It’s been five weeks since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle welcomed their daughter Lilibet, but fans are still waiting for a glimpse.
Mysteries tend to get politely hushed up in the royal family.
To this day, murkiness surrounds the death of Prince George, Duke of Kent in 1942 in a military plane crash on a flight to Iceland – or what was in the scores of “highly personal” letters from Diana, Princess of Wales to the Queen Mother that Princess Margaret bizarrely destroyed in 1993.
This week, there’s another one that has thus far been largely overlooked: Just where is Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor?
Why, five weeks after her arrival at a hospital in Santa Barbara, a world away from the several thousand pounds-a-night London hospital suites usually chosen for the arrival of tiny members of the house of Windsor, hasn’t the world spied even a peep of the wee tot?
By contrast, days after he was born, her big brother Archie was introduced to the world via a very restrained press outing at Windsor Castle. When he was only six-days-old, the boy made his social media debut via the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s formerly chart-busting Instagram account in a Mother’s Day post showing only his feet. (It attracted more than half a million likes in less than half an hour.)
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About six weeks after he was born, to celebrate Father’s Day @SussexRoyal shared a sepia-toned image of the bub showing his face, which racked up 2.4 million likes.
Even since Harry and Meghan hightailed it to the sunny climes of California, bailing on royal life so they could escape ever having to open the Chelsea Flower Show or sit next to Princess Michael of Kent (she of the Blackamoor brooch) at dinner, Archie has kept popping up in public.
To mark his first birthday in 2020, the Sussexes released an adorable video of the future prince listening to his mum Meghan read him Duck Rabbit in to help raise charity funds.
In December of that year, his voice was heard for the first time via the one and only podcast his parents have rustled up since signing a rumoured $33.5 million deal with Spotify.
In March 2021, when the duke and duchess sat down with Oprah to speak their truth and to rattle the monarchy down to the Queen’s fillings, there was Archie in some suitably arty black and white footage, gambolling along a beach. In May, for his second birthday, came a new image of the little boy holding onto a bevy of balloons, albeit photographed from the back to obscure his identity.
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Archie also popped up in Harry’s Apple + mental health TV series The Me You Can’t See with footage of him running on the beach and him and Harry on swings.
Now, all of these are clearly very carefully controlled, calibrated outings that balance Harry and Meghan’s commitment to their son’s privacy with a tacit acceptance of the public interest in their son.
It’s a delicate balancing act: Reveal him too much and the Sussexes will open themselves up to criticism they are reneging on their commitment to give him a normal life. However, hide him away and risk the umbrage and grumbling of their legion of fans.
None of this is simple or easy but thus far Harry and Meghan have clearly recognised the very fraught territory their son occupies and managed to succeed at the highwire act.
So where is that same acknowledgment when it comes to their daughter Lili?
Why haven’t they released some sort of picture of their little girl even a la the 2019 Archie/foot snap?
When Archie was born Harry and Meghan were both still working HRHs and with that came a level of expectation that they would share their son, to some degree, with the prying public. Now that they are theoretically living on civvy street, that obligation is, in theory anyway, gone too. However, the reality of their new circumstances is, unfortunately, more complicated and oblique.
Like it or not, Lili is still eighth in line to the throne and with that comes certain demands and pressures they will never, ever be able to escape short of absenting themselves from the line of succession.
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While they might desperately want to be able to offer their daughter a level of privacy that Harry was never allowed to enjoy growing up in the royal fishbowl, the hard truth is that they do still occupy a strange nebulous place between public figures and private citizens.
Which is why some sort of shot of Lili – a toe! A finger! One tiny hand holding an even tinier hand! – does not seem out of the question.
They could put an image out that would delight their support base and give them an excellent shot of feel-good PR after the squall over their controversial choice of name for Lili while still not showing her face and thus protecting her privacy.
Heck, they could photograph any newborn’s tiny digits and no one would be the wiser.
This is not the only tightrope Harry and Meghan will have to walk when it comes to Lili in the coming weeks and months.
Because, just what the dickens are they going to do about her christening?
Generally, details about royal baptisms are released at some point around the six to seven week mark after a birth, a timetable that the Sussexes followed with Archie.
On July 1, details about his ceremony were released and less than a week later a small gaggle of Windsors and friends of the couple pitched up a small, private affair.
At the time, the duke and duchess’ decision to bar the usual small clutch of vetted media from photographing the group arriving at the chapel, as had been standard, and to not reveal the names of Archie’s godparents set off a media storm.
Hackles were raised and huffing voices took to opinion pages; the feeling being that the British public who had until then only shown the couple adoration were being excluded from this heartwarming moment.
In hindsight, the handling of Archie’s christening was a turning point for the couple and you can draw a straight line from that furore to Megxit.
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All of which makes Lili’s christening even more charged and freighted, carrying with it both potential to either improve or to further damage Harry’s relationship with his family.
If the Sussexes were to decide they wanted the christening to happen back in the UK, perhaps even in September when it has been rumoured that both Harry and Meghan will return to London, then it would be construed as an olive branch after years of intra-family squabbling and rancour. Quick, someone get the Lili Font from the Tower and fetch the Archbishop of Canterbury!
However, if the Sussexes’ decided to hold the ceremony in California, thus precluding the Queen who no longer travels internationally from attending, it would be seen as nothing less than a clear rejection of the royal family.
There is also a third option here: They decide to skip a baptism entirely. But again, this too would be read as deeply disrespectful to Her Majesty given she is, after all, the head of the Church of England.
Ditto the godparents question. If they were to choose a cadre of A-list names, news of which would be bound to seep out in the press, then it would look like they are wholly throwing their lot in with their new Hollywood besties, family and lifelong friends back in the UK be damned.
On the other hand, opting to appoint a few carefully chosen cousins or old Eton mates could go a very long way to healing various breaches.
Navigating all of this in the coming weeks and months must be surely nothing less than a migraine-inducing headache for Harry and Meghan – just what they need as they juggle a newborn baby, a rambunctious toddler, a clutch of corporates bigwigs to keep sweet and their embryonic charitable vehicle, Archewell Foundation.
What is unequivocal is this: Lili has already made Windsor history as the first of the Queen’s direct descendants to be born overseas and to hold dual citizenship from birth.
Lili’s life was and is always going to be one of firsts and I suppose that’s fitting really. As Meghan’s daughter and Diana’s granddaughter (and namesake), two royal paradigm-shaking pioneers, women hellbent on living their lives as they wanted, should we expect anything else?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.