Today at 3pm a select group of Royals and close friends will gather in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace for the 45 minute christening of Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.
It will be a historic occasion because photographs will be taken after the service showing the baby’s great grandmother, the Queen, and three future kings Charles, William and George.
Given the fact the Queen is present the photos will be reassuringly formal, with a palatial backdrop, and presumably not taken in a nearby field by Kate’s father! The service is a private rather than state occasion.
William and Kate want it to be low-key with just close family and friends as witnesses. Much has been made of the fact that none of Prince Charles’s siblings, Anne, Andrew and Edward, will be attending.
But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of us who remember the media furore when Princess Anne wasn’t invited to either William or Harry’s christenings, prompting speculation of a rift between the princess and her sister-in-law Diana.
William, like his mother, is not afraid to do things his way.
The Queen, the Prince of Wales and William himself were all baptised at Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s official London residence. Having said that, the Queen’s court is officially at St James’s Palace and all ambassadors and high commissioners are still accredited to the Court of St James’s. So the Chapel Royal is, if anything, more appropriate for the christening of a future king.
Before the royal wedding in 2011 William was alarmed to see a list of 777 names, mostly the diplomatic corps and other officials he had never met but was expected to invite.
He later said: “I went to the Queen and asked ‘what should I do?’” Without hesitation his grandmother said: “Get rid of it. Start with your friends and then we’ll add those we need in due course. It’s your day.”
This summer at Balmoral the prince had a similar conversation with the Queen, when they discussed the christening. He told her: “I want an intimate family affair” and she replied: “I totally understand.”
The choice of the Chapel Royal is also a link to his mother. After all he gave Diana’s engagement ring to Kate in November 2010 as a link with the late princess “because obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all this was my way of keeping her close to it all.”
It is often overlooked, but baby George is of course Diana’s first grandchild and had she lived she would have been very much at the heart of Wednesday’s service. It was at the Chapel Royal that her body lay before her funeral.
I remember Billy Tallon, the Queen Mother’s steward, telling me he went to pay his respects to Diana in the chapel and noticed the coffin had been lowered and that a step had been placed next to it. He asked why and was told: “That’s because the boys are coming to see their mother.” He told me this moved him to tears.
Unlike Charles, William is not enamoured by the pomp and circumstance surrounding the monarchy. Nor is he always happy with the inevitable media circus that surrounds his appearances with Kate.
Having a chapel that is tucked away in the very private heart of St James’s Palace is a perfect choice for the Cambridges and their baby who, whether they like it or not, are part of the most famous family in the world.
Generations of Royal babies wore the same christening gown, a delicate Honiton lace and white satin shawl commissioned by Queen Victoria.
The remarkable family heirloom was made in 1841 for the christening of Queen Victoria’s first child, Princess Victoria. Since then it’s been used in the christening of more than 30 senior Royals. It was last used in 2004 for the christening of Prince Edward’s daughter, Lady Louise, but it was then decided the 162-year-old robe was too fragile to be used again.
The Queen commissioned an identical handmade replica to be made by her dresser, Angela Kelly, at Buckingham Palace. It features the same long skirt, elaborate collar and bow as the genuine gown, which has now been preserved.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex’s son, Viscount Severn, was first to wear the new robe when he was christened in 2008.