Never has a royal baby arrived with quite so much anticipation – or with so much seemingly depending on her.
Yet for a child whose destiny will almost certainly be far removed from the Crown, her influence over the long-term future of the monarchy and its well-being may be profound.
And what an arrival! A great-grandchild of the Queen not born on British soil but in America, and named after the two women who, for vastly differing reasons, have had more influence over Royal Family life than any others for decades.
A family divided: Harry and Meghan in Oprah TV interview
Prince Harry’s decision to honour both his mother and his grandmother in his new daughter’s names is, of course, testament to the impact both Princess Diana and the Queen have had on him personally.
Had he and Meghan decided to call Archie’s new sister Elizabeth Diana, their choice, one suspects, would have been met with warm approval.
But by giving the baby the name Lilibet, the Queen’s private family nickname – even though they intend to use the diminutive ‘Lili’ for their daughter – there is a risk.
Will it be seen as a presumptuous choice for a royal baby who is eighth in line to the throne, but who will grow up on the other side of the world speaking with an American accent? And how might Prince Charles feel about his fifth grandchild carrying such an intimate family pet name that he has never used himself?
It is tempting to wonder if Harry would have been so emboldened in his choice if his grandfather Prince Philip – the only close family member permitted to call the Queen ‘Lilibet’ – had still been alive.
Kate and her sister-in-law in 2019
Doubtless, there will be among the more cautious courtiers at the Palace some discomfort and the odd raised eyebrow at this latest convention-destroying Exocet from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. They are a couple who thrive on disruption with their interpretations of royalty. And on one level Harry and Meghan are to be commended.
They have chosen the names of the two women who have been Harry’s lodestars. Few public opportunities pass these days without the prince cherishing the mother he lost in a car crash when he was only 12. In Diana’s absence, it was his grandmother who assumed a strong maternal role in his life. The lost boy who followed his mother’s coffin was enveloped in a warm cocoon of love – one that has survived all the damaging acts of self-harm Harry has hurled at the Royal Family, from Megxit to Oprah. In all the tribulations that have seen Harry lash out at his father, his brother William and the monarchy, the door has still never quite been closed. And that is largely because of the patience and love of the original Lilibet.
Such is the closeness between grandmother and grandson many will assume Harry must have sought her permission to use such a private name.
Ever since he, unusually, announced the sex of the baby he and Meghan were expecting it had been assumed that he would want to give his daughter his mother’s name.
And as William and Kate had already given Diana as a middle name to Princess Charlotte, Baby Sussex was more likely to receive Diana as her first name. But Harry and Meghan relish doing the unexpected.
So while Elizabeth was a racing certainty, Lilibet was a rank outsider. While her names may turn out be a blessing or a burden, Baby Sussex’s arrival is freighted with opportunity.
How often have new babies brought reconciliation to warring families? And the healing power of baby Lili could be vital to resolving the sadness at the heart of the Royal Family. This is the rift between Harry and William. Now that both are fathers of boys and girls and the challenges that brings, Lili’s arrival offers a unique opportunity.
William and Kate will naturally share their delight at the news, but will it be beyond the mere superficial?
The brothers might start by reminding themselves of the importance their mother placed in them looking out for each other, which is something she wanted them to continue to do all their lives.
Of course, it will be difficult – Harry’s choice of exile and California over duty and the Crown remains a major obstacle. The days when the newly-engaged Harry and Meghan could pop round from Nottingham Cottage to William and Kate’s stately Kensington Palace apartment have long passed.
Five thousand miles separate the brothers now, though the gulf is far wider than mere physical distance. Can they, in the interests of family unity, find some common ground that the birth of a new baby can often provide?
The split between William and Harry has been the most perplexing and the most damaging. For years, their mutual reliance had been an enduring and endearing part of the royal story. But the aftershocks of Harry and Meghan’s tell-all to Oprah Winfrey in March, far from improving the situation, served only to make it worse.
The one bright spot came at the funeral of their grandfather at Windsor Castle in April. Then it was Kate who seized the opportunity to bring the brothers together, cannily realising that a photograph of the two side-by-side and deep in conversation as they left St George’s Chapel would be a public relations masterstroke.
And so it seemed – but sadly there was no breakthrough.
For Prince Charles, who has been grievously hurt by Harry’s constant emoting – especially his claims of racism within the family – there will be mixed feelings. Joy at the arrival of his second granddaughter, but sadness that he will see as little of Lili as he has of Archie. Will there be a christening for him to attend when so many wrongs could be put right? And if so, where?
Harry and William at Prince Philip’s funeral
True to form, the duke and duchess announced the happy news in their own unique way. No stiff court circular, but a chatty and joyful statement issued by their American PR team – clearly delayed until after mother and baby had returned home.
Although news of the birth came two days after Lili’s arrival, there was none of the subterfuge which accompanied that of Archie in 2019 when officials were still reporting Meghan was in labour hours after the baby had been born.
Nor was there any secrecy about the place of Lili’s birth. Indeed the statement thanked the ‘trusted care’ of the medical team at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Inevitably, much of the focus will be on the names Harry and his wife have chosen. It will be noted that there is no acknowledgement for the inspirational woman in Meghan’s life – her mother Doria – and no reference to her estranged father Thomas Markle’s family.
In this summer of Diana – the unveiling of a statue on what would have been her 60th birthday and the 40th anniversary of her marriage to the Prince of Wales – Harry is certainly continuing his honouring of his mother’s memory. Like Lili, he too was known by a diminutive – he was given the first name Henry. But Harry grew up in the heart of the Royal Family. His daughter is destined for a very different experience, without a title and an upbringing that will have little in common with George, her cousin and future king.
But there is just a chance that George’s passage to the throne could be infinitely more secure if his first American-born cousin plays her part in helping to end the crisis that has so damaged the House of Windsor.