THIS birthday may be a little different from previous years, but when Princess Charlotte turns five next Saturday, it will still be a fun-filled occasion.
With lockdown in place, she will celebrate her special day at Anmer Hall, the Norfolk home of her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which was a wedding gift from the Queen.
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Set in its own spacious grounds on the Sandringham Estate, the Georgian country house is only three miles from the home of Charlotte’s great-grandparents, the Queen and Prince Philip.
Since they moved to the house, the Cambridges have renovated it, turning it into a child’s heaven. There’s a glass-topped garden room with views over the grounds, a tennis court and an outdoor swimming pool to play in.
And Kate has also introduced chickens to the gardens, while the horses belonging to great-granny provide plenty of fun at the Royal Stud at Sandringham.
The 20,000-acre royal estate is so huge that the family can roam at will and still be considered in self-isolation. The family spend their time enjoying long walks and picnics – and Charlotte’s birthday will be no different.
But there are some other surprises organised. A source said: “The family has arranged a Zoom party for her, so she can speak to family and friends. Then, they have put together a full plan that will give her all the fun of a birthday – including cake and games – despite the extraordinary circumstances we are faced with.
“Her great-grandmother will be joining the family call on the big day. As far as Charlotte is concerned, the important part is that her whole family are by her side to say: ‘Happy Birthday’.
"And you have to realise that she doesn’t know anything different – she’s grown up with tablets and video calls, so she won’t be fazed.”
Hopefully Prince Philip, 98, will also be able to join the call. He usually sees a lot of Charlotte because he’s lived at Wood Farm, also on the Sandringham Estate, ever since he retired from public duties in 2017.
“There may be the best part of a century between them, but the two have a natural connection. It’s the mischievous streak that can’t be learned – it’s an integral part of who they both are.
“Philip has no shortage of descendants. The fact that he takes such a close interest in Charlotte is telling. She has a spark about her that transcends the generations,” says the source.
But, in a boost for the Queen, during the crisis Philip has been self-isolating with Her Majesty at Windsor Castle – from where the Queen gave her marvellous, stirring address to the nation at the beginning of the month.
Still, Charlotte will have both her brothers and William and Kate to keep her company.
“Charlotte is naturally much more outgoing than George, but she looks up to him and she often defers to her big brother when she feels uncertain.
"It’s an interesting dynamic, which shifts according to the context they find themselves in,” says the source.
“Perhaps it’s related to that extraordinary situation where you are raised to be the head of state from day one. But George definitely feels the weight of expectation in a way his siblings do not.”
It was on the Sandringham Estate that Charlotte and her brothers took part in the weekly NHS clap at the end of March, beamed out on Instagram. And what a delightful sight she was, clapping for all she was worth.
Princess Charlotte is one of the great personalities of the future
“Combined with the Queen’s address about coronavirus, that scene was very moving,” says Hugo Vickers, biographer of Queen Mary and the Duchess of Windsor.
“It showed the next generation engaging with a national crisis. They were assuming in a tiny way the mantle that will fall upon them in later life. It was lovely to see her clapping.
"The three of them were very touching. It makes it all the more powerful that she looks so very like the Queen.”
That’s certainly true. Take a look at pictures of the Queen when she was little Lilibet, the five-year-old Princess Elizabeth, and she bears a striking resemblance to her great-granddaughter.
Charlotte’s two middle names are Elizabeth and Diana after her great-granny and granny.
Princess Charlotte’s laugh has become an integral part of her bubbly character. She’s a glass-half-full character who views life through rose-tinted glasses.
“Princess Charlotte is one of the great personalities of the future,” says Hugo. “She has a tremendous personality. She’s quite feisty and brings a little joie de vivre to everything she does – like the famous time she stuck her tongue out.”
Although Princess Charlotte’s fun-loving personality first came to real prominence when she poked her tongue out at the King’s Cup regatta at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, last summer, she was in fact not being rude to photographers.
She had spotted her beloved grandfather, Michael Middleton, in the crowd and was making an affectionate, teasing gesture towards him.
In all her other photos revealed to the public, she’s a smiling, bubbly girl – whether it’s going to The Willcocks Nursery School in Kensington or Thomas’s Battersea, the prep school where she joined her brother last autumn.
It’s striking that the Cambridges should choose to send their children to the school – an eight-mile round-trip across the Thames from Charlotte’s London home, Kensington Palace.
It shows they wanted a mixed-sex, less cloistered – and slightly more intellectual – education than William had at the more conventional boys-only Wetherby Prep School in Kensington. The princess is known simply as Charlotte Cambridge at school.
I’ve given a talk in Thomas’s Battersea. It has a terrific, warm atmosphere and a big, bustling feel to it.
There are 560 pupils there, aged from four to 13, but it doesn’t feel impersonal at all – partly because the rooms are so light, high and airy, and partly because the building itself is a lovely example of the Victorian Gothic Revival style, built partly by one of the great British architects, William Butterfield.
The children I talked to were happy, buzzing with excitement and very bright. One little boy, the son of a senior civil servant working for then Prime Minister David Cameron, had an incredible knowledge of Latin, winning the quiz I set.
The school is private, but at the same time it gives Charlotte a slice of normal, non-royal life, even if her older brother, Prince George, is there – as are her cousins, Maud and Isabella, the daughters of Lord Frederick Windsor and the actress Sophie Winkleman.
NUMBER ONE YOUNG FAMILY
“Charlotte and her brothers are all very well brought up,” says Hugo. “You couldn’t imagine a more ideal kind of family. It’s striking, too, that both Charlotte’s parents have degrees – they’ll want her to have a good education.”
It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time during the honeymoon period for Harry and Meghan, after they got married in 2018, when the Cambridges were said to be a little dull by comparison with the million-dollar glam and glitz of the Sussexes.
But now the Sussexes have moved to America, the Cambridges have come back into the limelight. And, with their prominent presence on the national stage during the coronavirus crisis, they have become the number one young family in the royal set-up.
Princess Charlotte seems at ease with the press – not least at the Chelsea Flower Show last year, when she played around with her brothers in the garden designed by Kate without a care in the world, unfazed by the cameras.
She’s quite feisty and brings a little joie de vivre to everything she does
“The press have observed the principle of accepting occasional photocalls with Charlotte and her brothers in exchange for privacy,” says Hugo.
And so Charlotte has been able to live the carefree life of a normal young girl. The responsibilities of royalty, as the fourth in line to the throne, have been drip-fed into her life only when her parents allow it.
So far, the great royal occasions she’s been involved in won’t have really stuck in her mind.
When she was born on May 2, 2015, at London’s St Mary’s Hospital, Tower Bridge and the London Eye were lit up in pink, and there were gun salutes at the Tower of London and Hyde Park.
She was baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury at St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, just down the road from Anmer Hall, wearing the royal christening gown.
She made her first public appearance, aged only 13 months, on the Buckingham Palace balcony during Trooping the Colour in 2016. That year, she went with her parents and brother on the royal tour of Canada, while the following year she went with them to Poland and Germany.
She will also be blissfully unaware that she’s already a style icon. Every time she wears a dress in public, parents rush to the shops to buy the same outfit.
Charlotte hasn’t seen much of her new cousin Archie, the son of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, since they moved Stateside.
But she gets plenty of playtime with other family. Her godparents include her parents’ cousins Adam Middleton and Laura Fellowes.
Laura is the daughter of Robert Fellowes, formerly Private Secretary to the Queen, and Jane, an older sister of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Lord and Lady Fellowes, Charlotte’s great-uncle and great-aunt, also live in Norfolk – so there are lot of relations on her doorstep.
When she’s back in London, Charlotte’s got a lot of freedom at home, Kensington Palace. It’s a self-enclosed paradise for a child.
SECURE, HAPPY LIFE
Once you pass through a security gate, manned 24/7 by the police, the vast, sprawling building is perfect for the children to roam around.
Kensington Palace was nicknamed the Aunt Heap by the royal family in the last century, because it’s where so many obscure royal aunts lived.
In fact, it’s a fantastic royal palace, designed by the great Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.
The Cambridges have the best apartment, number 1A, once home to the late Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister.
It has 20 rooms for Charlotte and her brothers to race around, with five reception rooms, dressing rooms, staff quarters and night and day nurseries, where Charlotte has spent much of her life until now.
The main reception rooms are decorated formally – not surprisingly since this is where the Cambridges receive their distinguished guests, including Barack and Michelle Obama in 2016.
President Obama gave Prince George a much-loved present – a rocking horse, now just the right size for Princess Charlotte to ride.
Outside, Princess Charlotte has a whole courtyard to play in. The royal children’s bicycles are often spotted there, next to their dad’s motorbike.
Further afield, beyond the Cambridges’ apartment, the palace is full of friendly faces. Charlotte’s cousins Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank live at nearby Ivy Cottage.
Until they moved to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, Prince Harry and Meghan lived a stone’s throw away, at Nottingham Cottage, nicknamed Nott Cott.
All in all, what a lovely, secure, happy life Charlotte lives. Happy fifth birthday to the little princess!
- How England Made The English by Harry Mount (£9.99, Penguin) is out now
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