Once again the Windsors have welcomed a baby—and nobody is more excited to celebrate than American magazines.
Royal coverage has long been a pillar of the gossip business; when George was born in 2013, the New York Times reported the happy event was a boon for celebrity weeklies and their websites, and regular coverage is now built into editorial strategy. Just recently, an executive at Meredith told AdWeek that they were leaning heavily into the subjects like “celebrity news and royals coverage” that resonate with readers. Print may be dwindling, but American women still buy magazines about the royals, a fact reflected in the covers at every grocery store check-out line across the country. Walk into an Ingles in rural Georgia, and there they are, the house of Windsor, reigning over the candy bars.
The women are the focus; insofar as the men of the royal family are covered, it’s in relation to the women, in their role as husbands, fathers, sons. There is an endless emphasis on the women—first Kate, now Meghan—and a relentless desire to ensure they are happy, thriving, and downright pastoral mothers. These royal baby bonanza covers are about Archie, yes, but also the fantasy of parenting without scarcity, with access to infinite resources—resources which are accessible to the average American mother only secondhand, in the pages of a gossip magazine.
The two biggest, most respectable celebrity weeklies—People and US Weekly—devoted their covers to the kid’s arrival. People painted the couple as the picture of California chill, a tranquility that’s downright aspirational: “They weren’t anxious at all,” Meghan’s friend Daniel Martin, who did the makeup for her wedding and apparently visited Frogmore in the days before the birth, told People. “They were hanging out in their backyard, just going about their daily lives. They’re both very calming personalities. There was no pressure. They were just like, ‘The baby will come when it’s ready.’”
Meanwhile, the surrounding ads provide a contrast—the background noise that makes it hard for the reader to achieve such tranquility: an IKEA ad with safety tips for securing your IKEA furniture around toddlers; a detergent ad promising “A gentle clean for your little prince”; a British-themed Green Giant ad for new frozen veggie dishes; and a BabyBoden ad featuring a kid wrapped in a Union Jack, wearing a crown made of pipe cleaners. These ads hint at the work happening in the background for the mom who might be reading, work that will only ever be optional for new parents in the Windsor family. Harry and Meghan may be going without much Frogmore Cottage “staff” at the moment, but all the royals are embedded within a vast system that takes care of them while they are taking care of their child.
Harry and Meghan might choose a “Norland” nanny, or they might not; the specifics of the decision matter less then the possibility to immerse yourself in a world where childcare decisions are based taste, rather than a boxed in selection based on what is affordable.
And yet, as always, there’s the suggestion that what the royals really want is just a life like the reader’s: “Like most things Harry and Meghan, the modern royals want to follow their own rules when it comes to parenting,” Us Weekly reported. “A source tells Us the Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to raise normal, down-to-earth children.” All that money, all that privilege, and what they really want is to raise “normal” kids.
The special editions on the newsstands went for a similar tack. Hearst brought out an entire collector’s edition of something called “The Riches of Britain,” devoted to “Bringing Up the New Royals.” “How will Meghan and Kate transform the monarchy?” asks a cover line over a picture of a pregnant Meghan. The contributor list is fairly impressive, including Carolyn Harris, who’s written a history of royal childrearing, and Tracy Borman, joint chief curator at Britain’s Historic Royal Palaces. Articles include “Kate: A Thoroughly Modern Mom,” “The Sparkle of Meghan Markle,” and “Dads with Royal Duties.” Royals! They’re just like us, if only we had infinitely more money.
Of course, the magazines further down market show the flip side of this fantasy: a taste for scandal and the potential underbelly of the public image, a desire to see that despite their advantages, these people have more than their own share of domestic drama.
Two were lucky enough to have royal covers on May 13, when Archie arrived, but both went to press before his birth was announced and therefore focused on the FEUD angle: Star, with an EXCLUSIVE on how Harry and Meghan were moving to Africa with their baby (sure, Jan), and OK gave the real prime real estate to QUEEN VS. MEGHAN DELIVERY ROOM SHOWDOWN! HER MAJESTY OFFICIALLY BANISHES NEW MOM & HARRY TO AFRICA! The article reads:
“A screaming match broke out between the queen and Meghan. It got very heated,” says teh insider, adding that it ended with Her Majesty “officially banishing” Meghan and Harry, 34, to Africa, and neither tears nor insults could persuade her to change her mind.”
Truly struggling to imagine Elizabeth raising her voice, if only because she doesn’t have to. While I’m willing to be persuaded there is trouble behind ANY public facade, that just sounds bogus.
In Touch put the Gainses on their cover, but added a banner up top proclaiming “IT’S A BOY FOR MEGHAN!” as well as “ROYAL SCANDAL: THE PHOTOS THAT SHOCKED THE QUEEN!” over a picture of a nearly-naked pregnant woman with her head titled so she possibly, if you really wanted to believe, could be Meghan. Inside, they did the expected spread on the new parents—with a small insert explaining that the queen was “furious” when she saw the photos, even though they were obviously just lookalike images.
Scandal is its own kind of relatable. If the most mainstream celebrity weeklies paint a picture of a seemingly accessible ideal, the more salacious publications bet on a desire to see that these people are just as dysfunctional as the rest of us.