There is something in the heir

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2013
DAILY NEWS ONLINE

New Plymouth woman Barb has been collecting Royal memorabilia for decades.

Kate Duchess of Cambridge
Getty Images
HEIR APPARENT: What will the arrival of Catherine Duchess of Cambridge's new baby mean for New Zealand?

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For two weeks, Marcus Setchell hasn't touched a drop.

As gynaecologist to the Duchess of Cambridge he is on high alert to deliver the first heir to the British throne in 29 years. His sobriety is of national importance.

The baby, which could one day be New Zealand's head of state, is supposedly due on July 13, just one week from now.

But that date could be a ruse to frustrate paparazzi already camped outside St Mary's Hospital in London in anticipation of the biggest media event of 2013. Not just in the United Kingdom but in the entire Commonwealth. Even the United States is gearing up.

Being 18,000 kilometres away will not mute the event here at all.

In fact, New Zealand will be in the thick of it.

Sido Kitchin, editor of New Zealand's most popular "gossip" magazine Woman's Day, will mark the birth with a special issue. It's bound to sell out. In 2011, when Prince William married Kate Middleton, sales of the magazine increased 60 per cent.

"There has definitely been a surge in love for the royals since Kate came on the scene, injecting some glamour and warmth to the royal family, which had been missed since the death of Princess Diana," Ms Kitchin says.

"There's been lots to celebrate - the royal wedding, the Queen's diamond jubilee, Wills and Kate's first tours, then the pregnancy announcement - so we've been spoilt with pomp and ceremony in the past two years."

The royal family hasn't had a run as good as this since the handful of years immediately following Prince Charles' marriage to Diana Spencer in 1981. This is all well and good for the family, but it's also good for business.

The UK-based Centre for Retail Research is predicting Will and Kate's baby will bring a $539 million retail bonanza, including $121m spent on celebratory plonk, $49m on party food, $47m on toys, $78m on books, and $70m on DVDs and other media.

This spending is on top of the $1 billion in tourism spending a 2011 study attributed to the monarchy.

New Zealand, too, will not be without benefits, says Sean Palmer, the chair of Monarchy New Zealand and holder of a PhD in constitutional politics that focuses on the role of the monarchy in New Zealand.

"Look at the good they bring when they visit. Look at the publicity value to New Zealand. When William comes here and wears a local clothing label, we know the sales are going to go up. When he holds a kiwi, we know that is good for the promotion of our conservation efforts.

"The Government spends vast amounts of money promoting New Zealand, but when a royal visits we get a tremendous amount of international exposure for next to nothing."

We should be making more use of them, he says.

In many ways, we make use of them every day. As one of 15 of the Commonwealth's constitutional monarchies, the Queen is our head of state. Through her representative, the governor-general, she has the power to dissolve our government, to press reset and start this country all over again if things ever get that bad.

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"We haven't had to see that power, and that means the system is working," Mr Palmer explains.

"When you look at democracies - the fairest, the most egalitarian, the most responsible in terms of equality and social welfare for their people - the vast majority of countries in that group are constitutional monarchies."

The least free and democratic are mostly republics, he says.

"One of the great strengths of having the Queen in our constitutional structure is that not only does she do a great job, but her presence resolves a difficult question. Who would she be replaced by if we changed the system?

"The royals are raised believing that it is their responsibility to protect the constitutions and people of their countries. Who are we comfortable giving the nation's power to?" he asks.

That power could one day be given to Will and Kate's first-born. The 2013 Succession to the Crown Act means regardless of whether the baby is a boy or a girl, he or she will be the third in line to the throne, after grandfather Prince Charles and father Prince William.

Lewis Holden, chairman of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, wants the power held by a New Zealander.

"I believe we should have our own head of state and everyone should be able to aspire to that. It smacks of a lack of confidence in ourselves and cultural cringe that we can't have our own head of state," he says.

That we soon will is simply the result of a demographic equation, he says. Support for the monarchy is dwindling and younger people mostly don't care, he says, in stark contrast with Mr Palmer's assertion that the second-largest group of supporters of the monarchy are aged 18 to 30.

"Unless the British monarchy can get William and Kate to connect with New Zealanders under 30, the royal family are really going to struggle," Mr Holden says.

"The birth is going to create a nice positive feeling, but I don't think it will be enough to save the monarchy, based on the polling we are seeing."

The curator of what could be New Zealand's most comprehensive collection of royal literature sees the monarchy fading too. Not from irrelevance or moves towards republicanism, but a growing understanding by their subjects that they, like them, are normal people.

"It's a terrible life being a royal. I wouldn't want to be one. Imagine always being told what to do. I bet they wake up sometimes and wish they were normal," she says.

The New Plymouth woman has devoted her life to collecting items that have value, because the royals are anything but normal. At last count, a decade ago, she had 7000 unique books and hundreds of folders full of clippings - enough to take up two rooms and half a double garage.

The value of her collection has her fearful to give out her last name, lest it give her exact location away. Barbara will be quite enough, she says.

"In the future, I hope we are not as intrusive into what they are doing because, let's face it, if the media hadn't been rushing around Diana, her driver wouldn't have been speeding and the crash would have never happened," she says.

"I think the media and the monarchy have learned to live together. I think they have to. Or else it could happen again."

- Taranaki Daily News

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