Princess who?

The Institute of Developmental Sciences (IDS) is to be officially opened here in Southampton on Monday 17th September. Costing upwards of £9 million, it is the proud new site of cutting edge research, housing the Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells & Regeneration, and the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DoHAD) division.

It is to be opened in the presence of none other than HRH The Princess Royal, with members of staff invited to attend and possibly meet and chew the fat with royalty. Does something read odd there? Invited? That’s right: the people who work here require an invitation to attend the opening ceremony of their own place of work! However, some of us (including yours truly) have apparently been airbrushed from the guest list. What are we undesirables to do? Can we assume we have a day off, whether or not we wish to take one? Will security restrict our entry to the IDS and adjacent buildings? Are we to make ourselves scarce for an appointed time window? For the ‘lucky’ ones, the invite is accompanied by instructions on how to conduct oneself: how to dress, bow/curtsy, address HRH, etc. Those of us not so blessed could potentially be offended, perceiving ourselves as considered a potential embarrassment to the University and the Medical School.

Personally, I do not desire to meet Princess Anne and have no time for such stuffiness. However, other non-invitees here might do. Moreover, in conversations I’ve had, it has been voiced by a few that it would perhaps have been more appropriate and exciting to have the opening of our scientific institute conducted by, err, a scientist, or someone associated with science. There are a few out there, after all. The name I’ve heard most often mooted is Sir David Attenborough: famous enough to generate local publicity, and a more relevant, more interesting – and interested – figure; and, one imagines, a less formal, more relaxed air would ensue. Alternatively, Lord Robert Winston, who has visited Southampton in recent years to give seminars, and who has familiarity with much of the research underway here, including the effects of nutrition on pre- and post-natal development, and a HFEA-licensed facility.

In 1981, Princess Anne opened the Princess Anne Hospital across the road from the IDS building. Fair enough – she is its eponym, after all. (Hospitals are often named after royalty; tradition is stubborn). But, 26 years on, could we not have come up with a more original idea? Wouldn’t it have been courteous of senior academics to have involved the people who work here, to court their opinion and suggestion? Then we could all have looked forward to a visit by a more interesting and/or relevant guest, instead of an anachronism.

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