keep being told that their parents want to give them a normal upbringing," Patrick Jephson, the former private secretary to William's late mother Princess Diana, told AFP.

"In some vague sense we are supposed to approve of the notion. But I'm afraid the truth is they're not normal and never can be normal."

Britain's royal family are famed for their stiff upper lip, but by all accounts in the generations before William that was largely forged by childhoods spent with nannies and in boarding schools instead of with parents.

Reports that Kate and her baby would spend the first six weeks at her parents' home fuelled the idea that Britain's newest royal might begin life like any other child, although security fears have raised doubts over whether this will happen.

While the Middletons are millionaires, they earned their money in business and appear to be a close-knit family with none of the formality of the royals.

Until now, William and Kate have been living relatively modestly in a remote farmhouse in Anglesey, north Wales, where William works as a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter pilot.

The couple will eventually move into Kensington Palace in London, but building renovations - which have already cost taxpayers £1 million - are not expected to be finished before the birth.

Wherever the baby first lays its head, commentators agree that William and Kate will want to be "hands on" parents.

- 'William will want to change nappies' -

Kate is seen as a natural with children. She once toyed with the idea of setting up a junior fashion label, and spent her second wedding anniversary visiting a children's hospice.

But whether she chooses to break with royal tradition and forego a full-time nanny remains to be seen.

"Although Kate has professed that she doesn't want nannies, and wants to do it on her own, that's before she's facing six months of sleepless nights," Claire Irvin, Editor-in-chief of Mother & Baby magazine, told AFP.

"But she is quite modern and doesn't seem to want huge entourages of help."

Phil Dampier, a royal reporter for 28 years and author of "What's in the Queen's Handbag", believes the couple may have little choice.

He expects William will soon increase his royal duties, as his elderly grandparents Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip ease theirs, and says the couple will need support at home.

"William will want to do his share of changing the nappies," he said, but added: "I think they will have to have a full-time nanny even if they don't want one."

Gone are the days, however, when royal children seldom saw their parents and lived in virtual seclusion.

The queen and her sister Margaret were educated at home by a governess while William's father Prince Charles was not only said to have been starved of affection as a boy but also famously miserable at the tough Scottish boarding school Gordonstoun.

Diana can take much of the credit for breaking that mould. She took William on a royal tour to Australia when he was still a baby and made sure he and his younger brother Harry did "normal" things - even though they both went to Eton College, one of Britain's most exclusive boarding schools.

"She took them to see the homeless and gave them normal treats like trips to Alton Towers (theme park)... I'm sure Will and Kate will want to do the same," Dampier said.

Diana's legacy will doubtless also affect Kate and William's relationship with the press, and their determination to weigh privacy against public expectation.

William was 15 when his mother died in a car crash in Paris while being pursued by photographers.

But with the global appetite for William and Kate's story showing no sign of fading, keeping their offspring out of the spotlight could prove a test even for the media-savvy young royals.

"The interest in this baby is already absolutely off the scale," said Dampier.

"I have never known so much interest in the royal family. It's an extraordinary real life soap opera and it's not going to stop any time soon."

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