Lilibet Diana – the name may turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing
By giving their daughter such a name, Harry and Meghan have ensured there will be heightened interest in her as she grows up
What’s in a name? Quite a lot, if you’re royal. There’s always plenty of sensitivity and “meaning” in the chosen names of offspring – nods to history and politics as much as family affection, and the usual soppy stuff about something sounding nice or, less often, being trendy.
Harry and Meghan, who are in the celeb fame game properly now (for good or ill), have layered another consideration onto the usual ones in naming their daughter. Little Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor is certainly charming and her name seems well chosen, both on historical and sentimental grounds, with her famous gran and great gran memorialised. However, her name will always remind people who she is. Less trouble booking a table at a fashionable restaurant, getting a ticket for the must-see musical, or – you never know – a job.
The downside, of course, as with all celeb stuff, is that giving her such a name will merely heighten interest in her as she grows up; and, though it seems unkind to remark on it now, will inevitably attract the kind of media intrusion with which Lilibet Diana’s wider family are only too familiar. Her name may turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing, if the poignant experience of the past is anything to go by. The papers will be doubly interested in who she resembles as she grows up; whether she inherits Diana’s sense of style or the Queen’s sense of duty; and, of course, who she’ll be dating.
The public appetite for the habits and doings of even the most minor member of the royal family is astonishing, and probably unprecedented. It does leave some of us who are less obsessed with the Windsors a bit bewildered, however – something best satirised in a Viz comic quiz titled: “Which Kent Are You?”
We’ve become so old-fashioned about venerating our royal traditions – abetted by a government intent on weaponising them in our culture wars – that I’m only surprised Boris Johnson hasn’t reinstated the convention that the home secretary attend a royal birth to ensure no imposter is substituted for a genuine royal child. It would have meant Priti Patel flying to California to observe Meghan and Harry in the maternity suite, which would have entertained all concerned. Patel might have taken the opportunity to give Lilibet Diana a special, points-based UK visa, seeing as she would qualify under “semi-estranged royal personality”, a category of skilled worker for which post-Brexit Britain is of course crying out.
You might argue, for what it’s worth, that “Lilibet” is anyway a confected name – which is true, but it’s not like they’ve called her “Chardonnay” or “Renault Clio” or something. It seems to have grown out of the way the Queen, as baby Princess Elizabeth of York, was unable to quite pronounce her name, and so “Lilibet” caught on as a family sobriquet. It wasn’t on her birth certificate, or how she was known publicly, but the same might be said of Prince Henry of Wales, who, of course, has been universally referred to as Harry since his little red head popped out at the Lindo Wing in 1984. Once upon a time, the gin-soaked super-snob Princess Margaret was the sweet Princess Margaret Rose of York, until somewhere along the line the rose wilted in its acidic soil.
Lilibet is charming enough, and might itself be contracted to Lili, or she might prefer Diana, or “Diana the Second”, as she’d no doubt be dubbed by the media if she ever dared to emulate her paternal granny’s love of fashion. I happen to think it’s a shame that Doria Loyce and Jeanette, of the maternal line, didn’t get a look-in, but it’s none of my business.
Maybe, one day, the royal family will be enlightened enough to see what a tremendous asset they have in the American branch of the family, and how much Harry, Meghan, Archie and Lilibet – a new Fab Four – can contribute to the work and duties of a modernised British monarchy. Society has changed so much in recent decades that the Windsors have found it difficult to keep up, and they now find themselves being seen as symbols not so much of the nation and Commonwealth as a whole, but of tradition and resistance to “woke” values – hence the insane decision by the government to press on with a new £200m royal yacht, the main point of which is to wind up the left of the Labour Party and get patriotic voters in the red wall to vote Tory. There are even signs that William and Kate are being lined up, in effect, to lead the campaign against Scottish independence. This politicisation will not end well.
The rift between Harry and Meghan and the rest of the family has been unhappy and in nobody’s interests. It’d be nice to think that as Archie and Lilibet Diana grow up, the divisions can be healed, and that the family might even move back to Britain, fulfilling the kind of role they proposed before they were pushed into exile by the media making their lives hellish. You’d doubt it, though.
Like her namesakes, Lilibet Diana has a challenging life ahead of her, so we should wish her well.
Lilibet Diana: the baby name that represents a royal rift – and audacious hope
By combining the names of the Queen and the Princess of Wales, Harry and Meghan have highlighted two very different approaches to the monarchy. But which will define the future?
Wed 9 Jun 2021 06.00 BST
The joyful delivery of a baby girl to Prince Harry and Meghan is lovely news. But it has been lost, ever so slightly, in the couple’s naming choice: Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.
I don’t think they had any say in the surname, so let’s stick with the forenames. Lilibet is, of course, the Queen’s nickname; not, as you might suppose, a contraction of Elizabeth that only posh people use, but rather what she called herself when she was too young to pronounce her own name. Only George VI, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Prince Philip used it. “Lilibet is my pride. Margaret is my joy,” the king was quoted as saying, evidently having not caught up with the parenting manual that says you are really supposed to keep the identity of your favourite child to yourself. When Prince Philip died, the nickname died with him.
So, was it sensitive or insensitive for Harry to revivify it so soon? This is the question that is occupying the royal watchers, along with: is this an olive branch to the family, a reminder that underneath all the feuding lie real, human relationships? Or is it a defiant statement: you can’t evict me from the family, because it is not a house, or even a collection of gigantic houses; it is a family. Or is it somehow a combination of the two – and is that even possible?
But what is a royal watcher, anyway? Their expertise is the weapons-grade fawning; the watching, any of us could do. What if they are asking the wrong questions? Because there are two parts to this name: yes, there is Lilibet, but there is also Diana. Plainly, the couple have chosen the two most different members of the family, each embodying a diametrically opposite culture, and named their daughter after both of them. It could be that they are trying out something quite inventive, a monarchical third way.
The Queen is synonymous with a powerful sense of duty. “If you look up the number of engagements she’s missed, over 70 years, it’s unbelievable. It’s three,” says Amy Jenkins, one of the writers on The Crown. Duty is an outcome rather than an input, but it is possible to infer character from it – rigidity, obedience, reticence, self-effacement, an absolute horror at showing emotion. “It’s that British thing, isn’t it? ‘I challenge you to feel something,’” Jenkins says. “That’s like British bullying. We do it properly and we don’t feel things.”
Diana, Princess of Wales, meanwhile, was emphatically not rule-bound; really, her only duty as the wife to the heir of the throne was to produce young and stay married, and she flamed out spectacularly on the second.
What was much more discomfiting within the royals and to the public, though, was that she wasn’t emotionless. Even before the Martin Bashir interview – and we will park for now the question of whether we need to torch the BBC, a 100-year-old institution of unmatched global importance, for an interview that is a more than 25 years old and most of us remember only for the eyeliner – you could see the feelings running riot all over her face, from the beseeching eyes to the wistfulness. There were glimpses of mirth, sorrow, boredom. Has any royal’s face ever been so damn legible?
It was never clear whether these feelings were genuine or part of a complicated PR long-game – but they certainly weren’t hidden. It caused a lot of rancour, since she accrued the world’s attention that way – after all, it is much more interesting to look at a person who is feeling a thing than someone who is not – and was cast within the family as an attention-seeker. Attention-seekers are annoying in any family, but they are poison to a family whose operating model is “we didn’t ask for any of this, we’re just doing our duty”.
But Diana also called attention to the fragility of the Queen’s way of doing things. “That reticence wouldn’t hold, and one of the reasons it wouldn’t hold was because people have feelings,” says Jenkins. “But the royal family don’t recognise that. Which means they make mistakes all the time, because they’re reckoning without being human.” Having Diana around, with those great pools of emotion she called eyes, was an unsettling reminder that people, even under all that pomp, might still act like people.
In the end, whatever a royal was thinking or feeling back then, their prospects for self-expression were heavily circumscribed, limited effectively to the charities they supported. The Queen’s list of patronages is exactly as you would expect, although you might raise an eyebrow at how much she likes rugby (union and league?). It is studiously uncontroversial; her interests centre on children, animals and august institutions.
Between the charity work and the tacit demands of her office – that she remain neutral in the face of every issue, like a BBC journalist without the questions – it is very hard to say what she actually cares about. Dogs and horses, certainly; she is passionate about the Commonwealth, although it is unclear what about the Commonwealth inspires her passion (the memories of dominion? The beaches? The many cuisines?). People project views and behaviours on to the Queen, sometimes strategically – recall the Sun claiming her as an ardent Brexiter – and sometimes just to fill the void. There is no record of the Queen having any political or intellectual agenda, Jenkins says. “In that sense, The Crown is a complete and utter fantasy. The idea that she’s subtly manipulating matters of state behind the scenes, that she’s this wise force of whatever … no.”
Diana, conversely, was not just overtly political, but also radical in her choice of causes. Her work with the Halo Trust, the anti-landmine charity, started in Angola in January 1997, only months before her death. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to walk across the minefield – “very characteristic of her”, says the charity’s CEO, James Cowan. “She knew her personal capacity to make a difference was extraordinary.”
What sounds from this distance like an uncontroversial cause – who would oppose a ban on weapons that continue to kill children years after a conflict has ended? – was in fact the opposite. “The British at that time were pretty committed to keeping landmines as part of their military armour,” Cowan says. “She’d been called a loose cannon by a minister.”
The impact of that photo was more or less immediate: in the autumn of that year, the international mine ban treaty came into force and has been signed by hundreds of countries that previously would have opposed it, not least the UK. It is the kind of impact that an individual makes only as a maverick, a thorn in the establishment’s side. If Diana had been swimming with the current, she would have been one voice in many. So, did it make her a pioneer or a narcissist? Maybe all pioneers are narcissists.
Yet it was her work with HIV and Aids patients – which started in 1987 with the photo of her shaking hands, gloveless, with the patient Ivan Cohen and continued until her death – that flagged how truly unusual she was.
There is a semi-satirical Diana fandom from a left perspective. Alex, 26, who runs a Twitter account called Princess Diana Is in All of Us, says: “My journey is going from ironic Diana lover to genuinely having a spiritual connection with her.” For Alex (who is using his first name only because he works in activism and direct action), Diana’s HIV work was a jumping-off point. “As a gay man, I found what she did really quite moving,” he says of the Cohen photo. “When she held the hands of Aids patients, I genuinely believe she was doing a spectacle of direct action. She was trying to construct a dramatic image that would advance social change.
The Queen embodies the values of an age before her own. Diana stood for a complicated modernity
“She was conscious of the fact that she was conceptualised as a Christ-like angel, and she then goes out of her way to hold the hands of people who are considered to be disgusting and contaminated. I use ‘Christ-like’ intentionally. It was a direct reference to Christ cleaning the feet of leprosy patients.”
Alex says her landmine and HIV action “created an image that shakes the foundations of the discourse” and posed a direct challenge to the values associated with the royals as personified by the Queen – reticence and stoicism. Peter Hitchens has highlighted the difference between Winston Churchill’s funeral and Diana’s – ultimate restraint versus the “outpouring of grief”, a phrase that became the motto of Diana’s legacy. The Queen seems very much of Churchill’s vintage, yet plainly she is not. Nonetheless, she embodies the values of an age before her own. Her daughter-in-law, on the other hand, stood for a complicated modernity, self-involved but extremely public, the self as a brand to be strategically deployed.
In their everyday lives – how they parented, the formality of their bearing – Lilibet and Diana offer contrasts that are a little melancholy. There is a video of the Queen arriving home from a long trip abroad, in which an absolutely tiny Prince Charles approaches and shakes her hand; to modern eyes, at least, it conveys worlds of distance and loneliness. It is understood that she bucked the aristocratic norm of outsourcing motherhood by the time it came to Prince Andrew, and that he was her favourite, but it is not possible to point to real-world evidence of this. Plus, he still went to boarding school. In any case, it doesn’t seem to have turned out a more rounded human being.
Diana was what the psychologist John Bowlby might call a much more “attached” mother, but she was powerfully unhappy even by the time she was pregnant with Prince William, so there was never any sense that she was living the perfect-family dream. She rebelled against petty expectations – kicking off her shoes in the hair salon, wearing red cashmere maternity dresses – but she did not manage to find an alternative way of being royal that made the business any less draining.
In the end, it is impossible to adjudicate on whose way of being makes more sense. We cannot know what kind of royal would make the institution more durable, more bearable, more coherent. All you can say is that they were as different as they could have been, and that this schism has been the gift that keeps on giving, a pinball of conflict that pings between the rest of the family with perpetual energy.
The putative feud between William and Harry, if it is really as bad as people say, can be read as a rerun of this clash – cold against hot, doing one’s duty versus questing for fulfilment. The obvious solution is for Harry and Meghan to become Diana ultras in the US while William stays in Britain and channels the Queen, but that amounts to the rift lasting for ever.
Maybe the newest family member’s name is an audacious act of hope – what if someone came along who was a bit of both? Who was capable of putting herself second to her role without losing her identity? Who could harness her star power for good? She might be a bit like Daenerys Targaryen without the dragons. Or maybe she is just a baby – and that is fine, too.