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The real reason you care so much about the royal baby

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Kayleigh Dray
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ASNI, MOROCCO - FEBRUARY 24: (UK OUT FOR 28 DAYS) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visit a local secondary school meeting students and teachers on February 24, 2019 in Asni, Morocco. (Photo by Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Found yourself obsessing over Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s baby – aka a baby you have zero connection to? You’re not the only one…

It’s official: the world has reached peak-royal baby fever.

According to multiple reports, a record number of bets have been placed on Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announcing the birth of Baby Sussex today. In fact, so many bets were placed on the Duchess of Sussex having her baby today that bookies were forced to suspend betting altogether.

Why? Well, if the royal baby genuinely does make an appearance today, it will mark an all time high in the form of payouts from bookmakers, with a total payout of £580,000.

A bookmakers.tv spokesman told the Express: “A six figure pay-outs for a novelty market is almost unheard of but it appears that Royal fans simply can’t help themselves when it comes to Baby Sussex.

“Ever since Harry and Meghan announced they were expecting a baby, savvy punters have been going all out and the bets on the longer odds have seen liabilities rocket over the last few days.”

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Too bad, then, that the royal couple have already stated – and quite firmly, too – that they will be keeping all details around the birth of Baby Sussex as private as possible.

“[Meghan and Harry] have taken a personal decision to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private,” reads a statement on Meghan and Harry’s official Instagram account.

“The Duke and Duchess look forward to sharing the exciting news with everyone once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family.”

It is completely fair and understandable that Meghan and Harry, who have been subjected to a slew of invasive and derogatory headlines over their years together as a couple, would like to spend some time alone as a family. That they would prefer to swerve the paparazzi and share any pictures that they see fit on their new Instagram account @sussexroyal. That they are refusing to comment on the flurry of excited predictions around their baby’s due date and gender.

Yet even this call for privacy hasn’t stopped the speculation. And I, for once, can’t even sit smugly on my high horse about it. Because my name is Kayleigh Dray, and I am obsessed with celebrity babies.

First things first, a caveat: I don’t want Meghan and Harry hounded by the press for details, nor do I want them subjected to complaints by the likes of Loose Women – who seemingly believe that the public is OWED pictures and intimate details about Baby Sussex. Because that’s dangerously nonsensical and we absolutely are not owed anything: Meghan should be allowed to celebrate her baby’s arrival however she bloody chooses.

But that doesn’t mean that, in my own personal time, I don’t lose all grip on reality as I constantly refresh the @sussexroyal feed for new (and, most importantly, CONFIRMED from details).

“Is it a boy or a girl?” I whisper to myself as I scrawl the internet for information, feverish with excitement. “What name have Meghan Markle and Prince Harry chosen for their royal baby – and what does it mean? WHEN WILL THE FIRST PHOTO OF THE BABY BE OUT?!”

Yes, I really do care about that first photo of the royal baby – and that’s in spite of the fact that a) it will be so bundled up in blankets the only visible part will be its nose, and b) all babies kind of look the same at that age (don’t attempt to argue the point – we all know it to be true).

However, while I – and many others – might be tempted to dismiss this royal baby obsession as an inexplicable (and embarrassing) sickness, psychologists say that such interest isn’t just understandable: it’s natural, too.

Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, recently explained to CBC that high-profile births have become such a media phenomenon because they combine two fascinations humans have as part of our evolved heritage: an interest in infants and children, and an interest in high-status individuals.

That interest in small children is very much a characteristic of our species and any other species where an adult other than a mother may provide parental care to newborns or younger offspring, says Kruger.

“You see this happening in other primates,” he adds, noting that documentaries have been produced focusing on chimpanzees giving birth at zoos, and the offspring being introduced to other chimps.

“You just see the fascination in their faces with the new infant.”

RABAT, MORRoyal baby: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Morocco earlier this year.OCCO - FEBRUARY 25: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visit the Andalusian Gardens to hear about youth empowerment in Morocco from a number of young social entrepreneurs on February 25, 2019 in Rabat, Morocco. ^. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Royal baby: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Morocco earlier this year.

That other human fascination, with high-status individuals, might even have a practical payoff for those of a lower social position.

“It provides benefits for others because they’re better able to create alliances and advance their own social position by knowing what’s going on at the top,” Kruger suggests.

“So you combine these two things and when you have high-status individuals having babies, that’s going to draw a particular amount of attention.”

Kruger is not the only expert to suggest that this preoccupation with the lives of others is a by-product of the psychology that evolved in prehistoric times. Professor Frank T. McAndrew, in a piece for Psychology Today, points out that our ancestors had to cooperate with one another in order to survive, but that they also had to recognise the fact that they were one another’s main competitors when it came to dividing limited resources.

As such, they had to exercise and develop their social intelligence in order to survive, using it to manage friendships, alliances and family relationships, as well as predict and influence the dealings of others.

“Evolution did not prepare us to distinguish among members of our community who have genuine effects on our life and the images and voices we are bombarded with by the entertainment industry,” says McAndrew, highlighting the fact that our intense familiarity with celebrities and the royals can leave us feeling – on a subconscious layer – that they are socially important to us.

“They provide a common interest and topic of conversation between people who otherwise might not have much to say to one another, and they facilitate the types of informal interactions that help people become comfortable in new surroundings,” he adds.

“Hence, keeping up with the lives of actors, politicians, and athletes can make a person more socially adept during interactions with strangers.”

Royal baby: Britain’s Meghan, Duchess of Sussex leaves after participating in a panel discussion convened by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to mark International Women’s Day in London on March 8, 2019. 

Of course, it’s not just celebrity offspring that we’re hard-wired to care about (as anyone who’s ever cooed over a stranger’s baby on a packed tube will attest to). In fact, the ‘Kinderschema’ – which was discovered and outlined by the controversial Austrian scientist Konrad Lorenz in 1943 (when he wasn’t working as a Nazi psychologist at German concentration camps in WWII) – are a set of characteristics in human children (and other baby animals) which prompt an “awwww” response in adults.

These special characteristics include “(a) large head relative to body size, rounded head; (b) large, protruding forehead; (c) large eyes relative to face, eyes below midline of head; (d) rounded, protruding cheeks; (e) rounded body shape; and (f) soft, elastic body surfaces.” Lorenz, unfortunately, isn’t an uncomplicated figure.

Again, it’s worth noting that the Kinderschema is – theoretically, at least – an evolutionary tool. Unlike the very young offspring of some other species, which can care for themselves shortly or immediately after birth, human babies need attention in order to survive and thrive: they must be fed, physically protected and held, among other things that parents do for their children.

However, parents are not the only ones who can care for babies – any human can do it. As a result, we are all hardwired with that “caretaker” instinct, just in case one of the voluntarily child-free among us is unexpectedly asked to raise a distant relative’s baby, stumble across one in the woods or, y’know, find ourselves trapped in some similarly outlandish sitcom scenario. 

If blaming evolution for our obsession with royal babies seems too easy, though, Jim Houran, a New York-based psychologist and expert in celebrity culture, has another theory.

And it revolves around humanity’s very basic need to find some shred of happiness in amongst all the anxiety-churning headlines we’re confronted with on a day-to-day basis.

“I think that this is actually a particularly well-timed birth amidst a lot of turmoil in the world, so it gives people something positive and happy to think about and to pay attention to above and beyond the normal turmoils we tend to see on the TV,” he says.

Hmm. While that certainly rings true (Trump! Brexit! War! General misery and despair!), I far prefer to view my fascination with Meghan and Harry’s sprog as a symptom of my superior social intelligence. How about you?

Images: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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