During the past couple months, the media have been scrambling to cover all angles of the impending birth of Kate Middleton's "royal baby." Included in those angles: What clothes the pregnant Duchess wears, what the baby's gender will be, and just how Kate Middleton will give birth. Bob reports from London on the royal baby media frenzy.
ABC CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, “Bringing Up Baby: Royal Edition.”
It was the baby bump seen ‘round the world. Now the bump is about to be born to William and Kate.
CORRESPONDENT: It’s going to be massive. It’s going to be the biggest media event, possibly of the decade.
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ANNOUNCER: Here now, Barbara Walters in London.
BOB GARFIELD: The UK media event of the decade, over a royal fetus? For those of us in the finding-fault-with-others industry, ABC’s predictions about an over-the-top British media circus constituted an irresistible premise. So, like the Dennis Farina character in that Guy Ritchie movie Snatch, of course, I jumped into action.
DENNIS FARINA AS AVI: I'm comin’ to London.
[ENGINE NOISE] [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: And headed straight for the headquarters of the most un-circus-like Guardian newspaper, where my feature-writing fellow traveler Hadley Freeman had already begun smearing at the royal baby hype. Sporting a motor scooter helmet, traces of her childhood American accent and an alarming vision of neonatal nuttiness, Freeman was just what the ob/gyn ordered.
HADLEY FREEMAN: The coverage is going to be so over the top and so disgustingly intrusive. Obviously, royal babies have been born before but never before in a time when we’ve had such blanket media everywhere. And certainly, the British tabloids have been obsessing over her to a degree that is frankly kind of mentally ill.
BOB GARFIELD: Are secret cameras being installed? Are bribes being paid to hospital staff? What's going on at the tabloids to, to get the angle on this story that nobody else has?
HADLEY FREEMAN: I’m personally amazed that the Sun hasn’t installed a camera up inside Kate Middleton’s womb.
BOB GARFIELD: We were unable to gain access to the camera placements of the tabloids, but the conservative broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph did give us access to its royal watcher, Gordon Raynor. He was exulting in his exclusive on the Cambridge family's new digs.
GORDON RAYNOR: So, you know, royal scoops are not as easy to come by as perhaps in other areas because it's a very tightly controlled environment. We have to work pretty hard to get them.
BOB GARFIELD: Phone hacking?
GORDON RAYNOR: We don’t do phone hacking. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Raynor rejects the notion that the attention paid the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is either excessive or unusual. He sees it as natural and ongoing, and is already looking forward to his or her eminence’s first royal junket.
GORDON RAYNOR: Now, interestingly, when Prince Charles and Diana had Prince William, their next royal tour was to Australia and New Zealand and, indeed, they did take Prince William. So it’ll be fascinating to see if history repeats itself.
BOB GARFIELD: I noticed you said “interestingly.” Is that one of those words that has a different meaning on opposite sides of the ocean?
GORDON RAYNOR: [LAUGHS] I don’t think so. I think – I think we’re all interested in, in the royal, in the royal family.
BOB GARFIELD: All? A bold statement. So I took the question to a number of British subjects, inquiring about their furiously gestating heir to the throne. The venue was Paddington, just around the bend from St. Mary's Hospital -
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- not only where I was once personally dispatched with a tongue injury, following a tragic prawn incident, but where Kate will eventually bear the future defender of the faith, commander of the Army and Nav,y and nappy-soiler.
BOB GARFIELD/QUESTION: And you’re from?
MAN: Melbourne, Australia.
BOB GARFIELD: A part of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth is your queen.
MAN: She’s our gal.
BOB GARFIELD: So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you about the royal heir to the throne?
MAN: [LAUGHS] Zero.
WOMAN: Is it born yet? I’m not sure who –
BOB GARFIELD: You haven’t been following every detail?
WOMAN: No, sorry.
BOB GARFIELD: Why not?
WOMAN: Got other things to do. [LAUGHS]
MAN: I just heard that they’re gonna have a baby. There’s gonna be a baby in the royal - family.
BOB GARFIELD: Wait, wait, wait, wait, you just heard?
MAN: Just heard, you just told me this.
BOB GARFIELD: Oh yeah, it’s just madness over here. But then in a local pub, an offhand remark changed the trajectory of my entire heroic journalistic odyssey.
BOB GARFIELD: There’s been a lot of media coverage, I gather.
WOMAN: Yes, there has, a lot of speculation as to whether there's a – it’s gonna be a boy or a girl. But – nobody’s really – [LAUGHS] put money on one way or the other, I don’t think.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, not true, actually.
RACE ANNOUNCER: …Blue 3 has come through to take it up, now, Marcus beating out in front.
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BOB GARFIELD: This is the William Hill Betting Parlour in Park Lane, where the British public can bet on almost anything, including whether Kate will deliver a boy or a girl. There’s also a brisk market on the baby's name. Alexandra is the prohibitive favorite at 7 to 4, Andrew is 40 to 1, bringing up the rear at 500 to 1, Waynetta. But never mind that. Bookie spokesman Rupert Adams says there is definitely media madness going on.
But here's where my story takes a U-turn. Rupert has done between 100 and 200 media interviews, the vast majority not by local reporters, but media outlets back in the USA. And as for the British catching up, don’t bet on it.
RUPERT ADAMS: It’s 100 to 1. There is no hope that any country will be inquiring about the royal baby more than the US of A.
BOB GARFIELD: Whoa! So, from a mini cab in West London, now I’m headed for Heathrow. Hijaz, the M4 please. And back at 35,000 feet, heading for where the story is, in royal’s media circus, USA.
[US NEWS CLIPS]:
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Baby, oh royal baby, here we go.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The royal baby countdown. Prince William and Kate in the final nesting phase.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: With each passing day, that bump has been growing, and so has the tension. Is it a boy or a girl?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Kate’s reportedly purchased this Bugaboo Chameleon Stroller in a Jewel Blue with stylish stripes. It’s considered a unisex design.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Royal sources revealed the Duchess of Cambridge will give birth at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: And now gossip abounds about how she might choose to give birth.
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RUPERT ADAMS: All the money has been for a Cesarean section. People really believe she’s too posh to push.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] It’s my man, Rupert! But lest you think I rely on bookies for my cultural analysis, know that there are posher sorts who see Americans, and not her Majesty’s subjects, as the real royal baby bump-kins.
ARIANNE CHERNOCK: I just looked and saw that some of People Magazine’s top-grossing issues ever have related to coverage of the British royal family. And I think that the baby will bring similar kinds of levels of excitement and frenzy. We’re already seeing it here.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s Boston University history professor Arianne Chernock who says monarchy fixation long predated Kate, or Princess Diana, or even the love-struck abdicator, Edward VIII.
ARIANNE CHERNOCK: Right after the American Revolution, we see a fascination with Britain, a fascination with British theater, British products, British literature. When Queen Victoria had her coronation in 1838, there was one editor for the New York Mirror who was basically driven into an apoplectic fit because he didn't know exactly what kind of slippers Victoria had worn to her coronation. This was driving him crazy.
BOB GARFIELD: Huh! It kind of makes you wonder how crazed, say, Barbara Walters was, at the prospect of interviewing the Duchess of Cambridge herself. Talk about your royal scoops.
Which brings us back to where we started this journey, ABC's hour-long examination of the royal bump. Sure enough, there was Walters in London, with a very familiar face.
[ABC CLIP/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]:
BARBARA WALTERS: It’s not every day you get to take a casual stroll through the streets of London, with the future Queen of England.
BARBARA WALTERS: How are you feeling, Kate?
“KATE MIDDLETON”: Very good.
BARBARA WALTERS: The baby’s kicking yet?
“KATE”: Yes, the baby’s doing well.
BOB GARFIELD: An exclusive interview with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge? No, not quite. It was a non-exclusive interview with Heidi Agan, waitress turned Kate Middleton-lookalike, answering questions on a network news program about a baby she is not pregnant with.
While I was still in London. I caught up with her waitress-ship.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, what’s the weirdest thing that ever happened to you in this gig?
HEIDI AGAN: There is people that do ask if they can hire me to rub my feet because it is their ultimate dream to rub Kate Middleton's feet. No lie.
BOB GARFIELD: Ew!
HEIDI AGAN: I know, I know. So I politely decline them.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I humbly submit that is not the weirdest thing, because I have seen you on – an ABC news magazine talking to Barbara Walters, being interviewed as if you were Kate Middleton.
HEIDI AGAN: It was an amazing day. It's one of those things where you have to pinch yourself and just go, oh my goodness, I’m sittin’ next to Barbara Walters. [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: I know, right? Heidi? I couldn’t believe it either.
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To dig deeper into the Kate Middleton impersonator interview, we called ABC News to speak with Barbara Walters.
BOB GARFIELD: Hi, welcome to On the Media.
“BARBARA WALTERS”: Very, very happy to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: Interviewing an impersonator, instead of the actual personage strikes me as a bit odd journalistically.
“BARBARA WALTERS”: Oh, well that's very judgmental. People make news, and people who wook like people who make news make what wooks like news. This sort of thing goes on all the time.
BOB GARFIELD: Not on this network.
“BARBARA WALTERS”: Well, perhaps. But let me ask, is that – corduwoy you’re wearing? You don’t wear Yves St. Laurent and earn 13 million a year interviewing professors about Egypt!
BOB GARFIELD: Thank you very much.
ED KELLY: You’re very welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: ABC declined to make the real Barbara Walters [LAUGHS] available. Performer Ed Kelly is a voice actor, impressionist –
ED KELLY: I can do an alternate as Tom Brokaw from NBC Nightly News, if you like.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] You can check out his website at edkelly.tv.
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That's it for this week’s show. Hey Ed, help.
ED KELLY: On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary. We had more help from Olivia Weitz and Molly Buckley. And it was edited by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Katya Rogers is our Senior Producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News, and their boss. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. This is not Tom Brokaw.
BOB GARFIELD: This is Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And this is Brooke Gladstone.