Can the future King George turn out psychologically ‘normal’?
Raj Persaud and Peter Bruggen
Under the headline: ‘Project Normal Child begins for the royal baby’, The Daily Telegraph Newspaper has recently reported efforts from all sides to help this child turn out ‘normal’.
The task will not be straightforward, as the same newspaper also reported that Coral the bookmaker described the birth as “the biggest non-sporting event in our history”. Bets were placed on everything from name to weight, hair and eye colour. It was said that nearly £1 million was wagered that the infant would have brown hair, and be named Alexandra or George.
This child faces a future of not just being the King, but Head of the Armed Forces, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, head of state of 16 countries, and probably Head of the Commonwealth, which consists of two billion citizens over 54 nations.
The press seem to believe that effective strategies are already in full swing to produce a ‘normal’ person despite all the pitfalls. They invest a lot of meaning in Prince William standing on the steps of St Mary’s Hospital in an open-necked shirt, in contrast to the formal pin-striped suit of Prince Charles on the same steps decades ago, with baby William and Princess Diana.
This, combined with the baby’s nappy having already been changed by new dad William, and the infant spending the first few weeks at the Middletons, contrasts with the grandeur of Kensington Palace. All meant to reassure us that ‘Project Normal’ will eventually deliver the goods.
But can ‘Project Normal’ really succeed? Newspapers less sympathetic to the Royal family appear to believe the newest member of the Royal Family is already psychologically doomed. His namesake, King George the Third, is possibly most famous for having gone insane.
After all, aren’t these attempts to procure positive mental health in the royal baby, so far reported by the press, somewhat feeble? Aren’t they just a psychological sop to the public? Surely the glaring problem for those sections of the press cheer-leading ‘Project Normal’ is that it’s that media coverage itself, which precisely mitigates against this child having any chance of a ‘normal’ life.
Intelligent parents can do much to protect a growing child from many of the psychological hazards they will face, but vigilantly guarding them from excessive media exposure should be a starting point.
And there we immediately hit the buffers of the central dilemma.
Baby George may still be in nappies, but he already has a serious full-time job.
Media coverage of the birth has been an enormous fillip to the Royal Family’s popularity and prestige worldwide. The interests of Royalty may frequently come first over the welfare of this child. Their function is, above all else, ensuring the continuity of the monarchy. This pre-eminent drive explains why he is becoming the 43rd monarch in a line dating back to William the Conqueror.
But if Kate and William were looking for advice on how to bring up a normal child despite all the obstacles, what would it be?
We suggest that they should emphasise to George that he is extremely privileged. He could become more aware of what some may call his good fortune, by developing a concern for those less fortunate than him.
They should ensure he doesn’t live in a ‘bubble’ of only ever meeting the very privileged. This means encountering as many ‘ordinary’ people as possible. Send him to as ‘normal’ schools as possible, and encourage him to take an active interest in the fate of the less privileged in society.
They should not overly protect him from the kinds of everyday difficulty and stress that is the gift of a ‘normal’ life. This will be hard for them, as it would be for any parents. They should tell teachers and anyone who has to supervise George not to single him out for special treatment and to give him as hard, or as easy a time, as they would any child.
They should be hyper-vigilant to signs of being spoilt – the central hazard of being brought up in privilege – and they should encourage this child to develop self-esteem that derives from something other than the monarchy or inherited status.
This person is going to have to develop the ability to dispassionately judge others, and their motivation, perhaps earlier than the rest of us have to. At the heart of all new relationships is going to be a central question – what’s in it for them? It will take just a few bruising encounters of betrayal to the press, for George to close himself off to all new relationships, in a profoundly unhelpful manner.
The super-wealthy can become eccentric. They don’t have to constrain their personality and impulses in order to not annoy others, in the way the rest of us have to, as we strive to get on with colleagues and friends. They don’t have to give a damn what others think about them as we have to, as we grow up.
George will not be allowed to make the mistakes the rest of us do, as part of becoming an adult, because his indiscretions would be splashed across the front pages. This will require an older head on a younger shoulder.
Given the scale of the task, we subjects could keep reminding ourselves of our role – which is not to exacerbate the problems this child already faces. We should discourage the media from taking too unhealthy an interest in him, and complain on behalf of George, when we see this happening.
We believe that if the whole nation pulls together, we can all contribute to a mentally healthy King George.
But no matter what parents do, the scale of their task is illuminated by an intriguing paper published by Joel Milgram and Helgola Ross entitled ‘Effects of fame in adult sibling relationships’.
This study investigated 15 obscure siblings of famous people. Most of the ‘obscure’ subjects (aged 27–63 years) attributed their siblings’ fame to expertise in a field of public interest, strong commitments, hard work, and special abilities such as eloquence or memory.
So it would seem that baby George is going to face a particular challenge in dealing with siblings and cousins, who may resent all the attention and special treatment, despite his not having necessarily any particular endeavour, talent or skill. Some of the obscure siblings in this study, published in the academic journal ‘Individual Psychology: Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice’, reported problems in establishing their own identity. However, ‘obscure’ siblings also appeared in two minds about fame and to be aware of their own strengths and limitations.
George’s siblings could even become grateful that he takes all the pressure and attention off them, allowing them the less abnormal life that he may in the end crave.