Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The occasionally precious, often bizarre knick-knacks now for sale in London to celebrate the birth of an heir.
After tense days of waiting, a media drip feed of non-stories and gripping live-streamed footage of a London hospital door, the awaited moment has arrived at last. That’s right, it’s finally time for Britain to unleash its deluge of royal baby souvenirs. While generally not the most tasteful collection of objets ever created, it seems churlish to protest this expected wave, an inevitable cash-in after any royal event. Much of this year’s crop is probably made in Asia, but royal souvenirs are one of those cases where the astronomically expensive Windsor family actually lives up to claims that they’re good for British exports.
They also form a standard backdrop to much British daily life. I'm not from a royalist family, but even I grew up surrounded by commemorative regal paraphernalia, mostly inherited from my grandmother and from childhood trips to Windsor Castle, much loathed by me for its “keep off the grass” signs. Somewhere in the family kitchen, a stiff, doll-faced queen still gazes out from a threadbare 1953 coronation tea towel, though we never really used the boulder-heavy Charles and Di wedding urn my grandmother received from her church drama group, granted an extra sophisticated touch (for Britain in 1981) by being filled with instant coffee.
Judging by this year’s crop, however, royal souvenirs aren’t quite what they used to be. Things are getting cutesier, fluffier and less self-consciously regal. Some of the new knickknacks celebrating the birth still have their charms, of course. Personally, I’m smitten with the sheer oddness of these royal cats, a modest snip at £650 for the set. The feline version of William has a suitably imperious, martial look to go with his uniform and paw boots, while I’m impressed that the royal kitten, resplendent in “christening gold and cream," has already learned enough poise to balance a casserole dish on his tiny head. Elsewhere, I suppose this Winnie the Pooh royal baby mug is quite sweet – if you want traditionalist whimsy then it makes sense to go back to British cuteness’ master text – while at least this six piece gift set has a muted color scheme (though something tells me the royal prince probably won’t be called Ashley). And as a way of spreading the love to lesser mortals, there’s a nice ring to plans to give all British babies born on the 22nd of July a commemorative silver coin.
Elsewhere, things are pretty grim. I’d be afraid to turn the light off on this tanorexic baby doll horror. This celebratory mug has a certain grandeur to it, but the over the top pomp of the messiah-like baby pose and the "glory be to god" legend makes the poor thing seem more Prince Joffrey than Prince Charming. There’s also something of a yuck factor to the company run by Kate Middleton’s parents cashing in on their grandson’s birth with a new prince/princess-themed children’s party pack, a move which might just give skeptics the need for these.
Still, it’s tchotchkes like these that root many people’s memories. Gathering dust on some shelf or junk shop table, they wait patiently until someone notices them again, picks them up and says “do you remember when…?" Even if the royal birth meant nothing to them whatsoever (even in Britain, we exist), someday somebody somewhere may just stumble across a celebratory Kate Middleton cat figurine, think back and smile.
Top image: Employees Amy Meenagh and Amy Bush hang a sign celebrating the news that Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to a son, in the window of the British themed restaurant Tea & Sympathy. (/Lucas Jackson/Reuters)