Great Expectations: Well-Wishers Descend on Hospital as the Duchess of Cambridge Goes Into Labor

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The wait for the world’s most anticipated child is drawing to a close. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was admitted to a central London hospital in the early stages of labor early today, royal officials announced.

Officials said that the Duchess, previously Kate Middleton, traveled by car to St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, with her husband Prince William, just before six a.m. Kate is expected to give birth to the couple’s first child – who will be third in line to the British throne – in the private Lindo Wing of the hospital. While the palace has not divulged many details of Kate’s birth plan officials have said that Kate is in the care of Dr. Marcus Setchell, who was Queen Elizabeth’s gynecologist for many years.

Just hours after the labor was announced, the street outside the Lindo Wing was buzzing with photographers, royal fans and tourists, many of whom were chatting and laughing with a sort of muted excitement. A couple of spectators had even dressed up for the event. John Loughery, a 58-year-old former chef from the Wandsworth in London, sported a Union flag raincoat and a Union flag hat with a Union flag tied round his waist. “I’m like a washing machine, I haven’t stopped spinning, and I won’t stop until the baby is born,” he told TIME, adding that he’s been to every major royal event since 1981, except the births of Prince William and his younger brother Harry. “I want it to be a healthy baby, and personally I’d like it to be a girl.”

(MORE: How the Baby Is Already a Figure of Worldwide Influence)

Kris Sherman, a 63-year-old publicist from Seattle, who was staying in Paddington on vacation with a friend said: “We’re big fans of Downton Abbey so we are into the whole royal thing. This is serendipity for us that we happened to book a hotel so close. I am excited to be part of what everyone hopes will be a historic day.”

The baby’s arrival is expected to be formally announced when a royal official places a birth notice on an easel that will be positioned on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. The notice is expected to give the infant’s exact time of birth, weight, and, perhaps most intriguingly, gender. Thanks to recent changes in the 300-year-old rules of royal primogeniture, a first-born female may now succeed to the throne without being nudged aside in favor of a younger brother. The same details about the newborn child are expected to be shared via social media announcements. However, the baby’s name may not be announced right away, as it was a week before Prince William’s name was announced and with Prince Charles, a whole month passed before the heir to the throne’s name was made public.

In anticipation of the baby’s arrival, Kate has not been making public appearances in recent weeks, even missing out on attending the Queen’s Coronation Festival gala on July 11. William, who is currently on leave from his job as a helicopter rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force, will begin two weeks paternity leave once the baby is born.

(MORE: Playdates for the Royal Baby: Kate and William’s Friends with Tots)

The royal couple and royal fans at the hospital are far from the only people eagerly awaiting the baby’s arrival. The hashtag #RoyalBaby quickly became a trending topic on Twitter and public figures were quick to share their delight. Prime Minister David Cameron, who played an important role in changing the rules of succession, told ITV News that he and all of Britain was eagerly waiting for news on William, Kate and the new baby. He said it was “a very exciting occasion and the whole country is excited with them.”

Although a due date was never confirmed by royal officials, the world’s media have been camped outside the private wing of the public hospital since the beginning of July, angling to get the best shot of William and Kate leaving the hospital with the child, whose life, from start to finish, will likely be among the most minutely chronicled and constantly judged in human history. With many reporters believing at one point that the due date would fall on or around July 13 – the due date reported by The Daily Mail – anticipation began to border on impatience among the waiting journalists as the days rolled by with still no sign of the baby. The international media interest in the birth has intensified the sense of occasion for something – a human birth – that happens hundreds of thousands of times every day. Arthur Edwards, the veteran royal photographer for The Sun newspaper, told Sky News that the media presence outside the Lindo Wing was three or four times as large as it was for the birth of Prince William. The British press – who had once uncharitably dubbed Kate “Waity Katie” because of her longterm courtship with William – took to calling the spectacle the “Great Kate Wait.” The wait appears to be nearly over.

With reporting from Qhelile Nyathi

(COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Royal Baby)

Read TIME’s previous feature about why the Royal Baby will be such a figure of global influence

Read TIME’s original 1982 story about the birth of Prince William

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