Hereditas Historiae

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The Sunday Times - 12 May 2019 


Archie: a very American royal baby


By Tony Allen-Mills and Roya Nikkhah

The latest addition to the Windsor family was born in a US-owned hospital, may attend an American school and is possibly named after a US comic-strip character



'The first joke cracked by many Americans, upon learning the name of Britain’s newest royal baby, may well sound baffling to many people on this side of the Atlantic. Yet it suggests that a very special relationship indeed may develop between Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor and the country of his mother’s birth.

What Americans of a certain age and background wanted to know was this: when Archie grows up, will he marry Betty or Veronica? An intriguing collision between British royalty and one of the most celebrated love triangles in US popular culture has already established the newborn son of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as an American icon in the making.

We still do not know exactly what inspired Harry and Meghan to choose a name that diverged so profoundly from the “Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste[ve], Harry, Dick, John, Harry three” school of royal nomenclature, other than that they supposedly sought “a break with tradition”.

In America the name Archie has been attached to a diverse range of celebrated role models from Archie Manning, a popular NFL quarterback, to Archie Bunker, America’s equivalent of Alf Garnett, the bilious British patriarch from the BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part.

It was the oldest and most famous of all American Archies who may have contributed to the Sussexes’ choice. There is plenty of evidence to suggest Meghan was once an avid fan of a comic series, launched in 1941, featuring the high school teenager Archie Andrews and the girlfriends he could never quite choose between — Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

Exhibit A: Meghan, who was born in Los Angeles and grew up to become a television actress, is reported to have collected vintage Archie comics as a child. Exhibit B: Archie has been depicted since his first appearance 78 years ago as “the most lovable kid in town” with a reputation of being “selfless, loyal and someone who is eager to lend a hand at any time”, according to the Archie Comics website. Exhibit C: comic Archie is a “redheaded Romeo”, not entirely unlike Meghan’s husband. Exhibit D (if we need one): it may or may not also be significant that Meghan and her mother, Doria Ragland, once adopted a cat named Archie.

Whether or not this all strikes British readers as quaint, irrelevant or risible, it is already clear that Archie (the baby) is destined for the most American of British royal childhoods, whether or not he ever obtains a US passport through his American mother and whichever continent the Sussexes end up living on.

From the moment of their Windsor Castle wedding last year — featuring a gospel choir, an African-American bishop delivering a wildly rambling sermon and a stream of Hollywood celebrity guests — it was clear that Harry and Meghan were going to carve a very different royal path from most other dukes and duchesses.

Little has happened since then to dispel the sense that Archie will be as much California’s baby as Windsor’s. He made his first trip to America before he was born, when Meghan attended a baby shower in New York thrown by her A-list celebrity friends. Archie is thought to have been born at the Portland Hospital, a plush central London outpost of the elite American private hospital chain, HCA Healthcare. And when he made his first public appearance in Windsor, before a restricted media pool, a CBS news crew was present.

Among the first images of the new baby was a striking portrait of the royal family as it has never been seen before: with Ragland, who is African-American, joining the Queen and Prince Philip for the happiest of photoshoots with their first mixed-race great-grandchild.

As The Sunday Times has previously reported, Archie may attend an American school in Egham, Surrey, not far from the Sussexes’ Windsor home. It is not inconceivable that instead of Oxbridge or the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Archie could be bright enough to enrol at Yale on America’s east coast or at Stanford in California. If he turns out as military-minded as Captain Wales — as his helicopter pilot father was known when serving in Afghanistan — he could choose the US army academy at West Point.

It was also revealed recently in our pages that the Sussex family may move to Africa to live and work for an extended period. Sources have since emphasised that they will almost certainly be spending time in America too, later this year and next year. Ragland has been in Britain for almost a month but is expected to return to Los Angeles soon. Archie may get his first look at Beverly Hills and the Hollywood sign before he is a year old.

Harry will probably spend short periods in America working with Oprah Winfrey, the queen of American chat shows, on the mental health documentary they are making together. Announced last month, it is expected to air next year and no one will be surprised if Meghan and Archie are on hand for filming or editing.

A source who knows the couple well said: “Of course they want their son to be fully immersed in his American heritage. That’s natural: he is half American after all. I imagine they will spend more time over in America with him in the next few years, particularly if they take up more work projects in the US.”

Given that the couple are unlikely to be abandoning this country altogether, they will need to avoid any suggestion that they are living the high life on British taxpayers’ money, however many charities they support.

“Meghan’s baby shower [much criticised for its extravagance] could have been better thought-through,” a source noted. “But here is a fantastic opportunity for them to be a transatlantic family who use that global appeal to do a lot of good things. I imagine they are very excited about that.”

There is also the uncomfortable precedent of the last American duchess married to an English prince. Wallis Simpson, the divorced Baltimore-born socialite whose romance with King Edward VIII ultimately forced his abdication in 1936, became a regular visitor to New York after their marriage.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor rented the same suite on the 37th floor of the Waldorf Towers hotel and kept their own furniture stored there for use on their annual visits. A wealthy friend is said to have lent them a Renoir to decorate the walls. But they never felt at home in America and after the duke’s death, the duchess was eventually consigned to what one of her biographers described as an “unspeakably lonely” exile in France.

None of which has stopped what may be a record flow of American gush at the arrival of Master Archie.

“Archie is an icon and we’re honoured and overjoyed to share his name with the new royal baby,” declared Jon Goldwater, publisher of Archie Comics, to general acclaim on Twitter.

The New York Times, which does not often trouble itself with the private lives of minor royals, noted that Archie was “the son of a bona fide Hollywood celebrity who has drawn a large and protective American fan base into the press-fuelled drama of the British royal family”.

The Washington Post admired the Sussexes’ choice of class-bending name and declared that a man named Archie might either be “a greatest generation Royal Air Force pilot in an ascot [cravat] saving London in the Battle of Britain. Or a soccer hooligan.”

As always in America, the issue of race was rarely far from the surface and one CNN commentator worried that questions about “how black will the royal baby be” might perpetuate what he described as the “fetishisation” of interracial children. John Blake added: “Let’s not turn this baby into another ‘great mixed-race hope’.”

For the most part, however, Americans appear thrilled that they now have a national stake in Britain’s royal soap opera — the Yanks invented soap operas, after all — although many remain appalled by the occasionally hostile commentary that Meghan has attracted online and in sections of the British media.

Even in Boston, home of the Tea Party and incubator of the 18th-century American revolt against the crown, they have at last found something nice — sort of — to say about royalty.

“The British royal family is pretty much the embodiment of patriarchy and toxic masculinity,” declared the Boston Herald. “Hopefully the soldier prince . . . and his American wife will be content to let their boy just be a boy.”'