At 4:24 p.m. on Monday, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a baby boy in the presence of her husband Prince William, royal officials announced as the sun began to go down in London on the hottest day in Britain this year. The boy, who was born in the Lindo Wing of a central London hospital — St. Mary’s, Paddington — bumped his uncle Prince Harry down to fourth in line for the British throne and began a life of privilege, duty and a remarkable level of public scrutiny. The baby weighed 8 lb. and 6 oz. (3.8 kg). Royal officials said the boy’s name would be made public in due course.
“We could not be happier,” William said in a statement shortly before 10 p.m., London time.
Being a boy, the baby failed to make a particular bit of possible history. Thanks to a recent shake-up of 300-year-old rules of royal primogeniture, a firstborn baby girl would have found a permanent place in the line of succession to the throne. In the past, the arrival of a little brother would have pushed a firstborn daughter back a place. The birth of Kate and William’s son makes that prospect moot for probably many years to come; the upper reaches of the line of succession remain solidly male. The boy’s father Prince William and grandfather Prince Charles remain second and first in line respectively.
“Both my wife and I are overjoyed at the arrival of my first grandchild,” Prince Charles said in a statement. “It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine, and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy. Grandparenthood is a unique moment in anyone’s life, as countless kind people have told me in recent months, so I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future.”
From the early hours of Monday crowds had gathered at the hospital in excitement. The announcement was expected to be made in front of Buckingham Palace, in the form of a notice placed on an easel in the forecourt of the palace, but officials unexpectedly broke with tradition and issued a press release at around 8:30 p.m. by e-mail. Two officials later placed the birth notice on the easel.
Crowds at the hospital and at the palace erupted in cheering as the news spread. “We arrived in London today on holiday, and we’re staying at a hotel just around the corner from here,” said Kate Clare, 41, a stay-at-home mother who was at Buckingham Palace with her 7-year-old son Thomas. “When I saw the news this morning I’ve been texting my friend saying I’m not going to bed until the baby arrives. I told my friend I’d come running out here in my pajamas if I had to.”
Her son was jumping up and down, squealing with delight. “I’m really excited,” Thomas said. “I’m really happy it’s a boy.”
Rachel Carter-Eagleton, who works in the accounts department of a film company, was at the hospital to celebrate. “I’m very patriotic, and I always camp out at royal events,” said Carter-Eagleton, 31, who was draped in a Union Flag and was standing on a bench drinking from a glass of Champagne. “It’s a true fairy tale, isn’t it? A picture-perfect couple having a lovely baby. I hope they have a lifetime of love and happiness, and I can’t wait to see the future King. I’m so excited.”
The crowds lingered at the hospital after the announcement, partly to celebrate, but also in the hope that the new father, William, would make an appearance.
It’s likely to be many years before his son inherits the title of King, but in the meantime his life will be chronicled in possibly unprecedented detail, although the royal family and the officials who protect the family will work hard to shield him from what will likely be an insatiable appetite for baby-related news. Royals are always in the public eye, but the baby will face the unique challenge of growing up in an age of 24-hour news coverage, ubiquitous smartphones and social media. This is a child whose first steps, first day at school and first dates will all be a source of great interest to the British and international press. The child’s parents are likely to be distinctly protective.
The grandmother he never met, Princess Diana, had a complicated relationship with the traditional media, sometimes having information leaked to British reporters, sometimes having her privacy invaded in unsettling ways and ultimately leading to her death in a 1997 car crash in Paris as she was pursued by photographers. Partly because of their mother’s death, her sons William and Harry are seen with fondness by the British public to a degree that other royals are not. Kate is a particularly popular figure in Britain, not least because she is a commoner by birth. And so the baby, who will be known as His Royal Highness Prince (name) of Cambridge, comes into the world both cushioned by an unusual amount of public goodwill and threatened by an unprecedented potential for scrutiny.
The current widespread enthusiasm will likely help the institution of the British monarchy, which reached perhaps its most vulnerable moment with Diana’s death and sometimes struggles to demonstrate its relevance. William, Harry and Kate, who all hold or have held jobs (if briefly, in Kate’s case) and seem to share many of the interests of other young British people, have proved easier to relate to than any previous generation of royals.
The new baby will be attuned to what many British people might consider normal life because one side of its family is neither royal, aristocratic or even particularly upper crust. Kate’s family, the Middletons, are wealthy but self-made. Her parents live in a house in a quiet village named Bucklebury to the west of London rather than in a palace or a castle. Kate and William’s son will, presumably, spend a fair amount of time with his maternal grandparents in Bucklebury, playing in the sort of home familiar to many other upper-middle-class British children, without attendant palace aides and hordes of tourists nearby. If he is blessed with the charm and apparent levelheadedness of his mother, who shows little of the stresses of the adopted royal that her late mother-in-law displayed, then he is likely to grow up to be both a significant and long-term boon for the British monarchy.
And, for the news editors of the world, a story that will run and run. The appetite for news about the baby stretches far beyond Britain. Journalists from dozens of different countries had been camped out for days — some even for weeks — at the hospital. The key moment expected at the hospital now is the appearance on its front steps of the happy couple and their newborn baby boy for a photo opportunity before they return home to the two-bedroom flat at Kensington Palace that they are calling home while a larger part of the palace in central London is being renovated for their use.
— With reporting by Kharunya Paramaguru, Qhelile Nyathi and Katie Harris