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The 2nd Royal baby takes the toughest “Spare role”

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Updated: 00:00 GMT, Jan 1, 1970 | Published: 03:36 GMT, May 1, 2015 |
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21 months after the birth of Prince George which made him one of the most famous babies in the world, the hugely popular royal couple are due to celebrate the arrival of a younger brother or sister in the next few weeks. But, the newest member of Britain’s royal family, due to make an entrance later this month when Prince William’s wife Kate gives birth to the couple’s second baby, will be taking on one of its toughest roles – life as “spare to the heir”.

George, born 21 months ago is expected one day to be monarch following in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth, his grandfather Prince Charles, and his father. But the younger one’s future is less clear. The “spare” role is an undefined one that allows more freedom than that accorded to a future king or queen.

But it also attracts massive public interest and scrutiny, while the possibility remains of having to step into the shoes of the future heir should calamity befall the elder sibling.

Both the queen’s grandfather George V, whose elder brother died aged 28, and her father George VI, whose elder brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, were “spares” who did become monarchs.

For those for whom the top job never comes, life as a “spare” is not easy. Princess Margaret, the queen’s younger sister who died in 2002, was a prime example.

Renowned as a beauty in her youth who partied with a high society set, her private life generated intrigue for the media. She is best remembered for falling for dashing air force officer Peter Townsend when protocol dictated that a princess could not marry a divorced man. Instead she later married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a controversial choice because of his non-aristocratic status. They divorced in 1978, in the first such split in the inner royal circle since the days of King Henry VIII.

The most recent royal to have the “spare” role was William’s brother, Prince Harry. He had a reputation as a royal wild child, dabbling with marijuana and under-age drinking as a 17-year-old, clashed with paparazzi outside nightclubs and wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party in 2005 which offended Jewish groups. Before his second tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012, the 30-year-old was pictured naked cavorting with an apparently nude woman at a party at a hotel in Las Vegas, summing up the problem he faced in a later apology. In Harry’s case, his troubles have seen his popularity actually increase, seeming to resonate with the public.

Like Prince George, the world’s media set to lavish attention on William and Kate’s new baby when he or she is born, but commentators believe the couple, who they say have set out to be as down to earth as possible for royalty, are better placed than previous generations to help their child cope.