Let’s dispense with formalities, shall we? After all, you may be our future king, but you’re only a few hours old. So then: dear little prince. . . welcome to a very peculiar world. It means nothing to you now, of course, that hundreds of millions of people around the globe cheered your arrival; that presidents, kings and queens queued up to send you their goodwill; that the smallest details of your first days will be hunted down and pored over by the world’s media.
And though yours will be an unusual life, it is of course the only one you will ever know. Happily for you, you will never know what it is to want for any material comfort or luxury. Less happily, you will never know what it means to meet ordinary people on an equal footing, without the never-ending pantomime of deference and protocol that will surround you everywhere you go.
What’s more, even though your internal life will be as rich and complex as any other person’s, subjectivity will not be a requirement for your future role. You will be more than an individual – or, perhaps truer to say, much less than one. It’s your fate to become a screen onto which the British people will project its sense of national identity. Though you weigh just a few pounds, you are already burdened with the symbolic task of bridging the country’s past and future. You are not just a tiny bundle of flesh, but an emblem, a branch of the constitution, and the world’s youngest A-list celebrity.
You will also become, I’m sorry to say, the focus of an ongoing and repetitious argument between people with clashing ideas of what kind of country Britain should be. Republicans like me will argue that the role you were born to fulfill should be abolished. We will say that you are an affront to democracy and a symbol of unearned privilege. Monarchists will support you just as vociferously, claiming that you afford the British people unity and pride, that you are a vital link to our collective past and that you enrich us by attracting overseas tourists to your palaces and monuments.
It’s nothing personal, of course. None of this will have an iota to do with your talents or character. Whatever kind of person you turn out to be, your only qualification for your future role will be the identity of your parents. You will probably never be asked if you really want to become the living effigy that is a monarch, cut off from the world yet on constant display like a museum exhibit encased in glass. You will be told you are an instrument of God’s will, and taught never to question your right to sit atop a social hierarchy that will surely seem as natural to you as the changing seasons.
I wonder, little prince, whether one day you will seek to understand the lives of ordinary British men and women – your ‘subjects’ – many of whom struggle to earn a living (and pay the taxes that furnish your lifestyle) in a world so different from your own. Perhaps, starved of chances to empathise with them, they will mean little to you. But if you do come to take an interest in the people you will one day reign over, consider this: around two thousand other children will be born in UK hospitals today, and nearly a third of them will enter a life of poverty. These children did not choose the circumstances of their origins any more than you did, but for many this accident will determine the kind of life they lead just as surely as yours will.
All politicians – a breed of person, I’m afraid, you will come to know only too well – pay lip-service to the idea of equal opportunity. This means that, whatever conditions a child is born into, she should have as much chance of achieving success and security as anyone else. It’s the widespread acceptance of this idea that leads many republicans to say that the monarchy is an anachronism, out of key with modern times.
If only that were true. In fact monarchy is the perfect symbol for Britain in 2013, a country where both wealth and poverty are strikingly hereditary. Far from being an oasis of meritocracy, Britain today has a lower level of social mobility than any other western country. In other words, a poor child has less chance of escaping poverty here than she would anywhere else in the developed world. Think of those two thousand boys and girls who will share your birthday, and whose parents today will be as thrilled and nervous as yours. For those who are born poor it is a sad likelihood that that’s how they’ll live and die.
Of course, no expense will be spared in educating you to ignore these facts, to rationalise inequality as a symptom of the failings of the poor or as part of a preordained natural order. You would have to be exceptionally independent-minded to overcome this indoctrination and acquaint yourself with the reality of life outside the palace gates.
But you, little prince, have an advantage. Because as you set out on a life that will give you everything you could dream of except the freedom to shape it, you may look out of the motorcade window one day and see a child your own age. You might imagine that she is growing up in poverty, and that you can read in her eyes the frustration of playing a role scripted by others, facing a future that does not belong to her. And, just for a moment, despite your very different lives, you may have an inkling of how she feels.