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Sunday 28 July 2013

   

The Firm shows dazed newshounds who's boss

Ruth Dudley Edwards was entertained by cringe-inducing moments from hacks on royal baby watch

WOMAN HAS BABY', said the cover of Private Eye last week. And, in much smaller letters, 'INSIDE: Some other stuff'.

If the decent King George III is mainly remembered for being mad, the birth of the future George VII (assuming there's still a monarchy or indeed a nation for him to be king of) will be remembered for the madness of the media.

Any time I felt particularly in need of a laugh I'd switch on a 24-hour news programme and observe exhausted, sweaty hacks from all over the world trying desperately to think of something to say. Some of these poor wretches had been camping for days outside a London hospital looking at a door, asking each other inane questions and waiting for any scrap of news or unsubstantiated rumour to maul to death. Meanwhile, most of the drama was provided by the photographers as they snapped anything that moved and plenty that didn't while trying not to fall off their tall ladders.

My favourite moment was when a royal correspondent was asked for the nth time if he thought the baby would be a boy or a girl, and replied unctuously that it would be a prince or princess. The fatuous Kay Burley of Sky was not the only commentator to claim that the baby gave a regal wave when he was displayed to the slavering mob. Personally, I thought he stuck two fingers up to the cameras. And who could blame him?

The newspapers were a laugh too. I give top prize for space-filling inventiveness to the Daily Mail, which gave most of a page to birth weights of various royals under "At 8lb 6oz, he's the heaviest future king in 100 years". Below that they ran "July 22 and its place in history", which took readers from the defeat of William Wallace at Falkirk in 1298 to Bradley Wiggins's victory in the Tour de France last year. And beside that the piece de resistance, "So did the full moon send Kate into labour?"

The Mail also had one of the two best front pages, offering a photograph of a happy Prince Charles with the brilliant headline: 'Oh boy! One's a grandpa". The Sun, however, capped that by changing its title that day to 'The Son', which is particularly amusing for those who know its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, is a devout republican stymied by his reader's interest in the royals. Like all the souvenir purveyors churning out Prince George mugs, teddy bears, biscuit tins, cake stands and tea towels, he views royal events as gold mines.

The media wallowed and speculated last week, but it was game, set and match to the family, who kept their heads while all around were losing theirs. The queen's 88-year-old cousin, Margaret Rhodes, set the tone when asked by CNN's star reporter if she was excited about the event "the whole world is waiting for". "Not terribly," she said. Pressed by the incredulous Christine Amanpour, she explained: "Well, you know, everybody has babies. And it's lovely. But I don't get wildly excited about it."

Prince Charles said appropriate things when he heard the baby had been born, but continued with his visit to Yorkshire until all his engagements had been fulfilled. The Queen waited to meet her third great-grandchild until he had been brought home, and Prince Philip, who is convalescing in Windsor Castle, hasn't seen him at all.

And the parents made it clear to the media who is in charge. First they ensured that the news of the birth wasn't published for four hours, and then, when they finally emerged from the hospital, they gave a relaxed but short press conference. William, who blamed the press for the death of his mother, Diana, is determined that his and Kate's life will not be a soap opera. Contact is formal, security is tight, infringements of privacy are challenged legally and the emphasis will be on giving George Alexander Louis as normal an upbringing as possible.

Would that the Mandela family could emulate the Windsors. An equal though different media frenzy has surrounded the Pretoria hospital where a much-loved old man is thought to be coming to the end of his remarkable life. Twice in the last eight weeks, thousands of journalists have descended to cover his death, but like Prince George, he's been tardy, and most of them have twice returned home. Meanwhile, members of his entourage grandstand about his legacy, about Brand Mandela and even about where he should be buried. It's a sad end for a man distinguished as much for his dignity as for his moral courage.

 

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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