With his cute button nose, bee-stung lips and wisps of soft blond hair, it is a face instantly recognisable around the world.
But while the real Prince George remains in the safe and devoted care of his mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, extraordinary replicas – identical down to the tiny blue veins in his hands – are cuddled every day by thousands of complete strangers.
They are part of a growing craze among up to 20,000 women worldwide – including a booming fanbase in Britain – who are devoted to the cult of ‘reborn dolls’; meticulously crafted ‘infants’ mimicking real babies that change hands for up to £20,000 a pop.
And the ‘hottest’ dolls on the market? Prince Georges and Princess Charlottes.
Bestseller: A Prince George doll by Ping Lau, left, and a replica of Princess Charlotte – the dolls are gaining popularity around the world
So besotted are their ‘mothers’, they dress them in identical clothes to the young Royals. The dolls are even anatomically correct underneath their nappies – details critics have branded ‘creepy and weird’ – and their bodies even weighted to feel like real babies.
Scores of British women show off on the internet their doll collections from ‘nurseries’ with saccharine-sounding names such as Rainbow’s End Nursery, Silent Angels Nursery and HunnyBuns.
Dollmaker Helen Beattie invites would-be ‘mums’ to visit the dolls ‘for cuddles’ in her nursery in Liverpool. She sells limited edition Prince George dolls for £199 each.
Middlesbrough mother-of-four Wendy Archer, 40, spends hours dressing, bathing and shopping for her four fake children.
‘To me they aren’t dolls, they are my babies,’ she said. ‘When you cuddle them, they feel like a baby because their heads loll and they even smell like a real baby because of the fabric softener their clothes are washed in.’
When Princess Charlotte wore a £21 pink dress by Spanish brand m&h, reborn sites were inundated with requests from desperate ‘mums’ seeking to buy the outfit. Some women are so obsessed with making the dolls lifelike that they have implanted tiny motors in their chests to simulate ‘breathing’.
While there are several versions of the Prince George and Princess Charlotte dolls available on the internet, the bestsellers are by artist Ping Lau, considered the ‘queen’ of reborn dolls, whose work sells for between £350 and £3,500 depending on the finish.
The real thing: Prince George, pictured in London at the birth of his baby sister back in May 2015
Lau crafts the dolls out of clay around a tin-foil base at her studio in Maryland in the US. Her artworks are then shipped to a company in Florida which makes moulds and then sells ‘reborn kits’ made out of soft vinyl or silicone.
‘In the case of George or Charlotte, I work from every available photograph I can find,’ the artist said.
‘When I first moulded Prince George, I had no idea how popular he would become. Now he’s my bestseller. Charlotte is doing very well too. The vinyl kits are shipped out with the head, body, arms and legs separate. Then fans create each individual child. It truly is an art form.’
Kym George, 55, from the US state of Wisconsin, has ‘brought to life’ hundreds of dolls, including a Prince George and a Princess Charlotte.
Princess Charlotte – tiny replicas of the baby Princess are becoming increasingly popular thanks to a growing fanbase
‘It fills an emotional space inside me,’ she said. ‘I have five stepchildren but never had kids of my own. With Prince George, I worked off every photo I could find.
‘It’s a laborious process which takes six weeks or more because you build up the skin tone using up to 30 layers of paint.
‘Then you have to mottle the skin using sponges to get that newborn look. Each tiny vein has to be hand-painted. George’s eyes are made of German glass, which matches his real tone perfectly.
‘Every single hair was threaded by hand using Angora mohair, which is the most expensive. Even his tiny eyelashes match the colour of the “real” prince. You form an emotional connection with the dolls because they are so squishy and lifelike.’
Some women have created reborns in the image of children who have died. Other dolls are used in therapy with dementia patients.
Debbie Roberts, 53, a mother from California married for 25 years, says there is nothing more natural than hugging ‘her’ Prince George.
‘I’ve always loved dolls and I’m a massive Royalist,’ she said last night from the home she shares with more than 200 dolls. ‘Prince George is my all-time favourite. He’s so cute. I don’t think it’s weird or creepy at all. It takes me back to when my son, now 33, was a baby. People are blown away by how lifelike they are. Except, of course, my Prince George never cries or needs a nappy change.’
Lawyers say that the dolls are potentially an abuse of George and Charlotte’s images for commercial gain, although last night Kensington Palace would make no comment.