LONDON – Champagne bottles popped and shouts of “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” erupted outside Buckingham Palace on Monday as Britain welcomed the birth of Prince William and wife Kate’s first child, a boy who is now third in line to the British throne.
Hundreds of Britons and tourists broke into song and dance outside the palace gates as officials announced that the future king was born at 4:24 p.m., weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces, at central London’s St. Mary’s Hospital – the same place where William and his brother Harry were born three decades ago.
The imminent arrival of the royal baby was the subject of endless speculation on social media and was covered for days on live television around the world, but the royal family managed to keep it a remarkably private affair.
In line with royal tradition, a terse statement announced only the time of birth, the infant’s gender and that mother and child were doing well. It gave no information about the baby’s name, and officials would say only that a name would be announced “in due course.”
“Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well and will remain in hospital overnight,” it said. William also issued a brief statement, saying “we could not be happier.”
Officials said William, who was by his wife’s side during the birth, would also spend the night in the hospital.
William’s press aides had talked about preserving Kate’s “dignity” throughout the pregnancy, and the way the birth was handled showed that the palace’s impressive stagecraft could give the royals a bubble of privacy even in the age of Twitter and 24-hour news broadcasts.
Just before 6 a.m., 31-year-old Kate, also known as the Duchess of Cambridge, entered the hospital through a side door, avoiding the mass of journalists camped outside. Officials did not announce she was hospitalized until more than an hour later.
Later, as the world media gathered outside filled hours of airtime with speculation, the baby’s birth went unannounced for nearly four hours, allowing the royal couple the private time they needed to act like a regular family, a goal 31-year-old William has cherished.
He was able to tell his father, Prince Charles, and grandmother Queen Elizabeth II about the birth and enjoy his wife’s company without having to cope with the overwhelming media and public desire for information.
By nightfall, the public still knew few details, but most people seemed satisfied with the day’s events. London’s landmarks, including the London Eye, lit up in the national colors of red, white and blue, and the city had a party atmosphere unmatched since last summer’s Olympics.
Outside the hospital, a man dressed as a town crier in traditional robes and an extravagant feathered hat shouted the news and rang a bell.
A car carrying the announcement drove from the hospital to the palace, where the news was greeted with shrieks of “It’s a boy!” and strains of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” A large crowd rushed against the palace fences to catch a glimpse of an ornate, gilded easel displaying a small bulletin formally announcing the news.
The framed sheet of paper became the target of a thousand camera flashes as people thrust their smartphones through the railings. Hours after the initial announcement, crowds were still surging forward to get near the easel. Some placed presents and bouquets in front of the palace, while others waved Union Jack flags and partied on the streets to celebrate.
“It’s a crazy atmosphere. Everyone is getting very excited,” Andrew Aitchison said. “It’s great to be part of history, to say we were here and saw it all happen.”
More celebrations are expected Tuesday, including gun salutes by royal artillery companies to honor the birth. Riders in uniform will trot past the palace to Green Park, where six field guns will fire 41 blank rounds.
Prince Charles spoke of his joy and pride in becoming a grandparent for the first time.
“It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy,” Prince Charles said in a statement. “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.”
It could be some time before the baby’s name is made public. When William was born, a week passed before his name was announced. Charles’ name remained a mystery for a month.
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