At last, the summer event the world and the international media have been awaiting has arrived. The Duchess of Cambridge, formerly known as Kate Middleton, has gone into labor and the child who will one day be Britain’s monarch and head of state is expected to arrive soon.
But as the crowds outside St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, where the baby is due, continue to grow with throngs of well-wishers and the frenzied blanket media coverage continues, it raises an obvious question: why do people care so much about the royal baby, anyway?
TIME took to the streets outside of St. Mary’s Hospital and Buckingham Palace to ask the well-wishers what made them so excited about this royal birth. Many people, like 47-year-old Shaun Melass, a real estate broker from Pretoria, South Africa, on vacation in London, said part of the thrill came from being a part of a historical event and all the hoopla that went with it. “I love the pomp and the ceremony. I watched Charles’s wedding, Diana’s funeral, Kate and William’s wedding, President Obama’s inauguration, so I just love ceremonial things – and it is all part of history. South Africa is part of the Commonwealth, so the Queen is my Queen too. I am a royalist through and through.”
Peter Davenport, an 82-year-old ex-captain of cadet units, from Richmond, southwest London, was also outside Buckingham Palace on Monday, waiting for news of the birth. “It is all tied back to tradition – it goes back for generations,” he says. “I’m a royalist, all the happenings in the royal family, the weddings, the funerals, the trooping of the color, all of those ceremonies – I love the ceremonial aspect. I am retired now, so that is all I have.”
Other people attribute the enthusiasm to a love for the current generation of royals: Kate Middleton, who’s routinely trotted out as a fashion icon, Prince William, once thought of as something of a heartthrob, and Prince Harry, known for his playboy antics and considerable charm, all provide plenty of tabloid fodder.
“Kate is a role model, she carries herself so well,” says Lucy Burgess, a 21-year-old public servant from the Austalian capital Canberra, who is traveling through Europe with her boyfriend. “It’s so exciting because it’s a new generation, it’s way more appealing to people our age, it’s so much more relatable.”
Dorie Overby, a 33-year-old HR rep from New York who has been working in London for a few weeks, says she called in late for work this morning so she could come down to the hospital. “I am close in age to Wills and Kate, so I’ve been here about a dozen times since I got here,” she says. “They are a wonderful modern couple, I just love them. Though I have never met them, I would love to. I am searching for Harry. Who knows, I might be the next princess.”
Overby wasn’t the only royal fan to tell TIME they longed to be treated like part of the royal family. Perry Hupp, a 78-year-old carpenter from Cambridge, has been camped outside the hospital for 12 days, sleeping on a bench at night and sporting a Union Jack hat during the day, is waiting to greet the royal couple as they leave the hospital with their new baby. “I am hoping to be at that front door when it comes out,” he says. “I am going to give William a card. I don’t think they will let me hold the baby, but it would be nice to do that.”
Others confessed to being enamored more with the mood of the moment than the royal family itself. Californian Norman Warkentin, 58, is in London on holiday with his wife, Cynthia Warren, and he thinks the excitement is palpable. “You can see it everywhere: cabbies, in trains, in pubs. Even people who couldn’t care less about the baby turn at the mention of the royal baby,” he says. “The whole country is glued in to an event like this, that’s the most exciting thing about this.”
Of course, any occasion in Britain wouldn’t be complete with its share of cynics as well. The Guardian’s website offers its readers a “Republican” button to click in order to read the news sans coverage of the royals. One disgruntled police officer, posted outside Buckingham Palace to patrol the crowds, tells TIME he’s not pleased about the royal arrival or the atmosphere. “I am not excited, I feel the same way I have for the past four days I have been doing this. I have been here for five hours today, it is hot, and it is sweaty, and there are a lot of people and I am not excited at all.”
–with reporting by Katie Harris and Qhelile Nyathi / London