Royal baby: How nannies raise future kings and queens

Nannies often spend more time with royal children than their own parents

Royal baby: How nannies raise future kings and queens

Royal nannies have cared for future king and queens for decades and in some cases become more dear to their charges than parents.

Although the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expected to be more hands-on with their first child, it is more than likely they will employ some help, continuing a long-standing royal tradition.

Often royal nannies come recommended, having already worked for other members of the family, or they have close ties with family friends.

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In the past, they have become substitute mothers, often spending more time with royal children than their own parents, with their charges continuing to turn to them for support throughout their lives.

The Prince of Wales was particularly close to his nanny, Mabel Anderson. As a young child, he spent most of the day with his nannies Helen Lightbody and her deputy Mabel, usually seeing his mother for 30 minutes in the morning and then after tea before bed, according to his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby.

His father the Duke of Edinburgh, a naval officer, was also often at sea and in later years his parents were away on lengthy royal tours while he stayed with his grandparents. 

Dimbleby wrote that separation, combined with his parents’ emotional reserve, ensured that the “bonds of affection” between Charles and his nannies were “at least as powerful those between the child and his parents”.

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Mabel, who took charge of his care when Helen Lightbody left following a disagreement with the Duke, was firm but kind and gentle and played a pivotal role in Charles’s upbringing.

Even in adulthood, the prince turned to her for comfort and advice and paid for the decoration of her grace and favour apartment at Windsor when she retired.

William and Prince Harry still adore their former nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke, now known as Tiggy Pettifer.

They remain close, and she was a guest at William and Kate’s wedding, while her son Tom, William’s godson, acted as a page boy.

It was Tiggy who William asked to attend his Eton speech day rather than his warring parents and the attention they would bring.

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She even once described William and Harry as "my babies" and later played a key role in helping them adjust after the death of their mother in 1997.

No-nonsense but fun nanny Olga Powell, who came to work for Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales when William was six months old, was also a figure of stability for the princes, staying to care for them for 15 years.

She was 52 at the time, in contrast to Diana who was just 21, and even after her retirement was invited to key milestones such as William’s 21st celebrations at Windsor Castle, his passing out at Sandhurst and his wedding. William missed a royal engagement to attend her funeral in October 2012.

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The responsibility of caring for little royals is not without its pitfalls. The ability to have such a major influence on how royal youngsters are brought up can inevitably lead to clashes within the household.

William’s first nanny encountered problems with Diana. Barbara Barnes, known as Baba, was especially close to William, but Diana was said to be jealous of their bond and felt threatened, dismissing her as nanny when her eldest son was four.

Diana also resented the exuberant Tiggy, who joined the Prince of Wales’s household as his personal assistant in 1993 during turbulent times and is reported to have said of the princes: “I give them what they need at this stage: fresh air, a rifle and a horse. She (their mother) gives them a tennis racket and a bucket of popcorn at the movies.”

Diana is said to have started unfounded rumours that Tiggy was having an affair with heir to the throne Charles and also made claims at a staff Christmas party that Tiggy had had an abortion, leading the nanny to issue a lawyer’s letter strongly denying the allegations.

Royal nannies have also found their actions scrutinised in the press. Tiggy herself was criticised in 1998 while taking the princes abseiling when 13-year-old Harry was photographed dangling 160ft above a dam without a helmet and proper safety line. But the princes’ devotion to her prevented her from being sacked.

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The job of royal nanny offers unparalleled insight into the private life of the Windsors, but not all have kept their experiences secret.

When the Queen was a child, her mother employed her old nanny Clara Knight, known as Alah, and a nursery maid called Margaret MacDonald, nicknamed Bobo, and later, in 1933, Marion Crawford as governess.

But Crawford, or “Crawfie” as she was known, committed the unforgivable sin of writing a book about her time in the household.

Her story The Little Princesses - perhaps one of the first royal tell-alls - led to her being ostracised by the Royal Family forever. She later became a recluse, suffered from depression and even attempted suicide.

In the work, she recalled how important nannies and governesses were to royal youngsters.

Alah, she said, had “entire charge in those days of the children’s out-of-school lives - their health, their
baths, their clothes, while I had them from nine to six”.

She poignantly told how a matron of a boys’ school once told her that on the first night of school, homesick boys “wept not for their Mummie but for their nanny. She was much more than a paid servant; she was their childhood”.

A history of royal births:

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