AFP – Prince William and his wife Catherine gather close friends and family on Wednesday for the christening of their baby son Prince George, in a low-key ceremony far removed from the global hype surrounding their wedding.
Queen Elizabeth II and the couple’s parents and siblings will be among just 22 guests at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace in London, along with seven godparents taken from William and Kate’s circle of friends.
In a break with tradition, the only royal among the godparents is Zara Phillips, the champion horse-rider and William’s cousin.
Those chosen to provide guidance to George as he grows up also include William’s childhood friends William van Cutsem and Earl Hugh Grosvenor; Julia Samuel, who was close to the duke’s mother Diana; and Emilia Jardine-Paterson, who went to school with Kate.
Rounding out the list are Oliver Baker, a friend from St Andrew’s University in Scotland, where the royal couple met, and William’s long-time aide Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a former soldier in the elite SAS army unit.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will perform the baptism, welcoming three-month-old George into the Church of England, which he will one day lead as king.
A handful of royal fans camped overnight outside the palace, a colourful picture against the rain in their Union Jack flag-patterned clothes, hoping for a glimpse of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their new son.
But the ceremony will be private, a sharp contrast to the couple’s lavish 2011 wedding, which was broadcast live on televisions across the world.
It is a sign of how closely they guard the privacy of the prince, the third in line to the throne, who has not been seen in public since leaving hospital in the glare of hundreds of cameras after his birth on July 22.
An official photograph by celebrity snapper Jason Bell will be released to the public on Thursday.
Holy water from the River Jordan
Besides picking only one family member as a godparent, William and Kate also broke with recent royal tradition by choosing the Chapel Royal rather than Buckingham Palace for the event.
The godparents and their spouses — Grosvenor is not married — will attend the ceremony alongside the queen and Prince Philip, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, and Kate’s parents Michael and Carole Middleton.
William’s younger brother Prince Harry and Kate’s siblings James and Pippa Middleton complete the small party.
During the ceremony, Prince George will have holy water from the River Jordan poured on his head in what the Archbishop of Canterbury said was a “hugely important moment”.
The religious service will be followed by a tea at Charles’s official London residence, Clarence House, where guests will be served a portion of William and Kate’s wedding cake.
It is traditional for Christian couples in Britain to save a tier of the cake — normally fruit encased in icing to preserve it — for their first child’s christening.
George will be wearing a lace robe, a replica of the gown made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Victoria in 1841 and worn at all subsequent royal christenings until 2008.
The official photos will be taken at Clarence House and are expected to gain iconic status, showing four generations of monarchs and direct heirs together — the queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George.
The last time such a photograph was taken was in 1894 at the christening of the future king Edward VIII, showing the infant with his father, later king George V, grandfather, the future king Edward VII, and great-grandmother, queen Victoria.
The only other photo of Prince George released to the public so far is a shot with William, Kate and the couple’s dog Lupo which Michael Middleton took in his family’s back garden.
Patrick Jephson, Diana’s former private secretary, said the christening would send a strong message of the royal family’s durability.
“It shows the continuing survival of the dynasty. It reinforces the public perception that the British royal family is going to be around for a long time to come,” he told AFP.