LONDON -- When chubby-cheeked Prince George blows out his birthday candles on Tuesday, Britain will be celebrating a whole lot more than the future king’s first year of royalty.
Since the swaddled infant was first thrust into public eye and carried out of London's St. Mary’s Hospital, he’s attained superstar status – and sparked a rebirth for Britain’s royal family.
“Prince George has signaled the start of a new era for the royal family, and I think he has engendered a lot more interest in the royal family, especially from youngsters,” said Camilla Tominey, royal commentator for the Sunday Express newspaper. “The whole scene has been reinvigorated by William, Kate, Prince Harry and now baby George, because he represents the future.”
That future has been clouded in recent years, whether by the scandal accompanying Prince Charles’ affair, the death of Diana – dubbed "the people’s princess" - and the prolonged, vocal attacks by republicans who challenge the sanctity and sanity of a monarchy.
The tone towards Britain’s royals first started to shift with the marriage of Prince William to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Young, fresh-faced and modern, the couple represented a new face of the monarchy. Then along came George.
His first brush with stardom came when hundreds of cameras captured the newborn’s exit from the posh Lindo wing of the hospital, where media had camped out for weeks to await the third in line to the throne’s arrival.
That swaddle – and George’s subsequent outfit choices – have tended to quickly sell out in stores, cementing the tot’s status as a tiny titan of fashion. Retailers have given his influence a name: the “George effect.”
“When Kate and William first stepped out on the Lindo wing and presented George to the world, really it was the dawning of a new era for the royal family,” Tominey said. “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their baby are stars of the show now.”
Since then, George’s every move has been closely watched. The baby has helped humanize the royals, with his parents endeared themselves to mothers and fathers the world over by sharing stories of their tot’s tantrums and toy-stealing. Every royal play date or romper featuring George draws international oohs and aahs, every teeter and wobble raising the question: Is the future king walking yet?
The baby already has graced the covers of Hello, People, and Vanity Fair magazines – the last declared George “the world’s most eligible infant.”
“The birth of Prince George has given new zest, new vitality to the monarchy,” says Robert Jobson, royal editor of the London Evening Standard. “The fact that he made the cover of Vanity Fair before age one is certainly impressive, and shows you that the monarchy is certainly relevant to the younger generation. When you have a queen who is 88 and the Duke of Edinburgh who is in his 90s, they need that new injection.”
While still in diapers, George also has helped ease some touchier matters of royal diplomacy. Accompanying his parents on an overseas trip to New Zealand and Australia earlier this year, George earned yet another nickname – “the republican slayer.”
The nickname was a reference to Australia’s republican movement, which does not want a British monarch as the country’s head of state. After the royal visit – with Oz left charmed by William’s tales of how George had taken to chewing on his gift of a cuddly wombat toy – opinion polls showed greater support for the monarchy.
“The Australians dubbed Prince George the republican slayer because any sentiment really washed away when they all saw this unbelievably adorable chubby cheeked boy looking feisty and ready to go,” Tominey explained.